Innovating with artificial intelligence (AI): Stanwell and UQ explore the future of energy with AI

8 July 2021

Digital transformation is dramatically changing the way many industries operate – and a new collaboration between Stanwell and the University of Queensland has proven that energy generation is no exception. 

Stanwell’s Information Communication Technology (ICT) team conducted a study into the impact of emerging technologies and the potential opportunities they present for the Queensland government owned generator.  

Stanwell ICT General Manager Kevin Lin said the study identified three major areas in which emerging technologies could benefit Stanwell’s business: revenue and cost optimisation; compliance; and health safety. 

“During the initial phases of the study, we determined Stanwell would take a risk-aware approach that balances both cost and opportunity,” Mr Lin said.

“With this in mind, we engaged the University of Queensland to embark on a collaborative effort to further explore the opportunities for artificial intelligence, computer vision, drone and LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technologies into Stanwell’s operations.”

For the University of Queensland, the collaboration provides an opportunity to deliver on two of the research-intensive institution’s key objectives. 

“Two of the long-term objectives of the University of Queensland are to deliver globally significant solutions to challenges and to develop a community of knowledge seekers and leaders,” said UQ’s Research Partnerships Team.  

“Both objectives require building engaged and strategic partnerships with a broad range of external partners in sectors like the energy industry.”

Working together, Stanwell and UQ identified a number of data-intensive areas where emerging technologies could improve Stanwell’s performance, and ultimately decided that facilitating the safe inspection of Stanwell’s coal mills was the most meaningful, measurable problem that could be resolved by using emerging technologies to learn and solve problems.

“Routine inspections of the coal mill are conducted to evaluate the condition of the pulveriser balls,” said Stanwell Project Manager Paul Stanway.

“Condition inspections of the coal mill present both health and safety risks due to the confined and hazardous nature of the space that crushes coal into dust, not dissimilar to a pepper grinder. 

“For Stanwell, research into these emerging technologies means our employees may no longer need to conduct these inspections, as an AI solution could be deployed to perform this hazardous work that has traditionally been human-dependent.” 

UQ’s Research Partnerships Team said that these types of innovative applications are what gives AI the potential to make a significant impact on the global economy. 

“AI is a critical part of digital transformation in several industries and it is dramatically changing the way businesses operate,” they said.

“Engaging almost every sector of the economy along the way. AI is a powerful tool to improve business processes and will have a global impact on the future workforce through the transformation of the relationship between people and technology.”

“Advancements in AI are expected to contribute as much as US$15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030 and $315 billion to the Australian economy by 2028.” 

While the collaboration is in the early stages of development, Stanwell Project Manager Paul Stanwell said a number of lessons have already been learned. 

“Firstly, it’s important to learn from AI, rather than expect it to predict the future,” Mr Stanway said.

“Secondly, AI is a journey, with sometimes uncertain outcomes. But it’s clear that computer vision using AI has incredible potential to influence the way Stanwell does things, for the better.”