The richest man on Earth and Microsoft founder Bill Gates penned an article earlier this year for college students graduating throughout the world in 2017. The post was published online at “The blog of Bill Gates.” “If I were starting out now,” he said, Three fields come to mind. Artificial intelligence is one (AI). We have only just begun to explore all the possibilities for increasing productivity and creativity in people’s lives. The second is energy since reducing poverty and addressing climate change will depend on making it reliable, inexpensive, and clean. He mentioned biosciences as the third area.
The fact that careers in artificial intelligence and energy are not mutually exclusive is encouraging for those who are committed to enhancing living conditions for both the present and the future generations. In fact, as computing power, data collection, and storage capacity grow rapidly each year, they are becoming more integrated. The head of British Petroleum’s (BP) Technologies Group’s emerging technology division, Dan Walker, claims that “AI is enabling the fourth industrial revolution and has the potential to help deliver the next level of performance.”
Although AI is still in its infancy, it has the potential to completely alter how we generate, transmit, and use energy. At the same time as demand is rapidly increasing, our energy production portfolio is broadening, and we are seeing the effects of fossil fuel usage on biodiversity, air quality, and quality of life, AI is simultaneously lowering the industry’s environmental impact.
Why is it necessary to update the Energy grid ?
Thomas Edison established the country’s first power plant in 1882 at Pearl Street Station in lower Manhattan to serve 59 clients. Since then, the user base has grown to hundreds of millions, but the main design has not been updated for the present period. Power plants, transmission lines, and distribution hubs make up its extensive network (comprising roughly 5,800 power plants and over 2.7 million miles of power lines).
Inevitably, there are potential for monopolies to form in the market due to high expenses for infrastructure and distribution channels as well as strict governmental controls. As a result, three distinct U.S. grids generate and transmit electricity in accordance with the duty to offer affordable, dependable energy as a public benefit.
The average age of a power plant and a power transformer in the United States is over 30 years and 40 years, respectively. According to the government task team tasked with its investigation, the 2003 Northeast blackout, caused by this failing transmission system, was the biggest disaster in American history. An overloaded transmission line sagged and hit a tree, knocking down power to 50 million people for several days. These kinds of incidents can have a ripple impact on the entire area grid and are challenging for utility providers to handle.
The growth of distributed production, in which individual users produce and utilise their own electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar, presents another difficulty. Due to the complicated nature of supply and demand, utility companies are compelled to purchase excess energy from individual consumers who produce more power than they consume and transmit the extra energy back to the system. The amount of solar energy produced has more than tripled since 2010, and this growth is expected to continue as photovoltaic cells, the technology used to harness solar energy, become more efficient and less expensive.
This diversification of energy sources, particularly the increase in renewable resources, was not intended to be supported by the current system. Instead, utilities quickly activate backup fossil fuel-powered facilities known as “peaker plants” when demand exceeds supply to prevent a domino effect of disaster. The most costly and wasteful aspect of their operations, as evidenced by increased electricity costs for consumers and greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, is this method. The expected future growth of the United States’ energy demand will make these issues worse.
How can the Energy grid be updated?
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has established supporting the “smart grid” as a national policy objective to address these issues. A “fully automated power delivery network that monitors and controls every consumer and node, ensuring a two-way flow of electricity and information,” the “smart grid” includes all of these components. The DOE has deployed over 15 million smart metres that track individual energy consumption and notify utilities of local blackouts since 2010, investing $4.5 billion in smart grid technology. While the total U.S. energy demand is anticipated to rise by 25 percent by 2050, it is estimated that this programme will restrict the increase in peak electricity load on the grid to just 1 percent.
The intelligence of this upcoming smart grid will be AI. To quickly decide how to effectively allocate energy resources, the system will continuously gather and synthesis enormous volumes of data from millions of smart sensors across the country. Additionally, “deep learning” technologies, which enable machines to discover patterns and abnormalities in massive data sets on their own, will transform the demand and supply sides of the energy economy.
As a result, customised microgrids that handle local energy needs with more precision will take the place of big regional grids. These can be used with brand-new battery technologies to maintain power to and across neighbourhood communities even when severe weather or other power outages affect the larger power grid.
On the demand side, sensors along transmission lines and smart metres for users, including residences and businesses, will be able to continuously monitor demand and supply. Additionally, “synchrophasers”—briefcase-sized gadgets that measure the flow of electricity across the grid in real time—would enable operators to actively manage and prevent outages.By interacting with the grid and adjusting electricity use during off-peak hours, these sensors would lighten the load on the grid and reduce consumer prices. Google recently used this AI technology to cut its overall data centre power usage, resulting in savings of millions of dollars.
On the supply side, AI will make it possible for the United States to switch to an energy portfolio with higher production of renewable resources and few interruptions from the sources’ inherent cyclicity caused by changing levels of sunlight and wind. For instance, the grid might lower its output of fossil fuels when renewables are running over a given threshold, either because of increases in wind speed or sunny days, so reducing the amount of harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The converse would be true when renewable energy production is below its peak, allowing all energy sources to be used as effectively as possible and only turning to fossil fuels as necessary.Producers will also be able to adjust energy output from various sources in real-time to match social, geographic, and seasonal variations in demand.
Exist any issues with the proposed smart grid ?
The rising use of information and communication technology, which requires the Internet as well as computer and processing capacity to function, is one of the main issues with the smart grid. The use of the Internet has expanded by 30–40% annually, and businesses have switched to machine-run processes, making this industry a significant source to greenhouse gas emissions in recent years. Additional hardware and computer capacity will be required to process the quantity of data required to operate the smart grid, which will inevitably result in increased energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Players in the AI energy grid market will therefore need to deal with this issue.
Fortunately, business executives are aware of this issue and are moving in the correct path. The three biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in this sector—computer manufacturers, data centres, and telecommunications—are working to cut emissions in a variety of ways. As an illustration, computer manufacturers are spending money on new hard drives, screens, and fuel cells; data centres are keeping an eye on the weather, pooling their resources, and researching cloud computing; and the telecommunications industry is looking into network optimization tools, solar-powered base stations, and fibre optics.
The entire system might be able to lower its carbon footprint if the smart grid is able to use fossil fuels as efficiently as feasible through growing incorporation of renewable resources as those technologies become more sophisticated and capable. We can be hopeful in expecting the smart grid system to reduce electricity costs and avert catastrophic blackouts by optimising supply and demand at the local and national levels, notwithstanding the uncertainties surrounding future technology progress.
The intersection of AI and energy is an excellent place to start for people who want to have an impact on how society develops in the future. The two industries’ merger is still in its early stages, but technological innovation is fundamentally altering the way we think about them. They are the perfect environment for creative thinkers to leave their imprint and have the potential to revolutionise the world as we know it.
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