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DOE Invests Millions into AI Energy Solutions

Written by Luke Burgess
Posted November 29, 2019

In 2017, Bill Gates penned an essay to all graduating college students worldwide that year.

Gates wrote:

New college graduates often ask me for career advice... If I were starting out today and looking for the same kind of opportunity to make a big impact in the world, I would consider three fields.

One is artificial intelligence. We have only begun to tap into all the ways it will make people’s lives more productive and creative. The second is energy, because making it clean, affordable, and reliable will be essential for fighting poverty and climate change.

The third field Gates wrote about was biosciences, which he said is ripe with opportunity. But the first two fields Gates mentioned as opportunities with "big impact" are a proper endorsement for the U.S. Department of Energy's DIFFERENTIATE program.

Launched back in April, the DOE's comically long acronymized program stands for Design Intelligence Fostering Formidable Energy Reduction Enabling Novel, Totally Impactful Advanced Technology Enhancements, leaving us to speculate on whether or not the team who came up with the title of the program was paid by the letter.

The department says DIFFERENTIATE generally aims to accelerate the incorporation of machine learning and AI into energy technologies and seeks to develop new tools that:

  • Enhance the creativity of conceptual design process
  • Enhance the efficiency of the detailed design process
  • Ultimately reduce (ideally eliminate) the iteration process by developing the ability to execute “inverse design” processes, in which a product's design is specifically expressed as an explicit function of the problem.

The DIFFERENTIATE program currently sponsors projects at Iowa State University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn, among others.

Last week, the DOE announced $15 million in new funding to 23 projects. In a statement to the press about the recent round of funding, outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry said:

The incorporation of AI and Machine Learning into our energy technology design and engineering processes has great potential to increase the productivity of our nation’s engineers and scientists. These DIFFERENTIATE projects truly work towards creating a competitive advantage that further positions the United States as the world leader in AI technology development.

AI will allow energy companies to increase oversight of all aspects of the production line by compiling and analyzing massive amounts of data from the entire production process, from exploration to reclamation.

And every major oil and gas firm on the planet is scrambling to incorporate the technology right now.

Back in June, Houston oil services giant Baker Hughes (NYSE: BKR) launched a joint venture with Gates' Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Silicon Valley artificial intelligence firm C3.ai to incorporate AI into the company's system. Now Baker Hughes has announced it has signed an agreement with Microsoft and C3.ai to develop and market similar next-gen AI solutions for industry consumers worldwide.

European oil major Royal Dutch Shell has also signed up as a customer for C3.ai’s artificial intelligence platform. Shell is using AI to monitor operations and optimize production and distribution as well as better predict equipment malfunction.

Meanwhile, Bill Gates is putting his money where his mouth is. Last week I wrote to you about Gates' secretive Heliogen project, which uses artificial intelligence at a concentrated solar energy facility to generate extreme temperatures necessary for industry.

Tom Siebel, C3.ai founder and CEO, said in a recent interview, “Companies that adopt this technology will be the next Amazon, and those that don’t adopt will be the next Sears.”

On Monday I wrote to you about the importance of taking selective risks in a story about Mark Twain, where I wrote about the importance of taking part in the right opportunities. The artificial intelligence market is one of those right opportunities right now, particularly amid the energy sector.

Governments, industry, investors, innovators, even climate change advocates all generally agree the future of the near-term energy industry will be driven by the incorporation of AI into operations.

Investors should act accordingly.

Until next time,
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Luke Burgess

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As an editor at Energy and Capital, Luke’s analysis and market research reach hundreds of thousands of investors every day. Luke is also a contributing editor of Angel Publishing’s Bubble and Bust Report newsletter. There, he helps investors in leveraging the future supply-demand imbalance that he believes could be key to a cyclical upswing in the hard asset markets. For more on Luke, go to his editor’s page.

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