Peter Weckesser, chief digital officer at Schneider Electric, discusses how AI can help businesses drive sustainability efforts
Sustainability and digitisation are like twins; they go hand in hand. They both have the potential to change the way businesses operate and the way people work — at any role, and any level.
In particular, artificial intelligence (AI) is a key tenet of both sustainability and digitalisation, empowering companies with real-time visibility and a myriad of insights as they take the winding path towards net zero.
However, time waits for no one, and the challenges of becoming sustainable will only multiply if businesses don’t start deploying AI alongside their talented humans right now. After all, the clock is ticking: the IPCC notes we must halve emissions by 2030 to stop irreversible climate change.
Artificial or not, reducing emissions will take serious intelligence
Let’s be clear: clean energy and efficient energy management are key to attacking the climate crisis. And the true value of AI 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.
How AI can bolster sustainability efforts
- Making energy use much more efficient: Companies collect large amounts of data that they can use to maximise 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.
- Helping diversify sources of energy: AI can 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.
- Impacting how we buy energy: AI can examine complex market trends and dissect data to devise plans to better manage energy spend and reduce risk in a volatile market. This technology can also observe how and when companies consume energy and support their trading decisions. For example, companies that 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.
AI helps us reach beyond net zero
What does this look like in practice? Take the distribution center of the retailer Lidl in Finland. Here, AI-driven software “teaches” the building management system to predict and optimise energy use. The system works in tandem with resource management software so that energy is produced, consumed or stored exactly where it needs to be — saving 70 per cent in energy costs. During certain times of year, it can even go beyond net zero by distributing excess energy to 500 homes nearby.
Helping to set fairer energy costs amid a crisis
Another example that’s particularly pertinent today: the South Australian Produce Market struggled with volatile tariff rates along with negative pricing on certain days. Technology helps to manage that volatility to optimise operations based on the price signals.
Act now to make a real change
AI isn’t going to solve all a business’s sustainability concerns overnight. However, it does provide fantastic, flexible options for eliminating waste in multiple areas of a business. When aligned with a company’s overall sustainability strategy, AI accelerates achievement and enables business leaders to plan ahead, think creatively, and make data-based decisions.
We don’t have much time to act, but businesses that start now with AI to improve energy efficiency and lower their carbon footprint can make a significant, positive effect upon themselves, their people, and our planet.
Peter Weckesser is chief digital officer of Schneider Electric and a member of the Executive Committee
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