AI in Europe’s energy sector in line for regulation

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Artificial intelligence in energy sector applications is accorded ‘high risk’ status in proposed European regulation.

Artificial intelligence, fast evolving as a technology and gaining growing application in the energy and other sectors, has come under the eye of the European Commission, with a newly released proposal for its regulation.

As reasons for the regulation, the Commission cites AI’s benefits in improving predictions and optimising operations and resource allocation but states that it can also bring about new risks or negative consequences such as not respecting rights for individuals or society.

“In light of the speed of technological change and possible challenges, the EU is committed to strive for a balanced approach,” states the document, pointing to the need for rules that enable Europe to have technology leadership and address both the benefits and risks of AI.

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Europe’s approach to AI is broadly around four areas: enabling its development and uptake in the EU, making the region a place where AI thrives from lab to market, ensuring AI works for the people and building leadership in high impact sectors.

Among the latter one of the areas cited of interest is the energy consumption of AI and potential research support towards greener AI.

AI objectives

The proposed regulation for AI is based on ensuring that systems used in the EU market are safe and respect existing law and that legal certainty is ensured to facilitate investment and innovation.

Other objectives include enhancing enforcement of existing law on the rights and safety requirements applicable to AI systems and facilitating the development of a single market for lawful, safe and trustworthy AI applications.

Specific mention of AI in the energy and broader utility sector occurs in the listing of high risk AI systems, under the area of ‘Management and operation of critical infrastructure’ which details: “AI systems intended to be used as safety components in the management and operation of road traffic and the supply of water, gas, heating and electricity.”

High risk in this context refers to “AI systems that create a high risk to the health and safety or fundamental rights of natural persons” and both providers and users are subject to specific rules”.

Among these are requirements on high-quality data, documentation and traceability, transparency, human oversight, accuracy and robustness.

Whether or not all AI use cases in the energy sector fall under high risk will presumably be subject to legal evaluation, but on the face of it, the regulation is set to lead to the need for more paperwork and perhaps costs, for example for compliance.

AI strategy in Europe

The European Commission has been addressing strategy for AI over the past three years, with the draft regulation one component.

Another is investment. Through the Digital Europe and Horizon Europe programmes, the Commission plans to invest €1 billion ($1.2 billion) per year in AI. With additional investments from the private sector and member states, the annual investment volume is expected to grow to €20 billion ($24 billion) over the course of this decade.

Other activities that are expected to impact the development of AI are EU rules to address liability issues related to new technologies, including AI systems, due late 2021 or early 2022, and revision of sectoral safety legislation in Q2 of 2021.