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Artificial intelligence and renewables: A peek into the future of energy

There was a time when Zhang Lei worked in London’s financial sector. While successful, he felt that dealing in derivatives was not a meaningful way to live his life. So, he quit his job in 2006 to pursue his passion for fighting climate change.

In 2007, he founded Envision to design and manufacture wind turbines. As the CEO, Zhang envisions a better future and strives for the company to exist at the forefront of current technology.

It seems that Zhang has a knack for prognosticating.

When Envision started designing and manufacturing smart wind turbines, managing and generating wind energy was regarded as a complex and tedious affair. It was also innately inconsistent—after all, the process ultimately depended on the whims of the weather.

To deal with these problems and to meet the commitments made to customers, Envision turned to digital. It made sure its wind turbines were ‘smart’—with up to 500 sensors each. The company gathered data about how they were running, how well they were generating electricity, what kind of maintenance they required, and more.

By monitoring factors like wind speed and direction and making real-time adjustments to wind turbines, wind farms could increase production by as much as 15 percent.

Patterns and insights began to emerge as the energy business became data-driven. By monitoring factors like wind speed and direction—and making real-time adjustments to wind turbines, like changing the pitch of the blades—wind farms could increase production by as much as 15 percent.

Envision also delved into the modelling of wind speed and overall situational intelligence. The company was able to manage, monitor and forecast for their clients. And it eventually created “digital twins” of its turbine models that could run simulations.

Today, Envision has a complete digital strategy and solutions. It combines the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, AI, machine learning, and the Azure cloud, to unlock the potential contained in the data created by enterprises. Zhang is also a huge proponent of the Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT). “We must push it forward. AI goes nowhere without IoT in the energy industry.”

The energy to empower

Envision created EnOS™,an IoT operating system, upon which common services are built. The company doesn’t intend to own any apps that their customers build, but instead empowers the apps.

Empowering means the ability to analyze and incorporate machine learning into its customers’ systems. Machine learning is always going on in the background, refining and improving the system.

With AI, Envision can offer the modelling of systems as a service to its customers.  Envision’s IoT operating system is built on world’s leading cloud technology partner as Azure cloud. This helps Envision to spin up apps quickly. Being on Azure also lets Envision to hire fewer people on the infrastructure side and more on the application side, where it can offer greater value.

EnOS™ is offering a Platform as a Service (PaaS) proposition for all things energy. It can connect almost anything: sensors, power generation, grids, consumers, buildings, charging piles, energy storage, electric vehicles (EVs)—you name it.

With visibility from edge to core, and with understanding from generation to consumption, customers can release the potential of siloed data and meet their business objectives.

With EnOS™, Sonnen created a green energy community of individual users. Their future energy sharing network will provide electricity for millions of households.

Sonnen, for example, is a German company that produces a high-tech electricity storage battery intended for home use. It aims to become the “Facebook” of energy, where users manage their home electricity needs and share excess energy with other users on the network.

Sonnen had the hardware and Envision (via EnOS™) provided the device connectivity, data processing, API and operation services. Envision allowed Sonnen to improve its business model and resulted in a 60 percent reduction in development and Operations & Maintenance cost.

Envision has also started collaborating with Keppel Urban Solutions, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Singapore’s Keppel Corporation Limited. Envision works with Keppel on Saigon Sports City in Vietnam and Keppel Bay Tower in Singapore, focusing on digital initiatives such as smart command center that allows Keppel to manage energy efficiency and other key performance parameters on their aggregated digital platform.

This helps Keppel to understand what’s happening in its buildings and districts in granular detail—with real-time data on everything from heating and cooling, to elevators, lighting, water and drainage and even charging stations for EVs in carparks.

According to Zhang, Envision will be able to help enterprises and cities accelerate digital transformation and ecosystem development. “Our deep expertise in intelligent IoT is helping us drive our customer’s business transformation.”

Immediate future

According to Envision, the energy world is going through a huge transformational change brought on by renewable energy, batteries and electric vehicles. Power generation is getting closer to the consumers requiring the creation of new business models.

From its perspective, fully charged EV cars are potential energy assets—a network of moving batteries. That’s why they insist energy has become mobile.

The company predicts a scenario where EV owners have energy in excess that can be sold. Someone who needs to urgently charge their EV can find a nearby seller via the platform and buy the energy they need, without going to a kiosk or returning home. It could be in the carpark of a mall where both vehicle owners are having lunch.

Overcoming the old

Despite the exciting prospects of new technology in energy, Envision cites its greatest challenge as overcoming old technology.

For years, the energy sector has been a highly regulated environment. Energy generation has been centralized and then dispersed. The existing grids are under pressure and may not be able to handle the expected influx of EVs.

Renewable energy like solar and wind is decentralized. The technology will have to change to keep up with the new modes of energy.

The only way to overcome this barrier is with a change of mindset. For Envision, the process begins with a company’s CEO. Once the business agenda is explained and a CEO is shown how the technology aligns with the business vision, he or she sees the value and optimization potential.

Zhang hopes that the change of mindset will extend from businesses to society at large and collectively deal with climate change. “If we cannot save the planet, if we cannot stop the climate crisis or reduce pollution, if we cannot create a world where clean and affordable energy is accessible to everyone, then we didn’t create real value for the society.”