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SK Group Draws Power from Silicon Valley’s Energy Innovations

On-site energy generation, artificial intelligence in oil extraction, and the rise of “green” corporate cultures: these are just a few examples of how the energy industry is changing rapidly in response to new technologies. Adapting to these trends is the challenge all large enterprises face today. SK Group, a South Korean conglomerate, is a case in point. Founded in 1953 and today employing a global workforce of some 80,000 employees, the company is understandably comfortable with its legacy systems and partnerships in traditional industries.

To learn more about how the energy industry is changing and what this change means for its business, SK Group sent a delegation of over 30 executives from its Seoul headquarters to SVIC for a custom, 3-day immersion program.

Discoveries made by the group included seeing how machine learning increases energy efficiency in massive data centres and learning about AI-optimization for the oil and gas industry supply chain. We cover these technological advances in this article and dive into the trends shaping the future of the energy industry.

Why Are Companies Embracing New Energy Innovations?

The SK Group began their program by looking into the development of green technologies and the emergence of corporate social responsibility as a business strategy.

They started with a visit to the Stanford School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences. Stanford produces successful alumni at an alarming rate, and the students graduating from the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences are positioning themselves as the next generation of environmentally-conscious business leaders. Here, SK Group got their own crash course on the future of Earth’s energy resources, and learned what Stanford’s best and brightest are doing to meet this future head-on.

The group then saw how companies are applying environmental consciousness in action. The SK Group team heard from Amazon, the largest internet retailer in the world, on why they’re so dedicated to the idea of corporate social responsibility. Amazon explained that its focus on developing “green services” – like a 1000-acre solar farm in Virginia that powers Amazon Web Services data centers – is to the benefit of the company, the communities in which they operate, and the international clients they serve. Internally, Amazon’s green initiatives help to keep costs down and align the company with new technologies that can offer a market advantage. And for customers, Amazon’s commitment to the environment signifies shared values and encourages repeat business.

The KPMG group sits in a classroom at Amazon while a speaker presents.

The SK Group cohort hears how Amazon uses green technologies to practice corporate social responsibility.

Using New Technologies to Increase Energy Efficiency

The energy technologies emerging from Silicon Valley aren’t limited to new renewable sources like solar. Much of the innovation is focused on using or storing energy in more efficient ways, and the SK Group delegation saw this trend in action while visiting tech giants like Google, Intel, and NVIDIA.

One approach to increased energy efficiency is software: Google uses its DeepMind machine learning technology to cool its massive data centers using 40% less energy. The company plans to roll out similar AI efficiencies to other operations and, eventually, to bring general-purpose energy optimizations to market. For Google, today’s cost-saving innovations are tomorrow’s revenue stream.

Another approach is collaboration. Intel is looking to increase operational efficiency in its energy cloud, mobile, and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions by partnering with innovative tech startups. Earlier this year the company put $72 million in funding toward a dozen such companies, all developing new technologies that could have game-changing effects on Intel’s long-term energy strategy. The SK Group team heard this message again when visiting a global startup accelerator, where their guide preached the benefits of international collaboration – in Korean.

When tech companies partner with traditional industries, the results can be groundbreaking. At the offices of NVIDIA, a leading producer of computer processing parts, the SK Group executives saw a first-hand technology demonstration of machine learning in the oil and gas industry. NVIDIA has partnered with the fullstream oil company BHGE by bringing its GPU-accelerated computing power and cutting-edge AI research to every step in the oil location, extraction, and delivery process. The algorithms running on NVIDIA’s hardware do everything from seismic modelling to real-time predictive maintenance on oil well machinery – automatically saving time, money, and energy resources. As in the case of Google’s DeepMind project, these sorts of algorithmic optimizations can have dramatic effects on a company’s operations – and bottom line.

The KPMG employees look at a wall of GPU and AI technologies at NVIDIA.

The SK Group team gets a look at the inner workings of NVIDIA’s GPU and machine learning tech in the oil and gas industry.

The Future of Energy Generation: Do It Yourself

The Silicon Valley tech companies not literally striking oil are discovering and dominating new energy markets entirely. One such market is the emerging trend of scalable, on-site energy generation. By cutting out the inefficiencies of fluctuating usage and the need for costly transportation, on-site generation and storage maximizes energy efficiency and puts power firmly in the hands of the companies who use it – meaning more freedom and fewer costs.

The SK Group cohort learned about this trend at the headquarters of Bloom Energy, a pioneer in the on-site energy space. Here they were introduced to Bloom’s innovative “Energy Server Platform” that allows for clean, scalable, on-site energy generation anywhere in the world. Using breakthroughs in fuel cell technology and advances in materials science, Bloom has set up low-profile grids of Energy Servers for companies like Google, FedEx, and AT&T – all of whom, like Amazon, know the broad value of energy independence and a commitment to greener technologies.

The KPMG cohort looks at a display model of a Bloom Energy Server.

Bloom Energy shows the SK Group team how their high-tech Energy Servers are ushering in a future of on-site energy generation.

Learning to Tap the Full Potential of Energy

SK Group came to Silicon Valley with a firm understanding that the future of global energy is taking shape today. As a large conglomerate with interests in a range of traditional industries, SK Group is both threatened by the rapid changes taking place in the energy sector and well placed to take advantage of them by adopting new technologies and partnering with innovative startups.

The South Korean team used their SVIC program to get closer to the trends disrupting the future of energy, in the process learning of the latest developments in corporate social responsibility and seeing how AI is being used to optimize supply chains in the oil and gas industry. They were also introduced to the on-site future of energy generation.

In the days ahead, these and other Silicon Valley technologies will continue to shape the energy industry worldwide. To stay on top of these trends and remain competitive, SK Group will use what they learned to develop their own new energy initiatives and partnerships. Their future of growth and prosperity awaits.

Digital Transformation: The Future of Energy


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