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Feature Article: Intelligently Traversing the AI Revolution for a Sustainable Future

This feature article was originally published on the Energy Central website on April 15, 2024, following the Distributech 2024 conference. Energy Central helps the global power industry share their insights and knowledge with other professionals. You can read the original article here.

In the dynamic landscape of the energy and utility sector, the intersection of technology and innovation has emerged as a pivotal force shaping the industry’s future. This fact was on display recently at Distributech 2024 as industry professionals, thought leaders, and innovators convened to explore the latest trends and developments driving transformation. Among those experts sharing what they have seen in the past year was Santiago Vasquez, Electrical Generation Practice Lead at Copperleaf.

In the Copperleaf booth, as well as at his conference presentation “Combining the Power of Artificial Intelligence and Human Expertise in Asset Management,” Vasquez offered insights into the burgeoning dominance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its implications for utility operations. Specifically, Vasquez shared his perspectives on key themes that reverberated across the conference floor: from the imperative of aligning AI initiatives with tangible business outcomes, to the transformative potential of generative AI and human-AI collaboration.

Vasquez’s firsthand experience and reflections offered a nuanced perspective on navigating the complexities of the AI revolution in the utility sector, which is why we were thrilled he could sit down for an exclusive interview with Energy Central. In our conversation, Vasquez offered a comprehensive overview of key insights and takeaways from Distributech 2024. Continue reading, as Vasquez’s expertise and observations offer insights into the ever-evolving landscape of AI integration and its profound implications for the future of utilities.

Unpacking the Ever-Present AI Conversation at Distributech

Reflecting on his experience, Vasquez highlighted the pervasive dominance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a central theme. “I joked that having those two letters in an abstract pretty much ensures space to speak at the conference,” he observed. “So yes, AI has been dominating the conversation for a while.” However, amidst the enthusiasm, Vasquez cautioned against the rush to implement AI without careful consideration of its implications. He emphasized the importance of prioritizing business outcomes over adopting trendy technologies, stressing the need for utility companies to approach AI implementation with strategic foresight rather than mere eagerness.

One of the key conversations with utilities at Distributech was cautioning them not to just look for reasons to implement AI. That’s putting the cart before the horse.

Santiago Vasquez
Electric Generation Lead

Instead, Vasquez reiterated the significance of aligning AI initiatives with concrete business objectives. “You’ve got to define the business outcomes you’re trying to achieve with AI,” Vasquez warned, “And that should ensure if you do implement or integrate AI-related technology, you’re doing it in a meaningful and impactful way.” Utilities must maintain a focus on tangible results rather than be swayed by the allure of cutting-edge technology.

That said, Vasquez is enthusiastic about what AI can and will bring to the utility sector. In his presentation and throughout the week, he discussed the potential and need for collaboration between humans and AI systems in asset management. Vasquez highlighted the complementary nature of human expertise and AI capabilities, emphasizing the need for a symbiotic relationship. By combining the strengths of both humans and AI, organizations can optimize decision-making processes and achieve superior outcomes. Users must recognize the unique contributions of each component and integrate them effectively to maximize efficiency and effectiveness in asset management practices.

Effective use of AI is really about combining the great qualities we have as humans with the objective capabilities of AI, because it can process large sets of data, and quickly.

Santiago Vasquez
Electric Generation Lead