Taking on or teaming up with competitors
AI is not strictly a solo endeavor. Collaboration or partnership is a must for any utility. Otherwise, they could struggle with the level of technology sophistication and specialization that more nimble startups readily achieve.
Some utilities incubate AI solutions in isolation, others collaborate, particularly with startups, to piggyback on their technology know-how.
Many look further afield, collaborating with startups in Germany, the UK, the US and the Middle East to access specialist capabilities. They work with omnichannel, intelligent customer support applications. These are essentially AI-powered chat solutions that understand customer conversations and automate repetitive processes, reducing resource needs and costs.
Some startups even offer platform architectures for storing, consuming and selling energy, while others work with utilities to deliver predictive maintenance solutions. By reducing unnecessary system intervention and delivering timely remedial action when it is needed, they focus costs and resources in all the right places.
How far can AI go?
Frankly, some utilities are slow off the mark; others show varying degrees of AI maturity.
While there is no need for utilities to invest huge sums right now, they must remain alert to startups, which have begun to roll out AI-enabled solutions that are smart – and which customers like. These fast movers will erode utilities’ conventional business models.
Looking ahead, a union between the Internet of Things (which offers a virtual environment through which distributed energy resources can be connected) and blockchain (which facilitates trusted transactions between buyers and sellers of homegrown electrons, without the intervention of a central authority) will reinvent energy delivery and trading.
Quantum computing – although some way off but attracting lots of investment – could be the big AI game changer. It will make deep-learning networks faster, more powerful and able to solve the trickiest challenges, all while storing even larger bodies of data.
Despite all the technology advances going on, many utilities are not riding the wave of innovation and risk losing some or all of their business to competitors. Pushing ahead with AI starts with:
- Defining the AI strategy
- Engaging the business on how to achieve AI transformation
- Early experimentation, with startups or in-house innovation labs or accelerator programs
- Pilots and test cases to understand what AI is and what it could do for the business
AI complements rather than replaces human intelligence. It doesn’t have all the answers to the future of energy; rather, it is the means by which answers might surface. It is the technology that enables tasks, particularly repetitive or labor-intensive ones, to be performed smartly and quickly, reducing costs and improving efficiencies. Those businesses that start adapting and testing AI technology right now stand a better chance of keeping up or working with the innovative startups that are shaking up the power and utilities industry.