Energy and the cloud: powering the future

Energy and the cloud: powering the future

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How energy producers can drive efficiency, safety and profitability with AI and cloud technology, according to Microsoft’s Maureen Mascaro 

Guest contributor |

The energy industry is experiencing massive, rapid changes. Interest in renewables is growing alongside pressure to reduce carbon emissions, and energy businesses trying to remain competitive must navigate the complexities of those shifts while overcoming numerous other challenges.

They need to ensure workplace safety and meet regulatory obligations. Energy must also contend with fluctuations in markets, labour and skill shortages, and unpredictable international events. Of course, they must overcome all these challenges while driving profitability today and tomorrow.

Today’s energy producers must operate for the future, but how can they do so? The answer is to embrace the latest cloud technologies. With solutions built to work on a secure, seamless cloud platform like Microsoft Azure, energy organisations can increase operational efficiency, improve safety, make the most of their existing assets and drive greater, more sustainable profitability with the cloud and artificial intelligence.

Here are the key use cases for energy producers looking to transform their businesses and operate for the future.

Going green

Demand for energy is likely to increase over the coming years, particularly for renewable energy sources. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Short-term Energy Outlook predicts that “overall USA electricity generation will grow by three per cent in 2024,” with the total energy generated by solar power increasing from four per cent in 2023 to six per cent in 2024 and seven per cent in 2025.

Integrating renewables such as solar energy into existing power grids is no small task, however. To do it effectively, energy producers need to be able intelligently forecast demand and market fluctuations to manage and scale the introduction of renewables. Energy companies can use cloud technology to provide operators with unified platforms that can easily integrate new renewable sources and scale them as their business expands.

Energy producers can also leverage the power of AI and machine learning (ML) solutions in Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability and Microsoft Fabric to process vast amounts of data and more accurately model resource consumption and changes to demand. This means businesses can better manage their carbon emissions and reach their goals.

Microsoft Sustainability Manager

The AI-powered Microsoft Sustainability Manager feature in Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability helps users to process large amounts of data (image credit: Microsoft)

Maximising the value of existing assets

While adding new forms of energy is the way to a greener future, it’s also important that energy businesses, such as those in oil and gas, effectively manage their existing assets so they can drive more profit without needing to expand. With cloud technologies, organisations can collect data on all their assets and easily create intuitive visualisations and perform analyses. This allows them to better understand generation needs and allocate resources appropriately.

For example, Microsoft partner Schneider Electric helped Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) to deploy a distributed energy resource management system to maintain grid reliability and accelerate customer adoption of distributed energy resources. Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure DERMS runs on Microsoft Azure to integrate, analyse and optimise data from distributed energy resources to help energy providers deliver reliable and affordable energy for their customers.

Schneider Electric

PG&E is using Schneider Electric and Microsoft-powered technology to analyse data (image credit: Schneider Electric)

The internet of things (IoT) also has significant potential for energy organisations looking to optimise asset performance and perform predictive maintenance. By seamlessly and securely connecting devices across their assets, organisations can easily visualise their entire grid and identify issues, enabling them to build a smart power grid. They can also monitor emissions in real time, while reducing pressure and the likelihood of outages by balancing supply and demand throughout the grid.

Improving reliability and reducing risk

Maintenance is one of the biggest challenges for energy producers. Downtime, whether planned or not, can lead to large drops in profitability and customer confidence. When engineers perform inspection and maintenance on assets, they often need to locate pertinent data (such as when the asset was last inspected). This is a time-consuming process that can delay resolution.

Cloud solutions can provide operators and engineers with up-to-date, accurate data on every asset in a unified platform, and trustworthy ML algorithms can process and analyse data to identify problems that might otherwise go undetected. As a result, operators and managers can proactively detect anomalies and identify risks in equipment performance, while inspectors and engineers can quickly access the data they need and accelerate resolution. The Cognite AI solution, a comprehensive suite of generative AI capabilities in Cognite Data Fusion by Microsoft partner Cognite, builds on this approach by using the power of Microsoft Cloud to simplify access to complex, industrial data and enable actionable insights.

Improving safety

Ensuring the safety of workers is critical for energy organisations, and it ought to be a core element of any company’s modernisation strategy, particularly as businesses incorporate new resources such as wind energy. Cloud technology enables businesses to improve their approach to worker safety in a variety of ways.

By using digital twins – virtual replicas of sites, assets and equipment – organisations can monitor and model situations to gain real-time insights into performance and simulate scenarios such as machinery failures.

Organisations can use the data they collect and AI-driven solutions to examine trends such as employee movement in facilities and develop recommendations and policies for safer operations.

The cloud can also enable better safety through IoT devices such as drones. Workers could use drones to inspect difficult-to-reach or otherwise dangerous areas, immediately transmitting valuable data such as photos, video or thermal imagery so that inspectors can identify problems at a safe distance.

No matter what the future holds, energy companies can prepare for it by transforming their business with cloud technologies.

Learn more about how the energy industry is transforming with AI and the cloud on the Microsoft Industry Webinar series on Energy.

Maureen Mascaro

Maureen Mascaro is director of partner marketing for industry go-to-market strategy at Microsoft

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