With 2017 well on its way I thought it might be of interest to look at some of the changes we will probably see affecting power plant operation due to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Renewables.
Did you ever think that AI could have an impact on operating power plants? A new type of internet software is emerging. It can apply analytics to the data being generated from the sensors located within the power plant equipment to predict failure or downtime. AI engineers believe this information can be used to prevent 75% of unplanned downtime; actually allowing the machine to let us know when a breakdown will occur and what we can do to prevent it; using the sensor data based on past as well a current readings. This is technically called “prescriptive intelligence”. We’re going to see broad applications for AI in the electricity industry: applied to data from smart meters, wind turbines, nuclear plants, and drones used for remote plant inspection, we will solve problems that previously required humans to conduct, some of which were hazardous and expensive. Using Artificial Intelligence in this way can be used to improve efficiency and increase power plant reliability, thus improving capacity factor.
Currently, 75% of our energy supply is still coming from nonrenewable sources. However, in 2017, more utility-scale wind and solar will be incorporated, and in many regions of the U.S. these generation sources will move electricity prices downward. But the reality of completely edging out traditional sources, such as coal, gas, and nuclear cannot occur. These legacy sources are needed during consumption peaks and changing weather conditions, not to mention reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Moving forward, pricing pressure and emissions standards will push new and creative legislation to keep existing power plants in operation and make them more efficient and flexible.
AI will play an important role in renewables, as well, with software get more out of wind and solar and helping new and existing fossil fuel plants in becoming more efficient. The focus here is on the power of 1 percent – it doesn’t seem like a big number, but the impact could be huge.
A 1.5% efficiency improvement applied to power plants around the world would drop the annual global CO2 emissions from 11,266 million metric tonnes (Mt) to 10,757 metric tonnes (Mt). That’s a reduction of 4.2% per year, equivalent to taking 250 million cars off the road every year.