The utilities industry is rarely seen as the most innovative environment for disruptive technology. Yet, without the tools in place to enable the delivery of crucial utilities, our lives as we know it would crumble. Every day, electric power, gas, and other industries deal with hugely complex operations. Not only are these companies striving to power the world, but they’re doing so in a time when they need to be increasingly conscious about the impact their activities have on the planet.
With global demand for power increasing at an incredible rate, and the threats of climate change, global warming, and natural disaster looming overhead, utilities groups need additional help to manage and overcome current, and future challenges.
Artificial Intelligence is already beginning to make its way into the utilities landscape like never before, as more data and informative insights intersect with the way we access and use power.

The Potential of AI in the Utilities Space

Artificial Intelligence has the potential to tackle a number of challenges in the way we use and leverage power. Currently, ERPI is looking into an AI reinforcement learning agent to tackle the issue of power grid operations. This solution would become an algorithm-based autopilot options for operators searching for optimized performance. Artificial Intelligence can also help us to better predict and prepare for the impact of energy usage around the world.
In the utilities sector, short-term load forecasts are critical for ongoing functionality. Machine learning can be used to predict the supply and demand ratio in real time, optimizing distribution in a way that’s beneficial for both end-users, and renewable source management. Machine learning models like decision trees are currently being used to stabilize fluctuating production and improve forecasting activities, particularly from renewable sources like wind and solar energy.
Researchers are in the process of testing various models to ensure any energy we do use is being accessed as efficiently as possible.

  1. Validating strategies for distributing energy
As mentioned above, predicting energy demand with machine learning has a variety of benefits to offer in the right circumstances. The correct solution will allow utilities companies to determine when they’re likely to experience spikes in demand, so they can prepare correctly. Machine learning solutions can determine how to distribute energy more efficiently, and how to store the extra energy collected from sustainable sources for later use.
AutoGrid already uses insights into energy use based on artificial intelligence to help detect and respond to supply and demand patterns, improving the financial and performance abilities of the utilities brand. Additionally, AI and machine learning’s ability to predict fluctuations in energy load will also help to enhance the distribution process to significantly reduce energy prices and demand on the industry.

  1. Optimizing power generation and maintenance
AI is fantastic for power providers looking to improve generation efficiency with real-time automated adjustments. For instance, the Siemen’s Gas Turbine autonomous control system uses a sensor in real-time to track the conditions in a gas turbine. This system performs many different tasks thanks to algorithms, including controlling the combustion process by constantly adjusting fuel valves to respond to various variables.
Not only does the use of AI here improve power generation, but it also reduces emissions, with an up to 20% decrease measured in nitrogen oxides.
AI has proven to be excellent at predicting the potential need for maintenance among various power creation tools. The AI environment can help to replace time-intensive and risky manual inspections with robotics and drone technology. At the same time, the system can detect faults with algorithms and sensors, helping to reduce the risk of significant downtime.

  1. Improving customer experience in utilities
Utilities companies do have a significant impact on the planet and our environment, but they’re still businesses at the end of the day. This means that like other businesses, utilities groups need to ensure they’re constantly working to improve the experience for customers. AI solutions capable of detecting faults before they can impact a user’s access to power will be an important step forward in excellent customer experience. Artificial intelligence can also help to collect insights from big data about how people access utilities, so companies can better serve their clients.
AI algorithms are becoming increasingly effective at finding patterns in huge amounts of data, and utilities companies can use this functionality not just to learn more about the industry and predict load demands, but to boost customer experience too. For instance, AI solutions could help to reduce energy theft issues, and protect customers against fraud.
AI solutions can also be used to create individual offers for bigger businesses leveraging a power or utilities supply, for a more personalized experience.

  1. Leveraging Demand Management
Improving the way that we create and distribute energy and crucial utilities is important, but the world could benefit even more if we were able to learn as a community how to reduce our reliance on energy. Demand management presents an opportunity in this area.
The implementation of AI-powered tools helps to improve energy management systems and overall energy efficiency on a massive scale. Companies can combine energy flow control technology with large industrial equipment like air conditioning units and furnaces to shut them down automatically when the power access is low. Google AI and DeepMind even managed to reduce the energy consumption in data centres by as much as 15% by using AI insights and intelligent cooling strategies.
Elsewhere, in the UK, Upside Energy is using machine learning to support the management of a portfolio of storage assets which supplement the grid, while other companies are exploring machine learning as a tool to unlock new levels of demand-side flexibility.

The Future of AI in Utilities

AI has had its ups and downs in the utilities industry, but we’re finally beginning to see evidence of it being used in a way that demonstrates significant progress. Big data, analytics, AI and machine learning could improve the way we all access power and utilities going forward. What’s more, it could be the key to saving the planet in terms of sustainable energy usage.