How AI can help us make progress on the energy transition

Artificial intelligence is already being used to control our grids and helps align different parts of our energy system. But it can deliver even more benefits, experts say.

Father shows daugther AI.© Adobe Stock/jamesteohart

A flexible and smart energy system that is controlled by human knowledge and ever more powerful machine intelligence: even though this may currently still be a vision, researchers from all over the world are convinced that artificial intelligence offers tremendous potential – for example for increasing energy efficiency in industry, optimising our energy systems and integrating renewables into the grid. They want to use this important technology as soon as they can. However, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the use of artificial intelligence in the energy sector.

dena analysis looks into using AI for the energy transition

The German Energy Agency (dena) has recently presented a detailed study into the use of artificial intelligence (AI), setting out nine areas where the technology could be used to drive forward the energy transition. The analysis concludes that AI can be used to improve security of supply and to quickly detect cyber attacks on the grids. The analysis forms part of a project entitled 'EnerKI – Using artificial intelligence to optimise the energy system' which dena is conducting on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.

Assessment of nine specific energy-related fields

Experts believe that artificial intelligence (or AI) could play an important role in the drafting of forecasts on energy generation and energy consumption, which are becoming ever more complex as the level of renewables in our energy mix rises. There are times when there is no wind or sun – being able to predict the times when energy needs to be stored and the times when demand is high, is therefore of fundamental importance for keeping our grids stable.

Research on this is being conducted by the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) under the SINTEG project entitled 'DESIGNETZ'. Under this project, the researchers from the DFKI are developing three forecasting methods that are based on machine learning (the artificial generation of knowledge based on experience) and then add data on the electricity generation from solar PV installations.

Automated creation of renovation plans and calculation of the carbon footprint

Optimising energy installations and helping businesses invest and make decisions are two other areas where artificial intelligence could make a difference. Companies could collect information about electricity price development and other real-time data and use artificial intelligence to analyse this data in no time at all in order to develop the ideal business strategy. AI could also help businesses take strategic decisions as it allows in-house and external data to be compared, providing crucial information for the decision-making process. This is being tested under the 'WindNODE' SINTEG project. The project uses an IT platform – which was designed by IT service provider enersis – to develop automated renovation plans for restoring a historic residential neighbourhood. Combining individual user data with public data allows for the automatic calculation of the carbon footprint.

Smart technology could help quickly detect cyber attacks on the grids in advance

Artificial intelligence could also be used to quickly detect cyber attacks on infrastructure such as power plants and energy networks, by detecting unusual patterns in energy generation, energy transport, energy trade and energy consumption. This could help to considerably improve security of supply. According to information provided by the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), the number of cyber attacks on critical infrastructure more than quadrupled between 2017 and 2018, with around 12 per cent of these attacks targeting the electricity grid.

Managing energy use in the home

Individuals who operate electricity generation and storage units at home can also benefit from AI technology, which can help to use energy more efficiently and therefore reduce costs. For example, the Shine energy manager analyses energy generation and consumption data, helping households align the amount of electricity supplied by their solar PV installation with the electricity consumed by the electronic devices used in the home.

Using drones for maintenance inspections

By equipping drones with the necessary technology, artificial intelligence can also be used to monitor and maintain energy installations.

For more information about all nine areas where AI can be used, please consult dena's analysis.