Renewable energy for remote communities could benefit from AI

Renewable energy for remote communities could benefit from AI

Study shows artificial intelligence can be used to design better renewable energy systems and could provide remote communities with cheaper options.

Rakiura / Stewart Island.
Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

About 84% of New Zealand’s electricity comes from renewable sources, but for remote areas, getting it on the grid is a challenge.

For example, Rakiura/Stewart Island depends entirely on diesel-generated electricity.

But electrical engineer Soheil Mohseni said Afternoons that the use of artificial intelligence (AI) could help overcome the challenge of designing and building renewable energy systems for this type of remote community.

Mohseni is doing postdoctoral studies in sustainable energy at Victoria University and has performed AI analysis of optimal renewable energy systems for different remote communities.

He said his analysis of Rakiura/Stewart Island showed an attractive alternative that could benefit residents by providing energy that is much cheaper, more resilient than the current diesel supply and less harmful to the environment.

The AI-based optimization algorithms were inspired by “swarming behavior” found in nature, such as the shoaling behavior of fish or the herding behavior of birds, he said.

“They opened up a whole new way to solve difficult computational problems like sizing microgrids, which can be made up of distributed energy options like solar PV. [solar photovoltaic cells]wind turbines and storage of micro-hydroelectric batteries.

“Finding the cheapest combination of these options is often difficult, so we can use these AI-based optimization algorithms to solve these problems.

“With AI, costs are really optimized. This has the potential to put sustainable systems in place faster.”

For Rakiura/Stewart Island, the best design for community needs incorporated solar PV, wind turbine, battery storage, hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen tanks and electrolysers.

The analysis showed that the proposed design “could meet all energy needs of the community, including electricity, transportation fuel needs, as well as hot water and energy needs for space heating” , said Mohseni.

Soheil Mohseni and Alan Brent work with sustainable energy systems.  There are mini versions of a vertical wind turbine and a solar concentrator on the desk behind them.

Soheil Mohseni (left) and Alan Brent, chair of sustainable energy systems at Victoria University, with miniature versions of a vertical wind turbine and solar concentrator on the desk behind them.
Photo: Alison Ballance

“We looked at these energy needs in a fully integrated way.

“We have conceptualized a single energy system that meets all of these types of energy needs and eliminates the need to import diesel fuel.

“We have found that such a system is both technically feasible and economically viable, and we have statistically found that the current cost of electricity on Rakiura/Stewart Island can be reduced.”

Mohseni said diesel-generated electricity supplied on Stewart Island cost up to 52 cents per kw hour, but that could be reduced to 24 cents per kw hour with the design of his microgrid system.

“It can be considered a low-risk, high-return investment opportunity because it has a very good internal rate of return.”

He thought a system like his could be built by an energy company or with community funding.

The method for suggesting promising and reliable renewable energy systems has also been tested in other remote communities with promising results, he said.

“We have considered an off-grid renewable energy system for Aotea / Great Barrier Island in the north. And we have shown that based on solar photovoltaic and wind turbines, and battery storage, we can produce energy solutions cheap enough for communities.”

Mohseni said that in the case of Aotea/Great Barrier Island there were three different communities that needed three different solutions due to varying factors such as geography and conditions, but there were good and viable options. suggested by his system for each of the three communities on the island.

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