AI to play ‘modernising’ role in energy infrastructure

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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

The House of Lords played host to energy stakeholders recently, to discuss the role AI will play in the future of workplace health and safety

Karl Simons OBE, Chief Futurist at FYLD, took the stage on 18 April in a series of presentations focused on the digitalisation and centralisation of data, aimed at improving collaboration in the energy sector. Potentially, AI has a future in providing real-time analysis and hazard prediction.

Hosting the event was the Minister for AI and IP, Viscount Camrose. He spoke about the need for public and private sectors to collaborate and improve data quality, if AI is to be relied upon by the energy sector. 

One of the areas highlighted was the UK’s pipe and cable network, of which there are over four million kilometres across the country. They present a huge maintenance challenge, as these pipes and cables are variously working, damaged or redundant, with 60,000 accidental asset strikes every year.

Chris Chambers, Director at the Geospatial Commission, explained the creation of the National Underground Audit Register (NUAR), to solve this issue. The Register is a digital map of underground pipes and cable that can pinpoint any major or minor assets underground.

Working case studies around cloud storage, AI for error handling and real-time data use were presented at the gathering.

Laura Saunders CBE, Chair of the UK Government Energy Task Force, urged those present to take the move to digital seriously within energy: “[Digitalisation] is not a nice-to-have, the system will fall over without it.”

She explained that all processes and operation performance would need an overhaul so that AI isn’t seen as a “new shiny object”, but instead integrated into how the business functions.

Shelley Copsey, CEO at FYLD, added to this, asking the audience: “How do we reimagine in totality?”

She mentioned that there is a skills shortage for AI-capable employees and questioned how energy firms could attract the upcoming generation in schools and universities or train current employees in AI and data capabilities to fill this gap.

Similarly, Saunders encouraged delegates to think about people first and then a digitalised business remodel, so that workers understand and are in control of their data and how to use it: “It’s not about technology, it’s not about AI. It’s actually about culture,” she told the audience.

Matthew Little, Director of Innovation at Northern Gas Network shared how he implemented a shift around technology, explaining previously they had spent money outsourcing IT and data storage, but instead invested in an in-house IT team of over 80 technical experts, and cloud storage so that knowledge stays within the firm: “We [now] understand our data”, he said.

He went on to discuss how a digitalised remodel has made their business safer and more efficient by having a simplified, standard core system.

AI at Northern Gas can predict when next a gas leak will occur and where, with Little adding: “The power of data takes out errors and allows predictions.”

The Viscount, in his closing comments, applauded the collaborative efforts of all stakeholders, affirming how the energy industry is ideally placed to benefit from new technology: “I think AI will succeed to the extent that is it adopted. It will be adopted to the extent that it will be trusted…we have to make it safe.”

He added: “If we are going to digitalise effectively, we have to be brave”.

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