Artificial intelligence to accelerate economical energy transition, WEF says

Every 1% of additional efficiency in demand will create $1.3tn in value between 2020 and 2050

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - The Panorama Command Centre and Artificial Intelligence space at the ADNOC headquarters, on February 25, 2018. (Khushnum Bhandari/ The National)
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Artificial intelligence has “tremendous potential” to support and accelerate a reliable and lowest-cost energy transition, a new report by the World Economic Forum has revealed.

Through its high-tech applications, AI can integrate renewable energy resources into the power grid, support an autonomous electricity distribution system and open up new revenue streams for demand-side flexibility, WEF said in its Harnessing Artificial Intelligence to Accelerate Energy Transition report compiled in collaboration with BloombergNEF and Deutsche Energie-Agentur (dena) – the German energy agency.

Governments and companies can collectively create a real tipping point in using AI for a faster energy transition
Roberto Bocca, head of energy at WEF

AI can create substantial value for the global energy transition, the report said. Every 1 per cent of additional efficiency in demand will create $1.3 trillion in value between 2020 and 2050 due to reduced investment needs, according to BloombergNEF’s net-zero scenario modelling.

This could be achieved by enabling greater energy efficiency and flexing demand.

“In energy, we are only seeing the beginning of what AI can do to speed up the transition to the low-emissions, ultra-efficient and interconnected energy systems we need tomorrow,” Roberto Bocca, head of energy at WEF, said.

“Governments and companies can collectively create a real tipping point in using AI for a faster energy transition.”

In energy sector, AI could develop models for oil recovery, reduce carbon emissions, increase water and power efficiency and manage other aspects of energy generation, shipment and transmission.

The WEF report also highlights measures on governing, designing and enabling responsible use of AI in energy sector.

The transition to low-carbon energy systems is driving the rapid growth of distributed power generation, distributed storage and advanced demand response capabilities. It needs to be “orchestrated and integrated into much more networked, transactional power grids”, the report said.

“Navigating these opportunities presents huge strategic and operational challenges for energy-intensive sectors and energy systems themselves, just as they are undergoing once-in-a-lifetime digital transformations.”

It said the fully decarbonising the global energy system will require between $92tn and $173tn of investments in energy infrastructure between 2020 and 2050. Even single-digit percentage gains in flexibility, efficiency or capacity in clean energy and low-carbon infrastructure systems can therefore lead to trillions of dollars in value and savings.

“AI is an essential technology for the energy transition since it will provide the glue to connect the different sectors [power, heat, mobility and industry] and serve as digital technology to effectively monitor systems and processes,” Andreas Kuhlmann, chief executive of dena, said.

“To efficiently control the energy system of the future, which will be very volatile due to renewable energies, such agent-based control will play an overarching role."

AI is an essential technology for the energy transition since it will provide the glue to connect the different sectors
Andreas Kuhlmann, chief executive of dena

While there are many tangible opportunities for AI in the energy transition, there is a real need for a set of common guiding principles to make these opportunities scalable, said Jon Moore, chief executive of BloombergNEF.

“These principles should ideally create a framework that enables multiple stakeholder groups to work together effectively … they will enable us to move past the many ‘proofs of concept’ projects towards successful large-scale implementation of solutions."

According to BloombergNEF’s estimates, almost 56 per cent of power generation could be provided by solar and wind in 2050.

The global energy system is currently undergoing a massive transformation. It will continue to become more decentralised, digitalised and decarbonised, according to industry experts.

To reach the commitments made under the 2015 Paris Agreement – limiting the global temperature rise to well below two-degrees Celsius – this transition must accelerate.

“In recent years, the energy sector has become increasingly digital and it is clear that further digitalisation will be a key feature of the energy transition and an essential driver of the sector’s progress towards ambitious climate goals,” WEF report said.

Updated: September 08, 2021, 6:55 AM