Artificial Intelligence (AI) is taking over in every industry and sector and has the potential to drive an efficiency and productivity revolution. In the renewable energy sector, AI modelling could assist with optimising power plant design, ensuring that various renewables sources are effectively integrated and load balanced, provide optimised and continuous monitoring and much more. However, statistics show that while 95% of companies have an AI strategy, only 14% are ready to integrate it, and this is often driven by fear that AI will take over human jobs. Understanding that AI, particularly within the renewables space, will not take away jobs but rather create them, is key to leveraging the immense power of this technology to drive South Africa (and the world) forward on the sustainability journey.
Supporting the transition
AI has numerous applications in the renewable energy space which will help to improve efficiency and speed up the time taken to deliver on these vital projects. For example, AI can assist with resource optimisation by analysing vast amounts of data, including weather patterns, energy consumption and grid performance, to optimise the allocation of renewable resources, maximising energy production and reducing waste. In addition, AI can predict equipment failures and perform preventative maintenance to minimise downtime and ensure the reliable operation of renewable energy infrastructure.
AI can help balance supply and demand and optimise both storage and distribution of renewable energy, a critical factor given that sources like solar and wind provide intermittent supply to the grid. AI can also predict energy demand patterns, balance loads, and improve grid stability, which will help with facilitating the integration of renewable energy sources into existing infrastructure. Other areas include energy production forecasting on the supply side, optimising energy consumption on the demand side, and enhancing the efficiency of the manufacturing process to speed up supply of renewables components.
From an environmental perspective, AI can be applied to monitor and assess the environmental impact of renewable energy projects, including evaluating the effects on wildlife, ecosystems, and overall sustainability as well as the predicted power output of areas. This can help Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to select the best sites for deployment of renewables plants and the best location and positioning for the components, while also easing land acquisition by ensuring criteria for environmental impact assessments are met.
AI does not replace people
The benefits of harnessing AI in the renewable energy rollout are numerous. If leveraged correctly the technology could not only improve the efficiency and maintenance of these solutions, but it could also ensure that they can be rolled out faster and can begin to address South Africa’s ongoing power crisis. The reality is that, globally we are not on target to meet the Paris Agreement goals, so anything that we can do to fast-track the process will be essential. Using AI means we will be able to get more projects to shovel-ready status and commissioning phase quicker, helping to bridge this gap, but it will not replace the role of people in the process. We still need the engineers and the specialists and the construction teams, and so on, but using AI will make all these jobs easier and increase efficiency. Bringing AI into the renewable energy space will help create new jobs and opportunities while augmenting the roles of existing players in the space. By accelerating the development of renewables projects, this will in turn boost the economy, alleviate the energy crisis, and enable greater productivity for the country. It is imperative to take a bigger picture view of the situation – AI cannot take jobs that do not even exist at present, and if South Africa does not address immediate problems (which AI can assist with), the job landscape will become even more dire.