Assistant Editor , SHP

April 30, 2024

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UK energy sector unites for AI and digitalisation

Energy stakeholders gathered at the House of Lords recently to see what role technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) can play in modernising outdated infrastructure.

Karl Simons OBE presenting at the event

The event, facilitated by Karl Simons OBE, Chief Futurist at technology firm FYLD and Chair of SHP’s Editorial Board, took place on Thursday 18 April, and was attended by key leaders from the energy sector. Discussion, through a series of presentations, focused on how digitalising and centralising data – as well as using AI for real-time analysis or prediction –  can help sector collaboration and improve safety.

Viscount Camrose, Minister for AI and IP, who hosted the event, told the audience that he sees public and private sectors collaborating together but that data quality needs to be improved if the sector is to rely on AI.

There are over four million kilometres of underground working, damaged or redundant pipes and cables in the UK, with 60,000 accidental asset strikes reported each year as workers operate in extremely challenging environments to maintain the system.

Chris Chambers, Director at the Geospatial Commission explained how the National Underground Audit Register (NUAR), a digital map of underground pipes and cable that can pinpoint any major or minor assets underground, was created to help solve the issue.

It starts with people

Working case studies around cloud storage, AI for error handling and real-time data use were presented at the gathering.

Laura Saunders CBE, Chair of the UK Government Energy Task Force, urged those present to take the move to digital seriously within energy: “[Digitalisation] is not a nice-to-have, the system will fall over without it.” She explained that all processes and operation performance would need an overhaul so that AI isn’t seen as a “new shiny object”, but instead integrated into how the business functions.

The event was held at the House of Lords

Shelley Copsey CEO at FYLD added to this, asking the audience: “How do we reimagine in totality?”

She mentioned that there is a skills shortage for AI-capable employees and questioned how energy firms could attract the upcoming generation in schools and universities or train current employees in AI and data capabilities to fill this gap.

Similarly, Saunders encouraged delegates to think about people first and then a digitalised business remodel, so that workers understand and are in control of their data and how to use it: “It’s not about technology, it’s not about AI. It’s actually about culture,” she told the audience.

Matthew Little, Director of Innovation at Northern Gas Network shared how he implemented a shift around technology, explaining previously they had spent money outsourcing IT and data storage, but instead invested in an in-house IT team of over 80 technical experts, and cloud storage so that knowledge stays within the firm: “We [now] understand our data”, he said.

He went on to discuss how a digitalised remodel has made their business safer and more efficient by having a simplified, standard core system.

AI at Northern Gas can predict when next a gas leak will occur and where, with Little adding: “The power of data takes out errors and allows predictions.”

“We have to be brave”

The Viscount, in his closing comments, applauded the collaborative efforts of all stakeholders, affirming how the energy industry is ideally placed to benefit from new technology: “I think AI will succeed to the extent that is it adopted. It will be adopted to the extent that it will be trusted…we have to make it safe.”

He added: “If we are going to digitalise effectively, we have to be brave”.

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