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Addressing the energy gap, end-to-end with connected technologies and AI

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By Jonathan Duncan, Schneider Electric Anglophone Africa Vice President for IT Division

As the adage goes, we can only manage what we can measure. As South Africa battles at local level with ‘last mile’ power distribution, an end-to-end monitoring solution is crucial if we want to see any return on investments into digitisation.

As the world embraces the benefits of new connected technologies, South Africa needs to invest in digitisation of its electrical network before we can start realising the benefits of having accurate and up-to-date network usage information at our fingertips. Being digitised and connected to intelligent devices on the electrical network is paramount to being able to monitor energy consumption and reduce energy waste.

In addition to the benefits new technology brings to the energy sector, it also brings increased pressure on electricity supply. The exponential growth of “smart technologies” presents a sizable increase to energy demand.

Schneider Electric’s greatest contribution lies in metering. A range of connected equipment can monitor and meter power consumption, and valuable information can be gleaned from this.

There is a big drive to move into what we do with this information, this famously termed ‘Big Data’. Once we have all that information coming through, how do we action it and drive a meaningful result from it? Huge potential lies in continuously analysing incoming and historical data to predict the next potential failure. For example, in an industrial environment we need to know where the energy is going and how much energy is going into each application; we also need to try and understand what is working most efficiently. Energy is finite and unless we know how to be most efficient through accurate measuring, we can’t keep demanding more and more energy. We need to be looking at who is operating most efficiently and how we can drive the adoption of those best practices across the globe.

THAT’S JUST THE START

Once we start gathering the information from smart devices or sensors, then comes the big payoff – what we do with the information. Feeding data into a machine learning system, for example, could bring huge benefits to energy management through artificial intelligence (AI).

AI can learn quickly and be highly accurate in its forecast, which will be ever improving. For me, AI is key to providing different factors as to how we will experience a grid overload. AI is probably the only way to properly manage these contributing factors.

Of course, with all this connectivity comes a serious need to consider cyber security. At Schneider Electric, we place much emphasis on creating connected devices that are resilient to cyber-attack, a major threat. Every vendor should be spending vast amounts of R&D investment to make sure they are not accessible and hackable. This is especially vital as we start moving towards autonomy.

CRITICAL INSIGHTS ENABLED

While automation is unfortunately difficult to implement at a municipal level, there is much that can be done by effectively utilising data fed into an aggregated system. Today we build power grids for unanticipated peak demand. Once we have accurate data coming in, we can start understanding what is critical and what can be shed.

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