Why AI-driven Platforms are a Key to Energy Transition Success—Lessons from Distributech and Schneider Electric

Author photo: Peter Manos
ByPeter Manos
Industry Trends

AI’s Role in Reducing Complexities: Distributech 2024 highlighted the ongoing acceleration in uptake of distributed energy resources (DERs), a wide-ranging category that includes wider use of electric vehicles, rooftop solar, energy storage, and microgrids. 

During the conference keynote opening session, it was predicted that more than half of all DERs will, in the next 3 to 5 years, most likely be “behind the meter” installations—a shift which will greatly increase grid complexity in ways AI-based solutions are ideally suited to address. 

The AI futurist and former head of GTM at OpenAI, Zach Kass, one of the opening keynote speakers at Distributech, advised attendees to be prepared for massive and rapid accelerations in the uptake of AI in our personal and business lives. His discussion of an upcoming smart phone AI use case was instructive, by way of analogy, for similar value AI will provide in the operation of more complex grids.

Kass believes within about a year he will be able, when faced with a sudden extension of a business trip he is on, to simply tell his smart phone’s AI agent to extend the trip a specific number of days. His AI agent would then create and send all the needed messages by text, email, and/or voice, and would rebook travel and lodging arrangements, and reschedule impacted business and personal appointments, interacting with people (or their AI agents) as needed.

While an analogous future AI development will enable greater efficiency by reducing the transactional burdens associated with processes for managing DERs, fundamentally a platform approach involving a wide range of solutions is also a key to having the right foundation, a foundation that Schneider Electric has built, and for which it has earned a leadership position.

AI-driven Platforms

Schneider Electric made clear during the Distributech conference the fact that the technologies are now available for utilities and their customers to realize the benefits of what we used to call “the grid of the future.” The main remaining hurdles involve the ability of utilities and their customers to remove silos and accelerate their uptake of new, much-needed higher levels of collaboration to address ever-higher levels of complexity. 

Within the much larger Schneider Electric portfolio, Uplight, which now includes AutoGrid, is enabling utilities to ensure their residential, commercial, and industrial customers enjoy the benefits of a more dynamic grid. 

Along with Uplight’s and AutoGrid’s combined solution sets, Schneider Electric also supports the needs of more dynamic grids in many other ways, for example, through their comprehensive digital grid solutions portfolio which includes EcoStruxure ADMS, DERMS, and Grid Asset Performance, all of which help boost efficiency, reduce costs, improve reliability, and increase grid efficiency.

On-demand webinar: An April 17, 2024 webinar by Uplight, "Combining the Best of Both Worlds: Superior Customer Experience + Flexible Capacity Management" highlighted how Uplight and AutoGrid are enabling utilities and their customers to optimally expand the number of grid-connected devices. At Distributech in February 2024, in discussion with Sadia Raveendran and Don McPhail, the presenters for the Schneider Electric April 17, 2024 webinar, the fact was made clear that greater cooperation and coordination between utilities and their customers is a core value for Uplight and AutoGrid, as was the fact that industrial electric utility customers rightfully place a high priority over maintaining control over their energy usage to ensure their financial, operational, and customer service goals can be met. 

Untapped Potential of Demand Response: ARC’s recent review of the latest available residential, commercial, and industrial sector EIA data shows that the largest demand response (DR) sector by far is the industrial sector, at 47% of the total.  But the total DR program-based peak demand reductions year over year have only averaged a 1.5% annual growth rate, per the Dec 2023 EIA Annual Energy Outlook

AI-driven Platforms

As market participants use the latest tools to optimize participation in dynamic wholesale electricity transactions, the upside for DR to provide greater benefits for utilities and their industrial customers is significant. On this path to greater benefits key elements include better models for predicting energy usage and performing more complex load forecasting and identifying financially beneficial opportunities for participation in peak electricity usage reduction through DR programs.

As residential uptake of more electric vehicles and rooftop solar and other DERs increases, there will be a positive cultural shift where people develop closer relationships with their electric utility service providers. A similar cultural shift is occurring in parallel for commercial and industrial electric utility customers, whose greater participation in dynamic energy markets, and in beneficial increases in the use of clean electricity sources, will drive value up and down more complex supply chains on our path toward decarbonization.


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