From utopia to beacon of hope

Once considered a utopia, today artificial intelligence offers great opportunities for the energy systems of the future - And it is already making its way into the energy transition.

electricity pylonsCopyright: Adobe Stock/kosssmosss

For a long time, the term 'artificial intelligence' was something barely tangible, not just for the energy transition. But what does artificial intelligence really mean? What use could it have for our energy system of the future? And how far will consumers actually come into contact with it themselves? In the past, there were more questions than answers. But now, artificial intelligence (AI) has long become reality in various areas of the energy industry. According to a recent analysis by the German Energy Agency (dena), AI has the potential to further advance the transformation towards an integrated energy system. The study, commissioned by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, examined the state of technical development and the relationship between cost and benefit for nine specific fields of application and used this to derive recommendations for action (The full analysis can be found here). As a next step, these recommendations will now need to be tested and applied in practice.

dena CEO Mr Andreas Kuhlmann summarised the analysis as follows: 'Initial piloting of AI in the energy industry has shown that it can be a driver of new business models, accelerates innovation, and helps to leverage the potential for raising efficiency. What's particularly important is the exchange and transfer of knowledge between the players in the energy and digital sectors.' Dr Christoph Scholten, Head of the Division for digitisation of the energy system transformation at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, said: 'In future, we will see more and more AI components at all stages of the value chain. These need to be able to interact with one another throughout the system. We therefore need to build up knowledge quickly so that we can lay the foundations for applying artificial intelligence holistically, right across the energy industry'.

The key criteria for the use of AI should be benefits and sustainability

According to the analysis, the decision to use AI should above all be based the technical and commercial benefits offered, and on whether it can be used sustainably. The areas in which AI holds the greatest potential for furthering the energy transition are as given as forecasting, operations and the optimisation of inventories. Here, artificial intelligence can be used, for example, to improve network utilisation and detect bottlenecks earlier, or to better plan the use of renewable energy plants. In maintenance and security, however, the use of AI is in many cases still at the research stage. When it comes to consumers, AI could also go on to offer many direct advantages, for example by facilitating the automated sale of self-generated electricity from private photovoltaic systems.

The analysis published by dena is in fact the final report of the 'EnerKI' project, which investigated the use of artificial intelligence for optimising the energy system. The aim of this project, which was launched at the beginning of 2019, was to boost knowledge development on AI in the energy industry, to sound out its potential for energy system transformation, and to make the knowledge gained available.

Future Energy Lab: innovative technologies for the energy sector tested in practice

The findings and analysis from the EnerKI project also form the basis for dena’s 'Future Energy Lab'. This is a further project that is being undertaken on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy which was launched at the end of August. The new project, which also involves experts from the energy sector, is being used to investigate various technologies that could be used for specific applications within the energy industry. These notably include blockchain and artificial intelligence. The researchers taking part in Future Energy Lab will be able to exchange ideas with each other via a virtual platform.

Commenting on the new project, dena CEO, Mr Andreas Kuhlmann, said: "We have been working hard over the past few months to secure our first project partners from all sub-sectors of the energy industry and to build up the infrastructure we need to cooperate with one another efficiently. Our partners range from DAX corporations to start-ups, as well as transmission system operators and hardware manufacturers. Everyone is on board to work together to develop digital solutions that can be used for an integrated energy transition.” The first three pilot projects, which have already been launched, also form part of the Federal Government's block-chain strategy.

How digital technologies help to make emissions visible

One of the keys to reducing harmful carbon emissions is to know where they are being produced, for example in urban areas. This is why a pilot project is under way to look at the levels of emissions in various towns and cities across Germany, including Bottrop, Dortmund, Giessen, Münster, Brandenburg an der Havel, Templin, Chemnitz and Constance. he project includes the development of a carbon indicator that visualises levels of carbon emissions on a virtual map. The aim is to raise local citizens' awareness about mitigating climate change at municipal level and to test how an energy data platform might work in practice.

Smart contracts for the energy industry

There are also plans for a second pilot project which will look at the use of digital contractual relationships, known as smart contracts. This is because in order to use these contracts in the energy industry, they first need to be standardised, automated and made legally compliant. The project will bring together experts from the fields of law, standardisation, IT and the energy industry. It is expected to start at the end of 2020 and any interested parties wishing to take part still have time to contact dena.

Infrastructure for the digital energy system of the future

A new project has been launched by dena to develop a machine identity ledger based on blockchain which is to enable technical devices to be clearly identified. The aim of the 'Blockchain Machine Identity Ledger' project is to develop a prototype that could potentially become a basis for the digital energy system of the future. More than 20 partners are involved in the pilot project, including large corporations, new and established companies from the digital and energy sector and a scientific support team.

SET Hub: Support for energy transition start-ups

The transfer of knowledge into practice is also the aim of a further initiative called the SET Hub. Run by dena, this is a dedicated hub for start-ups whose focus is linked to energy transition topics. The SET Hub offers young companies working in this area free support in gearing their business models towards the energy transition, including the transfer of knowledge to the real-life energy system, individual advice and contacts for start-up entrepreneurs. For the start-ups involved, the first component of the project is attending the SET Academy. This consists of two-day workshops covering basic knowledge on the energy system and specialist knowledge on specific topics for energy start-ups. The Academy is run cooperation with research institutions and universities. The next SET Academy will run from 8 to 9 October 2020 in Essen. For full information about the SET Hub, please click here.

The Set Academies also provide teaching on artificial intelligence in the energy transition. By doing so, it is making sure that when it comes to a new age of energy, there will soon be many more answers than questions.