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How artificial intelligence helps companies become more sustainable

Author : David Pownall, VP Services at Schneider Electric UK&I

04 January 2022

Decarbonisation is a priority for 91.5% of UK and Ireland businesses. But we can’t achieve it without accurate and detailed visibility, that goes beyond human capabilities. Artificial intelligence (AI) has the power to help us make smarter decisions, based on hard facts and enormous amounts of data – ultimately providing companies operational benefits and supporting their progress on the path to sustainability.

To be future-ready, companies must start combining AI, human skills, and trusted partnerships right now. After all, climate change won’t wait for us to be ready. Rising sea levels, and intensifying wildfires, storms, droughts and floods hammer home that message every day. The damage is undeniable, and the clock is ticking.
The energy challenge requires intelligence; both human and artificial
Clean energy and efficient energy management are key to attacking the climate crisis. And the true value of Artificial Intelligence in energy management springs to life when technology meets human expertise. When you equip energy market experts with data-based insights and digital technologies, you get better-informed corporate strategies, quicker decision making, and greater operational efficiency.
AI is still a relatively new kid on the block – and many people may still have the impression that it’s a theoretical discipline that’s not yet able to deliver practical solutions.
The reality, however, is that we already apply AI to analyse, simulate, test, use logic, learn, predict, and adjust over time. And those capabilities can help companies and societies advance toward greater energy efficiency and decarbonisation.
Here’s three ways AI can shape energy management:
1. More efficient use of energy
25.4% of UK and Ireland businesses claim to have installed a microgrid or renewable power source like solar or wind. Making sure this energy does not go to waste is key. This is especially because 80% of CO2 emissions are linked to the production and inefficient consumption of energy. Companies collect large amounts of data that they can use to maximise this efficiency. Turning that data into insights can be a challenge – but one that AI can help with.
AI can accurately track and anticipate consumption trends, notice where changes need to be made, and automatically fine-tune systems to ensure optimum efficiency. And it can help companies react instantly to demand response opportunities and to the increasingly frequent disruptions caused by extreme weather.
2. Diversification of energy sources
On the road to net zero, clean energy is undoubtedly part of the solution, especially when delivered hand in hand with eliminating energy waste. Clean energy and energy efficiency are things we already have today, alongside the existing technology that we require to harness them.
AI can also support companies in introducing renewable energy sources and controlling their carbon footprint – giving clean energy a better chance in the market.
Companies producing their own renewable energy can apply AI and predictive analytics to weather data to help determine peak times for generation and optimise the use of distributed-energy storage systems or batteries. 
3. Smarter energy buying
A smart approach to sustainability also includes smart spending. AI can examine complex market trends and dissect data to devise plans to better manage energy spend and reduce risk in a volatile market.
AI-powered forecast algorithms are vital, as they enable flexibility for the most critical demand. For example, if you have a peak at £1 and in one hour another peak at £1.50, it’s better to have enough energy available for the second peak. This is possible thanks to these forecasting algorithms.
This technology can also observe how and when companies consume energy and support their trading decisions. For example, companies who both consume and produce energy – known as prosumers – can receive guidance to make optimal decisions on when to sell excess energy from their renewable sources.
Beyond net-zero
What does this look like in practice? Take the distribution centre of the retailer Lidl in Finland. Here, smart building operation software “teaches” the building management system to predict and optimise energy use. The system works in tandem with the site’s microgrids, so that energy is produced, consumed or stored exactly where it needs to be, saving 70% in energy costs. During certain times of year, it can even go beyond net-zero by distributing excess energy to 500 homes nearby.
Our last best chance to tackle climate change
AI is not a “silver-bullet” that can single-handedly green a business overnight. But it’s already opening up far-reaching possibilities for companies. When implemented in tandem with – and in support of – a company’s overall sustainability goals, it can help accelerate the journey to a more climate-friendly future. And that means it can help address the greatest challenge facing humanity, and business, today.

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