Leveraging AI for a smarter energy sector

By Joshua Bartlett, OpenText

Across the globe, energy and utility business systems are rapidly changing.

Traditional energy companies are looking for new ways to leverage technology to drive efficiencies and minimise risk, with most being prompted by various external factors; including the rise of alternative energy providers, consumer demand for analysis of their personal energy use, and the rise of smart grids.

An explosion in the growth of artificial intelligence (AI) is fuelling this change, opening new business opportunities and delivering greater value across the board.

What changes are we seeing?

Across the industry, more energy and utility companies are moving to smart grids and interconnected systems to address energy efficiency. These systems help such providers to better understand their assets, usage and performance in near real-time. The data created by these systems can be stored more easily, processed faster and used to better manage planned outages and maintenance activities, to reduce the impact on consumers and protect the organisational bottom line.

Hydro Tasmania, for example, is embracing new technologies head on. To connect 1200 employees in operations across dozens of sites and provide real-time, critical information to those in the field, Hydro Tasmania has integrated its enterprise information systems and deployed field drones to survey its assets.

The information is fed back in real-time and helps determine any issues that require a repair crew to be dispatched. The drone data highlights what the problem is and what type of repair crew will be required, reducing the operational cost of reconnaissance efforts. The report is digital and automatically logged in the appropriate repository to best meet compliance and reporting requirements.

By integrating its information management processes, Hydro Tasmania has consolidated its data, eliminated content efficiencies that were affecting safety measures and improved its audit response – saving a projected 25,000 hours per year. It’s a true demonstration of the value of revisiting IT investments, incorporating new technologies and making both work harder.

How can AI help?

AI will be integral to building truly smart grids to meet the energy demands of the future. The grid will need to integrate disparate energy sources, efficiently and at scale, without impacting network availability and performance levels. The insight available will enable energy companies to be more flexible in their demand for energy; understanding consumption patterns and tweaking the operating times of devices that aren’t necessarily time critical.

AI, in combination with other internet-connected and machine learning technologies, will be used to predict and manage grid demand, troubleshoot, resolve outages, facilitate new services and support customer interactions. Embedded deep within business processes, AI will enable more efficient and effective utility operations. By gaining insight into unstructured data, organisations can determine operational parameters, make more intelligent, real-time decisions that directly impact business performance and deliver greater value to the end-consumer.

Rates of adoption

Most organisations in the energy industry – from generation and transmission to retail and business supply – have dipped their toes into AI, but not one Australia or New Zealand company has deployed an end-to-end solution that assesses and acts upon the data available. A huge opportunity exists to automate and enhance operations, ahead of the rest of the market.

Internationally, government legislation has proven to be the tipping point. It’s encouraged the energy sector to look to technology to make its operations more sustainable and to balance increased demand on the grid from multiple energy sources. In Australia and New Zealand, consumer and business pressure is also mounting to support a shift in energy consumption and production methods, from coal through to hydro-electricity.

To meet these demands, energy providers must mitigate the risks of potential outages and downtime as they move between energy sources. Extracting greater insights across their operations can help in this transition. Data is fundamental in this entire process. When integrated with an AI solution, it provides an accurate, forward-looking view of assets, network management systems and the underlying processes to identify and act on areas of opportunity.

The age of the consumer

For energy retailers in this transformative time, it’s vital to deliver better quality customer service. This may be in the form of real-time energy usage reporting. Presented to customers in a mobile app that breaks down where their energy is being used most, and at what time of day, this will enable them to better manage their consumption. More than ever, customers are expecting individualised, rich experiences when engaging with companies. Those that can’t deliver will quickly find themselves in trouble.

AI and data analytics are the driving force behind delivering these insights. Smart meters are helping to feed business and household energy data back to retailers, while the rise of smart homes and connected-home assistants are further fuelling awareness of energy consumption.

Connected technologies are making it easier for consumers to program activities at times that best suit their needs. As a result, we can reasonably expect a shift towards off-peak energy usage for heating, cooling and washing. 

Energy and utilities providers must be proactive in preparing to meet the energy demands of the future. By embracing AI and leveraging existing technologies to drive operational and cost efficiencies, explore new product or market opportunities, and address changing customer demands, the sector will be well prepared for this technological revolution.