The Future of Smart Cities’ Utilities: Powering Progress with AI
Originally Posted: 12 Apirl 2021
Author: AJ Abdallat for Forbes Technology Council
Los Angeles, CA
Artificial intelligence is invaluable when it comes to its role in this transformational stage facing the utilities sector. Advanced technologies are already at the forefront of driving valuable strategies optimizing the industry across all operations. This includes facilitating missions for achieving smart/clean-city initiatives and net-zero commitments.
According to a 2018 Gartner report, it’s expected that AI will become a critical feature of 30% of smart city applications by 2020, up from just 5% a few years prior. Intentional AI implementation is rapidly becoming recognized as the not-so-secret ingredient helping major energy providers accomplish their lowest carbon footprint to date with sustainability and attractive profit margins.
AI-powered Utilities Propel Smart Cities
Components making a city “smart” involve the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data across numerous sectors, from metropolitan development and utility allocation, all the way down to manual functions like city services. Smart cities involve the construction and maintenance of arrangements of correlative sensors, equipment, and other systems designed to help create more sustainability and efficiency. According to findings from CB Insights, “The global smart cities market size is projected to be worth $1.3T.”
Optimizing a municipality’s strategy behind the entirety of its utility operations is one of the major keys to creating a “smarter city” and a more sustainable environment overall. AI solutions are already making major strides where this initiative is concerned. As the CEO of an AI company making software for the utilities sector, the impact advanced solutions are already having on the industry is something I’m very excited about.
A real-world example of how AI is being utilized to construct smart cities includes infrastructure advancement undertakings such as geospatial analysis company Picterra’s initiative, providing technology that supports better analysis to best optimize road maintenance costs in the city of Kokomo, Indiana. According to the company, the project is designed to “allow the city council to manage road maintenance costs preemptively, optimally map public fund utilization priorities for renovation or construction and provide a methodology for all future public infrastructure maintenance efforts.”
Another good example of a company making moves on the smart city front includes NVIDIA’s Metropolis platform that employs AI at the edge in the form of intelligent video analytics to elevate public services and logistics. The solution is designed to enhance sustainability while maintaining infrastructure and improving community services. The company collects vast amounts of data from sensors and other IoT devices across a city to provide actionable insights, leading to improvements in areas like disaster response, asset protection, supply forecasting, traffic management and more.
My organization is working with Xcell Security House and Finance S.A. to build the world’s first power plant guided by cognitive AI, driving utility development in West Africa. As the earliest implementation of an AI-powered plant from the ground up, the endeavor will employ advanced sensor placement technology and techniques that encode then embed knowledge and expertise into every part of the facility’s processes. Stakeholders will have streamlined access to facility-scale insights, creating a plant environment with greater risk mitigation, as well as maximized efficiency and productivity, resulting in more environmentally conscious, sustainable operations.
These are only a few project mentions. When applying AI, the sector also stands to achieve greater cost and operational efficiencies in several key areas such as predictive maintenance, load forecasting/optimization, grid reliability, energy theft prevention and renewable resource optimization.
Enterprise-grade AI for the Job
When discussing the efficiency of power generation, many factors play into the overall picture, including the impacts of environmental circumstances as commonplace as temperature and humidity levels. Historically, experienced human operators were best equipped to handle necessary, efficiency-boosting adjustments. Cognitive AI is already making moves to encode that human knowledge and expertise across providers’ entire operations, delivering auditable, explainable recommendations at a moment’s notice.
Advanced systems, with the ability to monitor and support large-scale industrial plant operations that encompass complex facilities, have been proving themselves valuable. Retaining holistic coordination across intersecting processes and functionalities is no easy task. Explainable AI creates the trust necessary for operators, engineers and stakeholders to solve acute issues quickly. The system’s situational awareness can help detect, foresee and solve problems, even when circumstances are in constant flux — scenarios as critical as an entire city’s water and power supply.
Technology Tackling the Climate Crisis
According to William Lin, BP’s EVP of regions, cities and solutions, “There’s certainly appetite to decarbonize our cities and many around the world are tackling emissions with a range of initiatives.”
AI is already playing a principal role in supporting the move toward smarter cities by helping entire sectors get closer to efficiency and net-zero objectives. Achieving a lower carbon future commands more resourceful processes that boost efficiency and reduce waste. AI for utilities can work toward this with systems built to elevate productivity, yielding more acute consideration around resource consumption thus hastening renewable, decarbonization and carbon-friendly strategies on a global scale.
Constructive Transformation, Smarter Digitalization
According to a report from the IDC, smart city technology spending across the globe, “reached $80 billion in 2016, and is expected to grow to $135 billion by 2021.” Important considerations to contemplate for companies, industries and other entities looking to participate in this important stage of digital transformation include seeking out industrial-grade AI with software that provides holistic, organization/sector/city-wide insights through sensor placement technology and data collection techniques.
Public and private organizations, plus governments at every level, are moving toward facilitating technological implementation and digital transformation. Private and public partnerships have become a major method for cities to adopt technology that makes them smarter. The best course of action is to embrace AI that blends knowledge-based reasoning with advanced digitalization techniques helping stakeholders distinguish unanticipated scenarios and make tough choices.
Applying AI in these dynamic ways to transform utility sectors contributing to the development of smart cities could result in indelible process improvements, like streamlined operational capacities where all facilities function more efficiently in harmony, reducing waste and carbon footprints. Enhanced communication, strengthened collaboration, increased fuel savings and decreased waste means companies also increase probabilities for propagating profits, predominantly in high-value industries.
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