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AWS analytics tools help French utility go green

The cloud computing giant's suite enabled Engie SA to transition away from fossil fuels and now helps the French utility manage a network of renewable energy sources.

Analytics tools from AWS enabled French utility company Engie SA to transition from providing power with traditional energy sources like coal and oil to renewable energy sources.

Headquartered near Paris, Engie can trace its roots back to the 1848 construction of the Suez Canal in Egypt but officially formed in 2008 through the merger of natural gas provider Gaz de France and waste management and energy provider Suez. The company has operations in 27 countries in Europe and 48 nations worldwide -- including the United States -- and is the second-leading energy provider in France.

AWS' data management and analytics tools include Redshift and S3 for storage, Glue for data preparation and integration, SageMaker for machine learning and QuickSight for business intelligence.

Philosophical shift

Energy consumption is growing.

In 2021, nearly 180,000 terawatt hours of energy were consumed globally, according to Our World in Data. That figure is almost six times the amount of energy consumed worldwide in 1950. Of that 2021 total, more than two-thirds came from coal, oil and natural gas -- traditional fossil fuels.

In addition, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that global energy consumption will increase another 50% by 2050.

Meanwhile, the effects of climate change -- which is directly linked to the burning of fossil fuels -- are increasing.

The ocean temperatures and sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting, droughts are intensifying and violent storms are becoming more frequent.

"The world is very energy hungry, and it is becoming even more so," said Biljana Kaitovic, EVP of IT and digital at Engie, during a keynote address at AWS re:Invent 2022, a user conference hosted by the tech giant last week. "This is a challenge we are facing today. We need energy to be affordable, accessible, [and] secure, and above all, we need energy to be green."

Biljana Kaitovic, executive vice president of IT and digital at Engie
Biljana Kaitovic, executive vice president of IT and digital at Engie, speaks during the keynote address at AWS re:Invent, a user conference hosted by Amazon Web Services.

Through 2014, however, Engie did not invest in green energy sources like solar, hydroelectricity, nuclear energy and wind. Instead, like most other traditional utilities, it provided power to its customers with fossil fuels.

But recognizing the effects of fossil fuel production and consumption have on the environment, Engie shifted its strategy. In 2015, it stopped investing in coal plants and sold off fossil fuel-producing assets, totaling 15 billion euros, to invest in renewable energy sources.

One year later, then-CEO Isabelle Kocher publicly stated that Engie's new strategy was to promote decarbonized energy that emits fewer greenhouse gases than fossil fuels, decentralized energy that is produced and stored near where it gets consumed, and a digitized strategy to manage its network and promote energy efficiency.

"At Engie, our purpose is to accelerate the transition toward a carbon-neutral economy," Kaitovic said. "We don't have much time to deal with the climate crisis. Every day counts."

Engie and AWS

Data is key to Engie's use of renewable energy to power its customers, according to Kaitovic.

So is recognizing the need for advanced analytics capabilities to enable its transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, in 2018 the utility used a suite of AWS tools to develop a data repository it named the Common Data Hub.

Engie powers its hub with S3 to store raw data and uses AWS Glue for data integration and preparation, Redshift and Spectrum to query and analyze data, and SageMaker for data science needs including machine learning.

Originally designed to centralize Engie's data and ensure the quality of that data, the Common Data Hub now houses more than one petabyte of data and is used to inform more than 1,000 data projects, according to Kaitovic.

"Data and digital play a key role in our [ongoing] energy transition," she said.

The world is very energy hungry, and it is becoming even more so. … We need energy to be affordable, accessible, [and] secure, and above all, we need energy to be green.
Biljana KaitovicEVP of IT and digital, Engie SA

With the Common Data Hub, Engie can promote the use of renewable energy with predictive analytics, manage its decentralized grid, and optimize both its own energy consumption and the energy consumption of customers.

Renewable energy sources are more unpredictable than fossil fuels. Clouds affect the amount of solar energy that can be captured, and wind variances affect wind energy production. AWS' predictive analytics capabilities, therefore, enable Engie to forecast production levels and optimize consumption.

Data is also key to predicting and preventing equipment failure before it happens, according to Kaitovic. Predictive analytics and machine learning capabilities from AWS enable Engie to be proactive and keep equipment running.

Meanwhile, the amount of data Engie collects is increasing.

Unlike before 2015 when the utility company took a centralized approach to powering its customers, Engie now relies on energy sources close to where the energy captured by those sources gets consumed. Those sources include wind and solar farms -- even individual homes with solar panels -- and it means relying on a broad network of local energy producers rather than a handful of large power plants.

To balance supply and demand across a complex network of what are Kaitovic termed micro-grids, Engie needs to manage energy production and consumption in real time and does so with AWS analytics tools.

Finally, Kaitovic noted that the best way to reduce the environmental impact of energy consumption is to reduce energy consumption itself. Engie, therefore, works with companies -- including AWS -- to reduce their carbon footprint, and managing the internet of things with AWS is vital to that work.

"[AWS tools] all help to make our clean energy more efficient," Kaitovic said.


With a data hub and analytics pipeline built on AWS, Engie has reduced its own carbon footprint and is attempting to do the same for its customers.

In addition to its prominence in France, the utility company is the largest energy generator in Belgium and The Netherlands, ranks fifth in all of Europe, and is the largest non-state owned energy generator in Brazil and Thailand.

Barcelona is one city where Engie runs a heating and cooling network. With a dedicated digital solution built with AWS analytics tools, Engie has reduced the network's energy usage by about 15%.

"That's just a start," Kaitovic said.

Engie also uses AWS to reduce its own energy consumption, she continued. By simply scaling up its infrastructure during the work day and scaling it down at night and on weekends, Engie generates 60% savings on run time in the cloud.

"And that, of course, helps us save precious energy," Kaitovic said.

Engie similarly helps AWS save on energy costs and reduce energy consumption -- they are customers of each other. AWS has a goal of fully powering its operations with electricity, and Engie -- using AWS' own analytics tools -- is helping the tech giant do so with power from solar and wind farms in the U.S., United Kingdom, Italy and France.

"As we all scale up our digital platforms and solutions, our digital real estate will continue to grow," Kaitovic said. "So will its energy usage. Therefore, it is imperative that we power it with green energy to ensure that we minimize its carbon footprint. Every day counts."

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