Transition Tools: Artificial Intelligence

Intro———-Nuclear Technologies———-Carbon Capture———-Artificial Intelligence

While reducing energy consumption across all sectors will be essential, our modern societies are energy-dependent. Certain essential activities and facilities require energy and always will. In those situations, increasing energy efficiency will be key to reduce consumption while maintaining the current quality of life and services.

Artificial intelligence [AI] can be a useful tool to increase energy efficiency at large scales. In this section, we’ll refer to AI as systems that perform data analytics to automate controls – not those that attempt to replicate human consciousness [wouldn’t be relevant to energy efficiency].

Benefits

Typically, AI systems are optimizers. By collecting data and analyzing trends, AI algorithms are able to ‘learn’ cause/effect relationships. When then faced with similar data, AI systems can ‘predict’ what’ll happen by looking at the most probable outcome. It’s essentially a statistic-based guessing software.

Source: IEA (2019) Energy Efficiency and Digitalization. All rights reserved.

For energy-efficiency applications, AI systems can use these predictions to send optimized instructions to energy-consuming equipment. There are loads of examples of eco-friendly AI products already in application, ranging from the automation of rotating solar panels to maximize sunlight capture – to predictive temperature controls that help minimize energy consumption in buildings. By optimizing energy generation or consumption, AI can reduce energy waste.

Drawbacks

AI can continue to reduce energy waste and help renewables phase out of fossil fuels. However, between the production, use, and disposal impacts of increased digitalization and the large volumes of information that need to be collected, sent, analyzed, and stored during AI’s learning phase, it’s clear that AI also has drawbacks.

Conclusion

It’s important to evaluate whether AI’s benefits outweigh the drawbacks in any given situation. As a rule of thumb, AI systems are great at large scales where the optimization of energy generation or consumption usually outweighs all negative impacts. It’s often the opposite for low energy consumers, where the use of AI wouldn’t reduce energy waste that much.

AI can be a fantastic tool that can accelerate the transition out of fossil fuels and reduce energy waste long after we’ve switched to renewables. It just needs to be adopted at the right scale.