Combating climate change - the role of AI
The world is in the midst of a climate crisis. With global surface temperatures rapidly rising over 0.18° C per decade since 1981, it's never been more important that governments prioritise the targets laid out at COP26.
Already, the UK government has been hit by lawsuits from environmental groups claiming the climate goals are ‘imaginary’ and based on ‘unproven technology’ which is concerning given this alarming rate of climate change.
It's time for the UK government to implement clear and precise goals to help innovate and speed up our transition to net-zero in 2050. As a priority, carbon outputs from energy and mobility must be halved every decade which can only be achieved if the energy system - including how the UK generates, stores and uses energy - is completely overhauled. Leveraging technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) to optimize existing and new energy assets is just one example of how the shift away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy can be accelerated.
The UK’s energy system
The UK needs to create an energy system powered by renewable energy that can support the uptick in electricity use in the years to come. Currently, the UK relies on a system where the grid will take most of its power from oil and gas fueled power stations which has traditionally been the most stable way of balancing the system.
Through this approach supply could easily be ramped up and down depending on demand requirements by burning more fossil fuels. However, as we shift to using more renewable energy, ensuring that energy supply meets demand isn’t as simple as putting more coal in the furnace. Replacing the traditional fueled generation with predominantly wind and solar energy supplies which rely on the weather to generate electricity, means the supply is uncertain. A sudden change in wind speed or cloud cover could put the system out of balance. This is where AI technology comes into its own.
AI, in broad terms, is used to make predictions about the future, creating solutions based on data. In this way, AI will play a key role in managing real-time fluctuations in energy demand, utilising information and data to balance the grid and energy supply. By predicting household solar generation and consumption to produce the right amount of energy at the correct times, this technology can create a decentralised energy system that moves away from fossil fuels.
How AI can increase smart battery IQ
Smart batteries will play an important role in a new decentralised energy system but they rely on AI and machine learning (ML) to work smarter. Rather than having to curtail renewable energy, intelligent batteries allow the grid to store excess renewable energy helping consumers move away from a reliance on gas and power their homes.
Through AI, these batteries are able to analyse a household’s recent energy generation and consumption patterns, predicting how much energy a household is likely to use based on the local weather forecast and energy tariffs. As these batteries get ‘smarter’ through AI, they can learn to predict when a household needs energy therefore charging and discharging at the right times to reduce reliance on the grid. This information can then help to create a personalised low-cost, efficient plan for a specific household.
Currently, according to the most recent EY renewable energy index, if the world is to meet its sustainability goals there needs to be a 50% increase in grid investment over the course of the next decade. To put this into perspective, the Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimated that annual power grid investments will need to grow from roughly $235 billion in 2020 to $636 billion by 2050. Increasing the IQ of home energy storage solutions is essential in lowering these costs and keeping the UK on track to meet its climate goals.
The rise of virtual power plants
Smart batteries are also key in creating a network of Virtual Power Plants (VPPs) which can aid in balancing renewable energy on the grid. VPPs are a network of decentralised, renewable power generating units which eradicate the need for fossil fuels.
By utilising the renewable energy stored in smart batteries, these local VPPs can power households, or when there is more energy than demand, they can charge batteries from excess green energy. AI can be utilised here to facilitate the growth of fleets of optimised batteries and a peer-to-peer energy network which would allow these smart batteries to ‘communicate’ with each other. This communication would mean that energy can be exchanged between batteries, further reducing the amount of electricity that each household relies on from the grid, and in turn, the cost of energy bills.
It’s therefore essential that the government continue to invest in AI technology to help make the grid and our energy supply cleaner and more efficient. The targets and goals discussed at COP26 can’t be missed and this technology is vital in transforming the energy landscape of the UK and helping to meet these net-zero targets. The damage that has already been done can’t be undone but any further damage can be stopped if action is taken now.