These days, the perfect Australian home among the gum trees doesn’t just need a clothesline and a porch – solar panels are a must.
Solar panels are a type of distributed energy resource (DER). DERs, such as electric vehicles and solar batteries, are small-scale power supply units that can provide additional supply or reduce demand on the grid.
Our modeling with Energy Networks Australia predicts that up to 45 percent of Australia’s electricity will be generated by consumer-owned DER by 2050.
These technologies are advancing at a rapid pace and are becoming increasingly cheaper. In addition, the International Energy Agency reports that DER is a key driver of the global transition to net zero emissions.
WHERE we go: introducing the Internet of Energy
DER technologies will play an important role in addressing climate and energy security challenges by introducing clean, renewable energy at scale. They play an important role in the Australian Energy Market Operator’s Integrated Systems Planwhich lays out a step-change scenario for the transition away from coal-fired power.
But ensuring DERs reach their full potential will require much more than just installations.
For DER to help us reach net zero, we need to understand, monitor and manage energy supply and demand on a massive scale. This may soon become a reality, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and the speed and quality of wireless networks.
Surya Nepal is leading an international collaboration with researchers from Georgia Tech in the U.S. Together they are preparing for what they have called “The Internet of Energy”.
Optimizing renewable energy resources
“In the Internet of Energy, all our DERs can be connected and integrated for reliable energy distribution by leveraging advanced 5G-6G networks and AI technology,” Surya said.
Many will gain by connecting DERs to form a network of smart devices.
Energy operators can optimize energy resources and maximize performance throughout the system. Governments can develop informed policy and regulation. This is needed to increase the spread of DER technologies in communities and to ensure fair energy access and pricing. Customers can save money by optimizing energy production and energy consumption.
All these benefits should ideally work together to stimulate more renewable energy production and help us on the path to zero.
AI powers smart, clean energy machines
DER-supplied electricity is currently dependent on several variables, such as the weather. A solar panel can generate more energy on a sunny day than on a rainy day. However, current systems do not optimize production and storage.
Surya describes Australia’s current DER system as “install and pray”.
“At the moment the view is limited to what you produce, but there is some control and smartness in the system. We need our DER systems to be smart to cope with flexible requirements. AI can bring that smartness to an integrated system,” he said.
The predictive power of AI can be used on a large scale to predict effects on DERs such as weather. They were also able to identify periods of high demand to help manage production and minimize waste.
“In a smart system, customers will have a secure digital platform that enables an individual consumer to decide when to become a producer and a consumer. It can automate decisions such as when to consume, store or deliver to the distribution network, says Surya.
“The system can find an optimal solution for an individual and their needs, but also take into account the stability of the entire system.”
A fair, responsible Internet of Energy
Currently, the penetration of AI technology in DERs is very low. But not for long. A2Z Market Research predicts massive growth of AI-enabled DER platforms by 2029.
But it is crucial that the future AI-enabled Internet of Energy is fair and responsible. We must tread with caution and care.
First, privacy is a central issue. Technologies to protect data protection are essential. We need them to manage and analyze the sensitive location, time and energy usage data needed to provide effective energy resource management.
The system also needs to be secured against external threats. For example, the physical components of the Internet of Energy such as DERs must be resilient to extreme weather conditions. The underlying digital infrastructure (software, algorithms and data) must be robust and protected against cyber attacks.
Finally, the training of AI models used to inform the management of the system must be inclusive and represent a wide range of users from different locations and populations. For example, privileged neighborhoods are more likely to have a large proportion of rooftop solar panels. Training models solely on this data would result in model bias and an unfair system.
Harness the power of AI with the Internet of Energy
Together with our colleagues at Georgia Tech in the USA, we are working to enabling a responsible AI-powered Internet of Energy. This includes develop safe, secure and fair AI frameworks, algorithms and compliance methods.
Computer science expert Prof Ling Liu is joint project leader from Georgia Tech. She said the collaboration aims to ensure that everyone can benefit from advances in AI to provide safe, reliable and sustainable energy services.
“This joint research project aims to develop fair AI technology to make the DER market and Internet of Energy ecosystem accessible to all, and responsible AI technology to protect DER monitoring, management and consumption by ensuring AI integrity, AI safety and AI justice, she said.
The project is funded by a collaboration between the US National Science Agency and CSIRO to drive cutting-edge research into responsible and ethical AI solutions to address global and societal challenges.
The collaboration was recognized by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and President Joe Biden in a joint statement on the next generation of innovation and partnership between the US and Australiawas released during the Prime Minister’s official visit to the United States.
Dr. Aaron Quigley is the one Head of Science for CSIRO’s Data61. he said Australia’s collaboration with leading scientists from the US would help develop responsible and scalable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing global challenges.
“Our ongoing collaboration with NSF invests in cutting-edge AI and collaborative intelligence. These projects help explore critical infrastructure protection and resilience, advance critical digital infrastructure research to help create a more just, safe, secure and sustainable world in our global world transition to net zero,” he said.
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