How human-centered AI can help transform the energy industry

Source/Author : Thierry Mortier

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Published at : 29th January 2019


Artificial intelligence (AI) is humanly conceived but powered by technology. It stretches the possible and the limits of humans.


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     One of a suite of disruptive technologies that promises to transform our world is AI. It might sound very sci-fi (and yes, there is a lot of fancy stuff going on behind the scenes), but its real attributes are fairly rudimentary. It identifies patterns and applies logic in order to initiate an action – albeit faster and more precisely than humanly possible.

     Take, for instance, an autonomous vehicle. The AI hidden behind the dashboard detects the lines in the road (the patterns) and applies reasoning (the logic) to determine whether to execute a maneuver (initiates the action).

     Apply that same theory to the power and utilities sector, and AI can sift rapidly through mountains of data to identify patterns; it applies logic to determine how best to treat anomalies and initiates the appropriate action or remedy.

      Far from replacing human ingenuity, AI complements it, while removing the tedium that would otherwise accompany data mining and the pursuit of valuable information.

AI-enabled efficiencies

     Many of the traditional ways of working in the energy industry are ripe for an advanced technological intervention.

     We might, for instance, use AI to empower chatbots in call centers so that the first few steps of customer contact are fully automated. Done well, this can deliver time and cost savings without adverse impact on the end-user experience. 

     We could employ AI’s “deep learning” capabilities – an artificial neural network that analyzes different layers of information – to make better predictions about the maintenance of network assets so that intervention is timely but targeted. Just imagine the efficiency and cost savings that are possible when an AI solution identifies, with 99% certainty, that an overhead line really does warrant calling out a team of engineers to fix it.

     Or, we could use AI to identify patterns of behavior that indicate customer dissatisfaction – perhaps tone of voice or choice of words or questions about energy usage or tariffs – enabling intervention and remediation to reduce frustration.

      The fact is that customer expectations are being raised by disruptive innovations and other new world capabilities. They will not settle for substandard performance in billing or network maintenance or service. AI presents an opportunity to conquer hurdles that can impede customer satisfaction and quality service.

AI-enabled energy transition

     We are fast approaching the point when energy is neither created nor consumed centrally. Energy “prosumers” will connect their distributed resources to the grid, downloading and uploading energy according to need, with potential payment for their surplus supply. 

     Consumers will also connect their devices – including smart appliances – to the internet. More extensive technology take-up will mean even greater data generation. AI will sift through this data at a rapid rate, pinpointing patterns of behavior and making accurate predictions on energy demand. More data means deeper insights, which enable, in turn, an intelligent, stable and autonomous grid.

     AI algorithms will, for instance, recognize patterns of behavior on, say, a weekday evening in 2025, when millions of EV drivers arrive home and put their vehicles on charge. By distinguishing between drivers who habitually use their cars overnight and those who leave vehicles charging until the following morning, the intelligent grid will ensure that the battery is sufficiently charged in time for the driver’s next journey, without exerting simultaneous load on the grid. 

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