In the face of SA's worsening power crisis and global challenges of climate change, artificial intelligence (AI) could be a transformative solution that promises to catapult energy generation and efficiency to unprecedented levels.
This is according to Martin Svensson, the CEO AI Sweden, the national center for applied artificial intelligence in the Nordic country.
Delivering the keynote address during Wesgo’s inaugural Business Outlook conference on Friday, Svensson emphasised the need for early adoption of technological solutions as well as renewables to address the energy and climate crises.
Wesgro, the official agency for promoting tourism, trade, and investment in Cape Town and the Western Cape, hosted the inaugural Business Outlook conference bringing together key leaders from the public and private sectors, and renewable energy pioneers. The focus was on finding solutions to the pressing energy challenges impacting the economy, with green solutions taking centre stage.
Svensson said AI will play a pivotal role in the drive towards a more reliable and sustainable energy future.
“AI goes across all sectors. It will transform societies in a way that we will struggle to understand. Energy is no exception to this,” he said.
He emphasised that AI holds the potential to revolutionise demand optimisation and energy trading, presenting a unique opportunity to tackle energy deficits, boost sustainability efforts, and pave the way for a greener, more resilient future. By leveraging AI to identify peak periods, resources can be allocated effectively, alleviating stress on the grid during times of high demand.
Energy trading, a pivotal aspect of efficient resource allocation, stands to reap tremendous benefits from AI implementation. AI-powered algorithms have the capacity to analyse vast datasets from multiple sources, including weather patterns, supply-demand dynamics, and market prices, enabling real-time, precise predictions and decisions. This fosters a dynamic and responsive energy market, enhancing competitiveness and potentially driving down costs.
“AI and energy go hand in hand,” Svensson said. Sweden is on the brink of revolutionising energy planning with a cutting-edge national platform. This groundbreaking initiative aims to predict future energy demand with unprecedented accuracy, giving authorities the power to make strategic decisions that will shape the nation's energy landscape.
“Whether we talk of the future of energy or how the society should make use of AI, there is one thing that is very clearly common [across the world] and that is the need for change.”
“We are seeing a massive disruption in the energy sector driven by the falling costs of renewables,” Svensson said.
“The costs of solar, wind, and battery storage is falling…We are no longer in a situation where we do something good for the climate or we just want to fix loadshedding, we [are] now driven by economic forces. It is going to be economically viable [to adopt renewables],” he said.
The V&A Waterfront, one of the most popular tourist destinations in SA and the gateway to Robben Island, has invested heavily in renewables to reduce its reliance on the national grid. The V&A’s CEO, David Green, told delegates attending the Business Outlook conference that the precinct aims to be carbon neutral by 2035. Highlighting the severity of the energy crisis, Green said the V&A had budgeted at least R30m for the current financial year to procure diesel to power back-up generators.
Wesgro CEO, Wrenelle Stander, said effective collaboration between the public and private sectors will be the driving force behind resolving the energy crisis. With the state's ambitious push to enhance grid access and open the market to new players, Stander emphasised the critical role that cooperation will play in tackling this pressing issue.
As the country battles its darkest electricity crisis yet, there's a crucial need for increased investment in green energy to safeguard the economy, said James Vos, Cape Town’s mayoral committee member responsible for Economic Growth.
The Western Cape, a key economic hub, has taken the lead in attracting energy sector investments, boldly pursuing greater energy security. Through strategic partnerships with players in the renewable sector, the region aims to break free from dependence on the struggling power utility, Eskom, while stimulating robust economic growth and creating numerous job opportunities.
Boosting investment in green energy and infrastructure to allow more private players to enter the market is seen as the quickest way to a more sustainable and reliable energy landscape.
Panelists at the Business Outlook conference made a resounding call to open the market to SMMEs, recognising their crucial role in delivering swift and efficient solutions. Moreover, they stressed the urgent need for skills development in the energy sector to effectively address the ongoing power crunch.
Delivering the opening address, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde, said the energy crisis presents an opportunity that should not be wasted.
“Our carbon footprint is going to have a huge opportunity to change tremendously over the next few years, and that is going to position us here in Africa so differently from a destination, market, and export [perspective]. There is a very clear line in the sand from many of our export markets that are saying we not going to be buying from places generating 85% of their power from coal. This crisis is going to be used to the absolute maximum,” Winde said.
The Premier issued a bold call-to-action stating that the energy crisis demands immediate and decisive action. "The urgency of now is our theme for this year - no more delays, we must get it done.”
To drive this initiative, provincial government and municipalities in the region have allocated nearly R7bn in investments over the medium term. These funds will be dedicated to creating enabling environments for renewable energy ecosystems, aiming to generate an additional 5700MW of power. This substantial boost in renewable energy capacity is crucial to accelerate economic growth, Winde said.