New research has posited that artificial intelligence will increasingly automate operations for the wind and solar industries, boosting their efficiencies in areas such as decision making and planning, condition monitoring, robotics, and inspections.
The new position paper published this week by DNV GL — international accredited registrar and classification society headquartered near Oslo — entitled Making Renewables Smarter: The benefits, risks, and future of artificial intelligence in solar and wind, outlines the advances being made in robotics, inspections, supply chain, and the way we work and showcases a variety of opportunities for the solar and wind industries to embrace artificial intelligence (AI) applications to improve their efficiency.
“The use of artificial intelligence in industries continues at an impressive rate — in manufacturing, engineering, healthcare, transportation, finance, telecommunications, services, and energy,” the authors of the report explain. “Artificial intelligence’s ability to use machine learning to analyse historical and new data, make predictions, control physical operations, and make decisions at increasingly higher levels is having an immense impact.”
Specifically, the authors of the report explain that the wind and solar industries will benefit from specific AI applications, including:
- Robots — lying, crawling, swimming, and sailing for remote inspection, with new benefits in maintenance and troubleshooting
- Accelerated due diligence, so that planning and analysis that today might require many human hours and thousands of documents can be reduced by an enormous factor in the future, and even enhanced
- New efficiencies in supply chain optimization, such as the delivery of solar and wind components by self-driving trucks and even the automation of renewables construction
The report explores ways in which AI applications like machine learning can impact the efficiency levels of areas involved in the wind and solar industries such as decision making and planning, condition monitoring, robotics, inspections, certifications and supply chain optimization, as well as the way technical work is carried out.
“We expect the installation of more sensors, the increase in easier-to-use machine learning tools, and the continuous expansion of data monitoring, processing and analytics capabilities to create new operating efficiencies — and new and disruptive business models,” explained Lucy Craig, Director Technology and Innovation at DNV GL – Energy.
DNV GL highlights several specific areas in which wind and solar stakeholders can expect to see AI benefit their industries, including:
- Robotics growing in prevalence for remote inspection, with new benefits in maintenance and troubleshooting
- Crawling robots that can get close to a structure’s surface enabling a new set of technologies such as microwave and ultrasonic transmitters and receivers, which can be used to penetrate structures to reveal faults in materials
- Supply chain optimizations by autonomous driving robots, which can in future build entire onshore wind or solar farms: parts of a wind turbine or a solar array are transported from the factory by self-driving lorries, unloaded by another set of robots, attached to the foundations that yet other robots have dug and filled, and pieced together by a final set of robots and drones
- Autonomous drones with real-time artificial intelligence-supported analysis will become the primary tool for carrying out effective and efficient inspections of wind turbines and solar panels
- AI applications accelerating due diligence, reducing the time investment of planning and analysis that today requires many human hours
Another interesting aspect of the research is the importance of the fact that renewable energy technologies like wind and solar are relatively new and have, for the most part, had sensor technology built in from the beginning. “As a result,” the authors of the report explain, “most of the advances supported by artificial intelligence have been in meteorology, control, and predictive maintenance (and arguably those have been the most useful).”
It is important, however, for the wind and solar industries to be careful as they move forward in exploring the benefits and risks of AI.
“Risks intensify if you try to go it alone, rather than taking advantage of the large amount of domain knowledge and data in the solar and wind areas” said paper lead author Lars Landberg.