Artificial intelligence are words that scream equal parts of fear and curiosity to many people. Like it or loathe it, AI has been stealthily integrating itself into our daily lives for a few years now and is here to stay.
In a very short time, AI has influenced virtually every industry sector, and the solar field is no exception. If you own a rooftop solar/battery system, there’s a good chance you’ve benefited from this quiet revolution without knowing it.
So, what is AI, why is it relevant to solar, and who are the Aussie AI trailblazers? I’m glad you asked.
What Is AI?
This is hardly an Artificial Intelligence 101 article, but let’s get the basics out the way before delving into some solar applications.
“AI, or Artificial Intelligence, refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines or computer systems. It involves the development of algorithms, software, and hardware that enable machines to perform tasks such as learning, problem-solving, and language understanding. AI systems can process vast amounts of data, recognize patterns, make decisions, and adapt to changing circumstances.”
The previous description might have sounded a little robotic. That’s because it WAS a robot. Who better to ask the question about AI than an AI chatbot?
AI technologies can include machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing, and computer vision. But what do these words mean to the average person? Call me stupid, but I didn’t know, so I asked my chatbot friend to give me some examples.
- Machine learning: email spam filter.
- Deep learning: facial recognition.
- Natural language processing: virtual assistant.
- Computer vision: self-driving cars.
But Why Is AI Relevant To Solar?
Right now, AI is hard at work, using the above technologies to make solar, batteries, and the smart energy ecosystem more efficient, reliable, and cost-effective so we can get on with whatever we want to get on with. Here are some of the many ways this is happening as we speak:
Solar Inspection and Maintenance
Solar farm operators are now using AI to help speed up and improve the accuracy of solar panel inspections. Defective panels can more easily be identified by deploying drones with computer vision and uploading images scrutinized by AI deep learning algorithms.
Fault Detection and Diagnostics
Some companies specialize in AI-driven solar monitoring, which uses real-time data from solar panels and inverters to identify performance issues. Using machine learning, they can detect discrepancies caused by shading or faulty components.
Increasingly, home battery manufacturers are incorporating AI algorithms in their battery management systems, which optimize the charging and discharging cycles based on factors such as solar generation, energy consumption patterns, and utility rates.
Demand forecasting using AI involves analyzing historical data, weather patterns, and other relevant factors to predict future energy demand. Algorithms can identify trends, seasonality, and anomalies, enabling accurate predictions. This helps utilities plan for peak demand periods.
VPPs And Grid Optimization
VPPs (virtual power plants) are often managed centrally through AI. They coordinate the operation of solar, batteries, and demand response programs optimising energy production and consumption in real-time, contributing to grid stability and enabling participation in energy markets.
Network operators also use AI algorithms to manage energy flow, reduce grid congestion, and minimize the potential for blackouts and brownouts. This is particularly relevant as solar penetration increases.
Site Planning and Design
Companies are now using AI to identify sites for potential solar farm locations. Large amounts of geographical and weather data, along with the location of grid infrastructure, can be analysed to make planning and design decisions leading to better economic outcomes.
Who are the Aussie AI trailblazers?
In Australia, we don’t just dig up stuff. We’re better than that. A growing number of companies down under are using their collective brainpower to build systems that use AI to perform all sorts of useful tasks related to the solar industry. The following are 10 Aussie companies making a smart industry even smarter. In no particular order, they are:
Solar Analytics, a solar monitoring company, uses AI to optimize solar panel systems. Their monitoring tools analyze real-time data for accurate forecasting, fault detection, and proactive maintenance. For instance, using machine learning algorithms, they can detect shading and other problems on solar panels and notify the owner to take action.
Australian company Reposit Power makes software that maximizes the performance of home solar and battery systems. The software is installed on a controller located in the switchboard. As part of their VPP, they use AI algorithms to analyze user behaviour, weather patterns, and grid conditions. This allows them to intelligently optimize energy storage, consumption, and grid interaction, ultimately providing homeowner cost savings.
Although acquired by Norwegian company DNV in January 2023, Solcast was formerly an Australian company at the forefront of solar forecasting and modelling. They specialize in solar data services using AI algorithms to analyze meteorological and atmospheric variables to generate accurate solar irradiance and power forecasts. They offer sophisticated tools for commercial applications and also free home PV forecasts.
Australian-based battery and inverter manufacturer Redback Technologies uses AI machine learning in their smart hybrid all-in-one system. Their cloud-based energy management software applies algorithms to analyze real-time data, adapting to user behaviour and optimising energy consumption, storage, and grid interaction.
#5 OKRA Solar
OKRA Solar is a small Australian startup doing big things in developing countries worldwide. Their innovative ‘mesh’ grid system is somewhere between a micro-grid combined with multiple off-grid systems but is neither. The Mesh Grid intelligently uses self-learning AI to manage and balance energy production and consumption across a network of distributed solar installations and storage units. The system is scalable and suitable for remote communities.
#6 Unleash Live
Unleash builds software that powers AI workflow processes in various industries, including resources, transport, utilities, and renewables. Their advanced computer vision and machine learning products can be deployed using UAV (drones) for solar farm and wind farm inspection and for companies that monitor assets such as power lines and other energy infrastructure.
Elexsys from Brisbane produces an advanced power electronics device with integrated AI software that tackles one of the biggest obstacles to the global adoption of renewable energy. From their website – “By managing the stability and resilience of distributed energy resources (DER), eleXsys overcomes voltage problems to create genuine two-way smart grids.”
#8 Future Grid
Future Grid claims to be the world’s first and most deployed low-voltage network management system. They offer their AI-powered system to network distribution companies for monitoring, analytics, fault detection, dynamic voltage control, outage detection, solar compliance, export management, and a host of other services helping to integrate solar and EVs into the grid.
Exergenics uses a cloud-based AI tool that improves the efficiency of commercial air conditioning and refrigeration systems. Machine learning and optimisation algorithms integrate directly into existing commercial BMS (building management systems), ensuring that the mechanical plant is always running at peak efficiency.
Nerara uses AI to conduct simulations, forecasting the longevity of energy networks. This technology can model the impact of natural disasters like flooding and anticipated temperature increases. Nerara’s AI can also project the effects of expanding electric vehicle charging demands and forecast future solar generation scenarios.
The Future Of AI In The Renewables Sector
I’m not going to pretend I know what AI will look like in the future, but the incumbent Federal Government has bet big money on it playing a part in our clean energy transition. The 2023-24 Budget outlines plans to spend over A$40 billion to ‘make Australia a renewable energy superpower’. This includes A$101.2 million over 5 years to support businesses to integrate quantum and AI technologies into their operations.
I’m putting my money with them.