Artificial intelligence (AI), in many different industries, is about to unleash the next era of digital innovation, and the power and energy (P&U) industries are no exception. The distribution of energy is not a linear equation anymore. As new sources of energy and data expand, utility providers are seeking to take a more holistic approach to understand and manage their resources and involve active clients on the edge of the grid. In a broad sense, AI makes it possible for the stakeholders to recognize the operational dynamics when it arrives in the management of power supplies and distributed resources. Utilities can harness comprehensive, real-time models to provide a more robust and efficient grid with AI-powered solutions, machine learning functioning underneath scenes to investigate different data sources, and to provide industry and customers with actionable insights.
At Microsoft, building a future that we can all thrive in is at the center of everything we do. On January 16, as part of the announcement that Microsoft will be carbon negative by 2030, we discussed how advances in human prosperity, as measured by GDP growth, are inextricably tied to the use of energy. Microsoft has committed to deploy $1 billion into a new climate innovation fund to accelerate the development of carbon reduction and removal technologies that will help us and the world become carbon negative. The Azure IoT team continues to invest in the platforms and tools that enable solution builders to deliver new energy solutions, customers to empower their workforce, optimize digital operations and build smart, connected, cities, vehicles, and buildings. Earlier, Microsoft committed $50 Million through Microsoft AI for Earth that provides technology, resources, and expertise into the hands of those working to solve our most complex global environmental challenges.
Rising energy demands, fluctuating oil prices, renewable integration, aging infrastructure and changing regulatory requirements are all challenges facing the energy industry today. While multiple approaches exist for addressing these realities, one constant remains -- technology will be at the heart of the majority of solutions. Whether it's sensors and cameras monitoring utility and oil and gas assets, drones that perform high-risk inspection operations, or machine learning tools that identify energy efficiency opportunities, technology innovation is critical for the future of the industry. The shift to smart electricity grids and digital oil fields does not come without risk. The technologies proliferating in the energy industry are also endangering it -- opening up critical systems to cyberattacks.
To gauge the complexity of the juggling act utility firms must perform to stay in business, consider two statistics. In the four years to 2018, the number of Britons who switched their energy supplier almost doubled to 5.9 million; at the same time, the contribution of renewables to energy firms' output mix grew from about 13% to just shy of 20%. One represents a fundamental change in consumer expectations of the service they receive while the other highlights the political and environmental pressures being brought to bear on suppliers' operations. To the list of challenges that are adding to the pressures under which utilities operate, add the tightening – and disparate – the grip of regulators, the fracturing of transmission networks and the increasing influence of activist investors. Managing these changing times can be incredibly challenging for established utilities, especially at a time when technology is enabling venture-backed start-ups to move into niche segments of their operations.