Embracing AI, Episode 2 | AI and the energy transition: Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

  • Balado 29 mai 2024 29 mai 2024
  • Royaume-Uni et Europe

  • Cyberrisques

In the second episode of our Embracing AI podcast series, host Chris Williams explores how AI can assist with the energy transition and decarbonisation. He is joined by guests, Richard Power, a Clyde & Co Partner specialising in clean energy and the energy transition, and Oliver Cronk, Technology Director, and specialist in sustainable technology, at Scott Logic, a software development company.

Power sets the scene by summarising the primary ways AI could play a role in energy transition although, as Cronk explains in detail, these applications must be balanced alongside AI’s own high energy usage and need to analyse the whole energy lifecycle. Guests conclude by advising listeners on the advantages of a holistic approach to energy transition for mitigating energy and cost risks going forward. 

AI could play a role in the energy transition in three ways, says Power. Firstly, through driving efficiency by optimising energy usage: “…automatically turning things off or on, at a time when there's less demand on the grid.” Secondly, by enabling decentralised energy systems and micro-grids, through AI and machine learning-executed smart contracts. And finally, by helping to aggregate small energy sources to sell back to the grid when not in use.

However, Cronk is keen to point out that there is a concerning side to the rise of AI, given the technology itself consumes high quantities of electricity: “At the moment, technology is on a par with the emissions related to aviation … that's probably about 2%, but it's projected to hit 14% over the next few years,” he says. Similarly, Power points out that renewable energy sources powering some technology may not be as “clean” as believed considering “the lifecycle costs and environmental impact of producing things like wind turbines, solar cells, and battery storage…”

To overcome these challenges, Scott Logic has created a system called the Tech Carbon Standard, which, as Cronk explains, looks at the full lifecycle of technologies and energy solutions: “It looks at upstream, so the things you purchase, the software, the hardware. It looks at operational, so whether you're running your own servers in your own data centre or using cloud. It looks at downstream; what are your customers or clients consuming?”

With these factors in mind, Power and Cronk stress the need for organisations to reimagine their operations holistically, so that waste energy can be reused, for example, using waste heat from data centres to warm swimming pools. “By the 2030s, if you're not thinking along these lines, you're not going to be competitive,” says Cronk. 

Meanwhile, companies must bear in mind that the cost of using AI looks set to increase significantly, once the “free trial period” is over. As Cronk concludes: “If you've not thought about how to adopt these technologies in a sustainable way financially and environmentally, it's going to be a difficult and bumpy ride for the next few years.”

For any questions on topics raised in our Embracing AI podcast series, to suggest future topics, or to subscribe, please visit the dedicated AI webpage on the Clyde & Co website.


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