An instantly scalable clean-tech, as powerful as any before it

December 7, 2017

n the power sector, a new clean technology has the ability to open up a new dimension of value in a traditionally asset-driven industry and also accelerate the transformation of the entire system at an unmatched pace and scale – and that technology is Artificial Intelligence (AI).

I recently spoke on this topic during The AI Summit San Francisco with a session titled “AI and the Why of Energy.” The electric grid is a huge share of the world’s built infrastructure and most of it was deployed before we had modern computing equipment or communications. It was optimized in a world with limited visibility and control, which means the electric grid is materially overbuilt in order to provide reliability. This overbuild will produce enormous value when it is unlocked by the combination of communications, Internet of Things (IoT) and AI – making the grid more efficient, more resilient and cleaner.

But what needs to happen in order to get there? Our experience is that power system stakeholders ask five key questions when evaluating any new technology:

  1. How does it (really) work?
  2. Is it dependable? (reliability)
  3. Is it scalable? (meaningful)
  4. Is it really sustainable?
  5. How much does it cost?

We’ve seen this play out over the past 10 years since AES introduced advanced energy storage into the market. Through commercial projects we were able to demonstrate that this clean technology worked and it was dependable, but the last three questions took years to prove and required the validation of industry regulators, customers and analysts.

AI is unique and fascinating in the context of how it is applied in the power sector because the inverse is true. AI has already proven it’s scalable, sustainable and cost effective – questions three through five are answered.

What remains are two questions that businesses and power system stakeholders can validate themselves without the oversight of regulators or the introduction of market incentives: how does it work and is it dependable? Once these two questions are explored in full, we’re going to see AI everywhere in the electric industry. It’s going to happen swiftly and significantly, and it’s going to require us to think big about the ways we embrace and apply this new clean technology.

But will companies commit to answering the first two questions?

AES is committing. Digital solutions are a multiplier of value, making both existing systems and investments in new forms of energy more profitable. AI can ensure we utilize the millions of connected assets on the electricity grid to their full potential, from utility scale solar and wind farms down to the washing machines and toaster ovens in our homes. Improved awareness, classification and prediction of outcomes made possible by digital intelligence will enhance business value for utilities and energy consumers alike, fundamentally enabling more abundant and sustainable power for society.

Just as we applied lithium-ion batteries in the power sector to unlock capacity within existing grid assets 10 years ago, we are excited by the possibilities we see in applying AI to the industry, to our own business, and to meeting our mission of improving lives.

Chris Shelton, AES VP and Chief Technology Officer