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Why we need an International Centre for AI, Energy and Climate

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Fundamental advances in Artificial Intelligence offer opportunities to increase the efficiency of energy systems and help address a wide array of climate change challenges. Energy systems are transitioning from being centralised and fossil fuel dominated, to increasingly decentralised and renewables-dominated with new demands from transport and heat. As they do so there will be an increasing need to manage and predict the many distributed and complex constituents of the energy system including renewable generation, EVs, battery storage and DSR. AI will not only be a useful tool but will become essential as we manage this much more complex system and the data that it provides, whether it be in relation to solar and wind forecasting, grid optimisation, battery management or analysing smart meter data.

From a climate perspective, we have 11 years to put the world on track to a zero carbon future. There will be no second chances. We have to do more and do it quickly. This will require bold action from governments, but technology can help. Recent analysis suggests AI can help reduce global emissions by up to 4% against business as usual by 2030.

There are some really exciting initiatives underway in this field however the regulated nature of energy systems creates barriers to the application of machine learning. Data sharing models and market structures developed for an analogue system need updating for the AI era. Overcoming these challenges could unlock the potential for AI to systemically improve the efficiency of energy systems worldwide and help address wider climate challenges.

For the last few months we have been exploring the potential need for an International Centre for AI, Energy and Climate. It’s been fascinating and exciting to talk to people in the AI community and the energy and climate industry to explore the opportunity AI represents for accelerating the low carbon transition. Through the course of our conversations we have become increasingly convinced that there is a need for an International Centre for AI, Energy and Climate to fulfil five core functions:

Pillar 1: Climate-AI policy group: to build consensus on how to develop AI-friendly energy and climate policy frameworks and advise governments on the responsible application of AI.

Pillar 2: Climate & Energy AI Lab: facilitating the involvement of the AI community in addressing key energy and climate challenges.

Pillar 3: Innovation funding: supporting the creation of an ecosystem of start-ups working to apply AI to energy and climate challenges through bespoke funding processes

Pillar 4: Climate & AI virtual research Centre: to support coordination and cooperation of academic research on AI for energy and climate.

Pillar 5: Market facilitation unit: to support knowledge sharing on the opportunities for AI to support decarbonisation in a range of energy system contexts, via industry events, country engagement and international fora.

In many ways, the capital to create the energy system of the future is now being spent on hardware solutions — smart meters, wind, solar and transmission lines, but what we haven’t yet addressed is the critical software that will enable all of these investments to truly deliver better outcomes for consumers and the climate. We believe that AI has a major role to play in this respect and has the potential to position the UK as at the centre of the 4th Industrial Revolution as it applies to energy and climate change.

We have been blown away by the positive response from people we have spoken to so far. Over the next few months, we will be looking to develop a detailed analysis of how the International Centre for AI, Energy and Climate should be designed, build the case for the UK and other governments to support it, and initiate work on specific projects.

We have already spoken to a wide range of people but would love to talk to anyone working in this area.

This article is also published on Medium.