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Is AI really a game-changer for energy?

Insights from Davos with Dr. Melissa Lott and Julio Friedmann

The World Economic Forum held its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, last week, bringing together leaders from business, finance, politics, academia and culture. Regular Energy Gang guest Dr Melissa Lott was there, talking about one of the meeting’s central themes: long-term strategies for the climate, nature and energy. On this week’s show, she shares with host Ed Crooks and guest Julio Friedmann – chief scientist at the carbon management company Carbon Direct – what she learned there.

The role of artificial intelligence was, inevitably, high on the agenda there, with some people arguing that it will turn out to be one of the most transformational innovations in human history. The world of energy is already being changed by AI, and the gang discuss how wide-reaching the effects could be.

Julio recently co-authored a report titled the “Artificial Intelligence for Climate Change Mitigation Roadmap”, looking at all the different ways that AI could change supply and demand for energy and so have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions. The gang discussed this issue last year, when Ed took the sceptical view. He suggested the latest iterations of AI such as ChatGPT, known as large language models, could have huge implications for knowledge industries such as journalism or law, but were unlikely to make much difference to energy, which requires working with large volumes of particles, whether molecules or electrons.

Julio disagrees, and he explains what he thinks are the important positive impacts that AI could have on energy and the climate, for example in managing complex systems such as road traffic and power grids, and in developing new materials.

The gang then discuss some of the other questions that came up at Davos, and ask what these gatherings mean for the rest of the world.

And finally, extreme weather in the US has again been in the headlines. Extreme cold gripped much of the country, and snow fell as far south as Mississippi and Louisiana. Has Texas learned the lessons from Winters Storm Uri in 2021, when blackouts lasted for days and hundreds died? How stable is the grid these days? And what are we learning about managing the risks created by climate change?

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