Digitalization, drones, AI, energy storage, and environmentally friendly technology – how the AES’s present shapes the realities and the future of the industry
Digitalization and automation have been a global trend even before the outbreak of the current global health and economic crisis. On the one hand, these are the opportunities that innovations and AI provide for the efficiency of production in any sector. On the other hand, is the ability to execute with greater safety, speed, and efficiency activities that require human intervention.
The COVID-19 crisis has additionally accelerated this process because it has a huge impact on the global investment climate – at the least, it changes the way of how supply chain functions. In this respect, technological progress, scientific researches, and innovations are even more important because they facilitate teleworking opportunities and reduce the need for the workforce in some business sectors. The changes are already tangible for those who work in more competitive global companies. One of these areas is the energy sector.
Energy sector and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AES is a Fortune 500 global power company. It owns and manages USD 34 billion in total assets. AES is a strategic investor in Bulgaria and the largest foreign investor in the energy sector for the past 30 years with investments exceeding BGN 3.2 billion. The company is best known as the owner of the newest and most advanced thermal power plant in southeast Europe – Thermal Power Plant (TPP) AES Galabovo, as well as the majority owner of AES Geo Energy, which operates the largest wind farm in the country – ‘Saint Nikola’ near the town of Kavarna.
The systems introduced and tested by AES provide a good idea of how the industrial companies of the future will look like. For example, one of the areas where a substantial improvement is sought is the increase in efficiency. In this case – efficiency of the already existing energy infrastructures. How to reduce energy waste and how to limit the impact on the environment? One of the options is by using Artificial Intelligence (AI) in energy management. AI helps process a huge amount of data from the energy assets of the company faster and in a more reliable way. AI predicts the occurrence of problems in the system and thus makes it possible to eliminate the conditions for it in advance.
AI makes it possible to predict the various scenarios for production and optimization. The St. Nikola wind farm, for example, uses a machine learning system to more precisely calculate how much energy will be generated based on statistical data.
TPP AES Galabovo owns a digital management production system – intelligent sensors combine data for all aspects of operations of the power plant, for example, temperature and pressure. With the information thus processed, the personnel optimize on-site the operational effectiveness of the power plant and avoids interruptions of power supply.
However, the new digital opportunities are not only for those employed in this industry. In 2019, AES entered into a strategic partnership and created Uplight, a top cloud service in the field of utility services in the USA.
Through advanced cloud calculations, data analysis, and machine learning, Uplight helps consumers understand their energy consumption and what is necessary to make their consumption more effective, and thus lower their electricity bills.
Harnessing the power of digital instruments for integration and control of power generation and consumption will be vital, because energy transition continues, and digitalization has the potential to transform every business at any stage of the production cycle. And the future lies in affordable and reliable low-carbon energy.
One of the problems of the RES is their intermittency. The sun is shining only in the day-time, for example, and consumers need electricity 24 hours a day. This problem will be addressed by energy storage solutions, thus, energy can be ‘stored’ and used when it is necessary, and not only when it is available. AES is a global technical leader in that field. The energy storage systems of the company represent one of the biggest global storage parks, with more than 450 MW in operations, under construction, or in an advanced phase of development in six countries. Also, together with Siemens, the company Fluence was established, which has developed or acquired energy storage projects amounting to approximately one GW in 18 countries. This year, Fluence launched a 400-MWh energy storage system in Long Beach, South California to enable the state to fulfill its ambitious target of 100% clean energy by 2045.
In 2019, AES’ Lāwa’i solar and energy storage project on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’I has been selected for the Edison Electric Institute’s (EEI) Edison Award, the electric power industry’s most prestigious honor. The project consists of 28 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) and a 100 MWh five-hour duration energy storage system.
Drones and wind power generators
How important can a wind farm be for Bulgaria? St. Nikola Wind Farm has been operational for 10 years. The park has 52 turbines with an installed capacity of 156 MW, or about 22% of the total installed wind capacity in Bulgaria, so it is essential for Bulgaria to meet the requirements for the percentage of ‘green’ energy in the energy mix of the country. During this period, the turbines produced about 3.2 million MWh of clean electricity and saved nearly 2.6 million tons of carbon emissions. The result is equal to the effect of absorbing CO2 from 2.2 million trees over 70 years or eliminating carbon pollution from burning 1.2 billion liters of diesel while driving.
The park, located in the important area for migratory birds around Cape Kaliakra, uses a system of modern radars and experienced ornithologists on-site monitor for approaching flocks and stop one or a group of turbines to ensure unimpeded passage of birds. Drones, through which the turbine blades are inspected, are also used at St. Nikola Wind Farm. This is a faster and safer way to perform this, instead of the operators getting into the nacelle of each wind turbine.