Data access is limiting AI-optimised energy production in the EU

Turning down our heaters and wearing a warm sweater indoors has become the reality for Europeans as we begin to feel the consequences of cutting our dependence on Russian energy
Axel Voss is calling on Member States to establish AI systems to monitor energy infrastructure to develop efficiency measures | Photo: Frank Beer

By Axel Voss

Axel Voss (DE, EPP) is a member of Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee

09 Mar 2023

As energy is now a precious resource, we should optimise its use and production; otherwise, it would be an insult to the collective effort of consumers across Europe trying to conserve energy.

To achieve such optimisation and to overcome gaps between consumption and production, artificial intelligence (AI) should be integrated into our energy infrastructure. While I have already raised this issue through my Special Committee report to the European Parliament in 2022, the need to integrate AI has become even more evident this winter.

AI can predict both energy consumption and production. When this is integrated into urban infrastructure systems, it can regulate and optimise production based on predicted demand. This predictive capability is also imperative for the renewable energy transition, as it allows for a more accurate forecast of production and load management.

Accurate predictions are important to ensure a consistent and secure energy supply. Therefore, I strongly urge Member States to establish AI systems to monitor energy infrastructure in municipalities in order to develop energy efficiency measures.

In the EU, we are at a crossroads regarding the transition into an AI-monitored energy grid. Globally, we are already falling behind when it comes to the digital industry and the digitalisation of our infrastructure.

If this trend continues, we will lose our strategic autonomy in critical sectors because we will have to rely on overseas algorithms, over which we do not possess control. Therefore, to ensure self-reliance and competitiveness, a digital energy infrastructure “made in Europe” is essential.

“I strongly urge Member States to establish AI systems to monitor energy infrastructure in order to develop energy efficiency measures”

Currently, EU companies face barriers to data sharing, including market imbalances which limit access to essential datasets. Private companies can easily restrict access to their datasets, which makes the market

entry for start-ups and researchers burdensome. This is harmful to innovation on the continent as it gives a substantial edge to large, often foreign, companies who can train on their datasets.

To ensure we maintain sovereignty over the algorithms controlling our vital energy sector, the EU must reimagine its current approach to data access. While voluntary data sharing between companies is honourable, it realistically does not solve the issue.

We still have the agglomeration of data with a few key players, while small to medium-sized enterprises suffer from disparities in negotiation power.

It is here that an open marketplace which can facilitate data sharing is key. In its data sharing resolution, the European Parliament already proposed the establishment of data silos to which companies and researchers can gain access. This is imperative so that barriers to data sharing that cripple innovation are overcome.

The collective acknowledgment that we all need to use energy responsibly must be utilised to kick-start the development of a more AI-driven energy infrastructure.

If we do not soon lay down the foundation through equal and democratic access to datasets, the EU will fall even further behind in the digitalisation of our infrastructure and leave one of our key sectors open to foreign influence.

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