Why artificial intelligence is key to renewable energy grid resilience

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Emmanuel Lagarrigue, Executive Vice-President, Chief Innovation Officer, Schneider Electric


  • The global transition to renewable energy will need artificial intelligence (AI) technology to manage decentralized grids.
  • AI can balance electricity supply and demand needs in real-time, optimize energy use and storage to reduce rates.
  • Technology governance will be needed to democratize access, encourage innovation and ensure resilient electricity sources.

One month after historic and deadly winter storms left millions of Texans without power, many energy experts, politicians and pundits have called for massive spending on grid-related infrastructure upgrades. Improvements to infrastructure in the US and elsewhere are long overdue, but it’s time to explore better options to ensure reliable, low-carbon electricity.

Calls for government spending on grid infrastructure to update long transmission lines from a centralized power generation source attempt to solve today’s problems using technology from the past. There is a better, more forward-looking alternative already in existence: Artificial Intelligence (AI) that leverages decentralized renewable generation sources.

Renewable energy increases complexity

As we move toward an increasingly electric world, more energy will be produced by decentralized, renewable sources. Think microgrids, wind farms, private solar panels, and batteries.

Welcome as they are from a sustainability point of view, these will add complexity to energy grids across the globe. Over the next 10-15 years, the growing adoption of electric vehicles, the electrification of heating systems, and the proliferation of distributed energy resources (DERs) like wind turbines and solar panels will require a delicate balancing act to match supply with demand without collapsing the grid.

Take Australia as an example. BloombergNEF projects solar energy to be present on 30% of the country’s residential, commercial and industrial buildings by 2030, and 60% by 2050.

A similar scenario is playing out in many other parts of the world as businesses, government and residential consumers increasingly produce their own energy through solar panels, storing that energy in batteries and electric vehicles, or feeding it back to the grid. According to our forecasts (see figure below), approximately 36 million assets such as solar panels, electric vehicles and energy storage will be added to the grid in Europe in 2025, and 89 million by 2030. Millions of individual devices uploading and downloading electricity could create chaos for electric grids.

In other words, reliance on a central utility to produce and transmit electricity is fading, and utilities will need to shift their business models. Soon, they will no longer be the sole source of energy, but will be needed to maintain a balanced grid, shifting electrons from disparate sources and storage systems to seamlessly deliver energy where it is needed second-by-second.

AI will balance millions of assets on the grid

With the help of AI software, decentralized energy sources can send any excess electricity they produce to the grid, while utilities direct that power to where it’s needed. Similarly, energy storage in industrial facilities, office buildings, homes, and cars can hold excess energy when demand is low, while AI deploys that power when generation is inadequate or impossible.

That’s a lot of moving parts requiring coordination, forecasting and optimization to keep the grid in balance. If you think of DERs as individual musicians, a utility is a conductor keeping the orchestra in sync as AI composes the symphony in real-time.

This makes an AI-centered system a potential game-changer. Shifting from an infrastructure heavy system to one centered on AI enables forecasting and control in seconds – not days – resulting in a grid that is more resilient and flexible when unforeseen events occur.

All this means that utilities, policy makers and regulatory bodies need to start thinking about what role they want to play when it comes to decentralized energy resources. The patchwork of distributed energy producers will depend on coordination and management. Utilities can take the lead here as they face a shrinking pool of customers purchasing electricity as more homes and businesses become energy producers themselves – thanks to rooftop solar panels and the like. Already, the size of a median power plant in Europe has fallen from 800 megawatts in 2012 to 562 megawatts in 2020, and BloombergNEF projects this will plummet to 32 megawatts by 2050.

Utilities will have to decide if they are working with software companies, or if they want to become software companies in their own rights. These advancements require a shift in thinking from legacy models of capital investment in a few large energy generation assets to demand management of an exponentially growing number of privately owned assets – all while protecting customer data and privacy and ensuring cybersecurity of grid management.

National and local governments also will have to both accelerate and rethink their approaches to infrastructure spending and to energy generation and transmission infrastructure in particular.

Infrastructure based solutions to maintain grid stability require years of planning and construction, and billions of dollars in spending. The current economic backdrop and lengthy political debates like the one expected in the US are likely to slow needed investments – but climate change will keep bringing more extreme weather around the globe, so there is no time to waste.

Investing in centralized grids, with their system of long wires and transformers, is the wrong way forward: instead, governments need to plan for a grid where communities and buildings generate their own electricity, managed in real-time by software.

Policymakers should consider public financing of renewable energy generation and incentives for more distributed energy generation in homes and private industry. And we need globally accepted governance of AI software to ensure interoperability, transparency and equal access across the energy landscape.

The events in Texas laid bare how vulnerable our current electric grids can be. Just as we shouldn’t be trying to build a better internal combustion engine, we can’t afford to rebuild the grid of the past. AI and software are key to a more sustainable, all-electric world, and the solution for the grid of the future.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

A comprehensive strategy for Eurozone’s long term growth gains momentum

EU-China relations under investigation?

Outbreak of COVID-19: The third wave and the people

How a new encryption technique can help protect privacy amid COVID-19

EU4FairWork: Commission launches campaign to tackle undeclared work

Local innovation, international impact: SMEs and the ITU Telecom World Awards

To end deforestation, we must protect community land rights

How green investment will help Latin America and the world fight climate change

Antitrust: Commission launches sector inquiry into the consumer Internet of Things (IoT)

Students in Milan are moving in with the elderly to fight loneliness and save money

Reforms in Latvia must result in stronger enforcement to tackle foreign bribery and subsequent money laundering risks

Brexit negotiations: Can May’s Britain bounce back?

Trade: EU-Singapore agreement to enter into force on 21 November 2019

Madagascar: UN chief commends leaders, State institutions following ‘historic milestone’ election

How to tackle the perils of air pollution

From his room with a view, UN chief takes to Instagram with an eye on hope and a brighter future

Banking on sustainability – what’s next?

Commission: New proposal for centrally managed bank resolution

State aid: Commission approves €20 billion Spanish guarantee schemes for companies and self-employed affected by coronavirus outbreak

European Parliament calls on Russia to end occupation of Georgian territories

UNICEF welcomes Bangladesh statement that Rohingya will not be forced to leave

Greece and Ukraine main items on EU28 menu; the course is set

G20 LIVE: the EU trade gold rush continues as EU and Australia agree to launch Free Trade Agreement (FTA) live from Antalya Turkey

WHO working to save lives following powerful earthquake in Albania

Commission opens infringement procedures against 12 Member States for not transposing EU rules banning unfair trading practices

The Catcher in the Rice

Schengen: MEPs adopt their position on temporary checks at national borders

Digital Finance: Commission holds closing pan-European conference following extensive outreach events

The Sichuan Province of China presents its cultural treasure to the EU

“Be aware where you put your I Agree signature on and something else”; now Facebook by default opts you in an unseen private data bazar

How much more political is the new EU leadership? Does this include personal bend?

Draghi hands over to banks €77.7 billion more

Take Care of In Order to Be Taken Care of

In the United States, there aren’t enough hours in the week to make rent

How to bring precision medicine into the doctor’s office

Encouraging progress made in 2018, in ‘zero tolerance’ effort to end sexual exploitation and abuse across UN

Cyclone Fani hits India, UN moves to protect vulnerable refugees in Bangladesh

Mergers: Commission approves acquisition of Nets’ account-to-account payment business by Mastercard, subject to conditions

MEPs approve deal on tap water and demand that EU water legislation be respected

How smart tech helps cities fight terrorism and crime

Why impoverishment and social exclusion grow in the EU; the affluent north also suffers

Chart of the day: These countries have the highest share of electric vehicles

Commission presents far-reaching anti-tax evasion measures

Can Kiev make face to mounting economic problems and social unrest?

State aid: Commission approves close to €94 million support for waste-to-energy high-efficient cogeneration plant in Bulgaria

Commission proposes measures to boost data sharing and support European data spaces

FROM THE FIELD: Faces and Voices of Conflict

Merry Christmas from Erdogan, Putin, Mogherini and the Polish firefighter

UN ‘prioritizing needs’, ramping up aid, as Hurricane Dorian continues to batter the Bahamas

This project is decarbonizing the UK area with the highest industrial CO2 emissions

In this Tokyo cafe, the waiters are robots operated remotely by people with disabilities

Turkey presents a new strategy for EU accession but foreign policy could be the lucky card

Afghanistan can rely on international support along harrowing road to peace, and beyond

With potential to boost profits by up to 20 per cent, a woman’s place is at work, says UN labour agency

Forest fires: EU mobilises planes to support Turkey

New York to London in 90 minutes? These companies think it’s possible

One year on from #MeToo, what’s changed?

How a different kind of investment could transform Latin America

Africa: Urgent action needed to mobilise domestic resources as tax revenues plateau

Climate change: ‘A moral, ethical and economic imperative’ to slow global warming say UN leaders, calling for more action

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s