Guiding AI in Power

By Irene Niet - 25 May 2022


Embarking on an adventure 

The vacancy for my PhD position, Governance of AI in the energy transition, crossed my path when I was working at an innovation department for a government institution. My job there showed me the importance of thinking through innovations and that innovations need solid guidelines. Otherwise, you risk excluding people. This PhD position allows me to explore this more, while also using some of the governance and energy transition research I had previously done for my studies Political Science and European Studies. So, I embarked on a new adventure at TU/e, which was also a new university for me to explore.  

This research is part of the project AI in de Energietransitie (AI in the energy transition), supported by the University Fund Eindhoven. This fund supports research contributing to the solution of societal issues, for life, for the world, or for the better. Our research is part of the 'for the world' category, as it concerns AI in the transition to a more sustainable energy system. We have a lot of freedom to research those aspects of AI in the energy transition which we think will have the greatest impact or are most pressing. Plus, we can explore other opportunities, such as putting our research in practice. 

  

The research 

With these new opportunities, I meet a lot of new people. The first thing they always ask: what does researching the governance of AI in the energy transition mean? Sometimes, I show them the little video in which I explain my research. When I explain the project, for me, it entails finding out how AI could be and is implemented in the Dutch electricity system, what societal consequences this has and who is or could be steering this development in what way. People eager to implement AI see a lot of opportunities: AI can be used to combine multiple streams of data (for example when predicting the electricity production of a solar park) or unburden people from carrying out repetitive tasks (such as registering electricity market bids). Therefore, with AI, the electricity system could become more efficient, and renewable energy production could become better integrated.  This implementation should be looked at critically, however. Is everyone able to benefit from this new technology? What about security, privacy? Are these values still safeguarded? This is where governance comes in. Different institutions can use governance to react to or anticipate the way a technology is developing or implemented. As such, with the right governance measures, the positive effects of AI in the electricity system can be supported, whereas the negative effects can be mitigated.  

In my project, we do not just identify these issues, but also try to work on supporting the exploitation of the opportunities and the mitigation of the negative effects which emerge. We do so, for example, by reacting on policy proposals. Recently, we also contributed to the Dutch AI en Energie course. In this free, online course professionals in the energy sector or anyone interested in AI in energy systems can gain insight in possible applications of AI in the energy sector, the impact of using AI on the jobs in this sector, and the ethical aspects implementing AI.  

  

Why your study matters 

It is great to have the freedom to chase all kinds of opportunities and put some of the research results into practice. This shows me that my studies did not only provide me with a good theoretical basis, but also some soft skills which are not always concretely studied in courses. Critical thinking and staying curious are two skills which are better experienced and practiced, than taught by books. Or being flexible and finding creative ways to reach goals; two skills which are perfectly tested when you, as a student, disagree with study advisors about what courses you are allowed to take, for example. Most of all, I see this PhD as an adventure with lots of interesting people to meet, actions to take and discoveries to make along the way.  


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