Microgrids could hold key to hurricane recovery – and energy resilience

Microgrids are helping communities in Puerto Rico get back on their feet – but smart systems and ‘energy clouds’ might also contribute to greater resilience in the wake of future extreme weather episodes. Jessica Twentyman reports.

It is five months since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, yet around one-third of the US territory’s residents – some 900,000 people – are still living without electricity.

But for pupils at S.U. Matrullas, a school located in the remote town of Orocovis in the island’s Central Mountain Range, it’s lessons as normal. That’s thanks to the donation of two smart energy-storage systems from German residential battery company, Sonnen. These are paired with a 15 kilowatt rooftop solar system provided by local renewable energy specialist, Pura Energia.

Together, these pieces of equipment form a microgrid that will provide enough energy to keep the school open and supplied with clean, renewable energy – rather than it having to rely on a noisy and far less environmentally friendly gas-fuelled generator.

A microgrid is a small local energy grid with control capabilities, based on connected sensors and other IoT technologies that enable it to operate independently of traditional grids.

The school has been completely off the main supply grids since the hurricane struck in September 2017, and was not expecting to be reconnected for many months to come. Now, school officials reckon they won’t need to reconnect with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), even once the main power supply is restored to the area.

Microgrids post-hurricane recovery and energy resilience
The solar array from Pura Energia installed at S.U. Matrullas school in Puerto Rico as part of a microgrid.

Read more: Analysis: 2018 looks set to see a surge in microgrids

More than just recovery

S.U. Matrullus is the site of the ninth and tenth microgrid systems that Sonnen and Pura Energia have installed on the island since Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico. Others have been installed at relief centres, food distribution centres, and community laundromats, supporting households in areas where water has been contaminated by the Leptospirosis bacteria.

According to Adam Gentner, Sonnen’s director of business development in Latin America, “These microgrids effectively form the blueprint for more than just recovery, but also for preparation for islands and regions around the world that are susceptible to natural disasters and power outages.”

This is an important point: microgrids have a potentially huge role to play, not just in recovery, but also in ongoing energy resilience. And, as seen at S.U. Matrullas, microgrids often incorporate renewable energy sources, and include battery storage, too.

As previously discussed on Internet of Business, microgrids are a huge IoT opportunity, as they’re comprised of equipment that requires sensors, connectivity, and analytics to perform at its best. The smart battery systems from Sonnen, for example, rely on a self-learning algorithm to decide when to charge and discharge the battery, based on data it processes on energy usage patterns, photovoltaic output, weather predictions, and grid tariff rates.

Read more: GE’s Maher Chebbo on the journey to a digitally transformed energy sector

Improving island life

There is a huge opportunity for microgrids and smart systems on the storm-ravaged islands of the Caribbean, which last year had to deal with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in swift succession. Most of these islands operate an energy infrastructure based on one large generator powered by imported fossil fuels, with power transported along above-ground cables. In other words, it’s unnecessarily dirty, costly – and vulnerable.

It follows that sustainable alternatives, such as wind and solar power, could do much to increase resiliency – although it’s worth noting that several solar farms on these islands did get trashed during these storms, so a future based on solar-plus-batteries may not be enough.

But a recent report on Puerto Rico’s energy future seems to agree that microgrids have a big role to play. Prepared by more than a dozen organisations, including the island’s power authority PREPA, it calls for a decade-long plan of improvement programmes that is likely to cost somewhere in the region of $ 17 billion.

In particular, it proposes a two-pronged approach to microgrid adoption. First, critical centres vital to post-storm recovery – such as hospital, police and fire stations, emergency shelters, air and sea ports, and water treatment plants – should operate in isolation as microgrids, using technologies such as combined heat and power systems, rooftop solar, battery storage, and smart energy management systems.

Second, remote communities should have their own microgrids that enable them to operate independently – and remain disconnected – from the larger grid.

Read more: Chirp and EDF Energy team up on power station connectivity project

A resilient and renewables-based future?

One of the contributors to the Puerto Rico report was Navigant Research, which specialises in energy market analysis. It follows microgrids closely, and last week released a report estimating that culmulative spending on microgrid-enabling technologies will reach almost $ 112 billion by 2026.

Navigant analyst Peter Asmus says, “Microgrids represent a key component of an emerging ‘energy cloud’ focused on resilience and renewable energy integration. Biomass, combined heat and power, diesel, fuel cells, hydroelectric, solar PV, and wind represent the lion’s share of potential revenue for microgrid implementation spending, and serve as the backbone of the microgrid value proposition: maximising the value of onsite power generation.”

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For the 900,000 Puerto Ricans still living without power, resilience can’t come quick enough. The use of renewables, meanwhile, would mean greater self-reliance when it comes to energy generation, allowing them to use the island’s own resources to generate the power its people need.

Smart, connected, distributed energy networks are not just a stopgap solution while traditional infrastructures are being repaired; they can be a radical, better alternative to legacy systems.


Coming soon: Our Internet of Energy event will be taking place in Berlin, Germany on 6 & 7 March 2018. Attendees will hear how companies in this sector are harnessing the power of IoT to transform distributed energy resources. 

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Internet of Business

Tracking Atmospheric “Rivers” Could Help Us Predict Extreme Weather

Improving Predictions

Atmospheric rivers are long, narrow pieces of the atmosphere that appear like ribbons of water vapor traveling from tropical regions. When they arrive over land, they usually result in rain or snow, making them an essential water source for otherwise deficient areas like Southern California and other drought-ridden regions.

While these rivers are vital to survival and water collection, they can also cause mass flooding in these west coast communities. Given that they can bring about natural disasters, being able to predict when the rivers will make landfall would be of great help. Presently, we’re only able to predict them about two weeks in advance.

Atmospheric rivers. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Atmospheric rivers. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Hoping to improve those predictions, which would give communities more time to prepare, a team of atmospheric scientists at Colorado State University (CSU) developed a model that can predict atmospheric river activity up to five weeks in advance. The study, published in the Nature Partner Journal Climate and Atmospheric Science, is part of an initiative funded by NOAA Research’s MAPP Program and used the team’s careful analysis of 37 years’ worth of weather data.

Whatever the Weather

Cory Baggett, a co-author of the paper and postdoctoral researcher, said the model is “impressive,” considering that even NOAA’s state-of-the-art forecasting system and other models elsewhere in the world can only make such predictions, at most, a week or two ahead of time. Many lives could be saved if local emergency crews and reservoir managers had more of a lead time to prepare for extreme weather events, like droughts or heavy rainfall, that atmospheric rivers can bring about.

While preparing for potential natural disasters is an important benefit of the model, the team also noted that it could improve even routine weather reporting — meaning it could help communities feel better prepared whatever the weather may be.

The post Tracking Atmospheric “Rivers” Could Help Us Predict Extreme Weather appeared first on Futurism.

Futurism

Today’s Delays in Addressing CO2 Emissions Could Influence Sea Levels for Centuries

In Deep Water

Each year, we pump more and more CO2 into the atmosphere. One of the primary goals of the Paris Agreement is to stop this increase in emissions, hitting a point at which they peak and then begin to decrease. Now, according to a new study published in Nature Communications, each five-year delay in hitting this turning point could translate into higher 2300 sea levels.

According to researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), if the Paris Agreement is put fully into practice, global sea levels will increase by between 0.7 and 1.2 meters (2.3 and 3.9 feet) by 2030. For every five-year delay in hitting peak CO2 emissions between 2020 and 2035, though, that figure will increase by approximately 20 centimeters (7.8 inches).

“Man-made climate change has already pre-programmed a certain amount of sea-level rise for the coming centuries, so for some, it might seem that our present actions might not make such a big difference – but our study illustrates how wrong this perception is,” said lead author Matthias Mengel in a PIK press release.

“The Paris Agreement calls for emissions to peak as soon as possible,” added co-author Carl-Friedrich Schleussner. “This might sound like a hollow phrase to some, but our results show that there are quantifiable consequences of delaying action.”

A Dire Situation

Future predictions based on current CO2 levels are bleak. By 2040, river flooding is expected to impact millions, and climate change is already threatening coastal communities around the globe. By 2100, those communities could see their shores drowned under an additional 10 centimeters (four inches) of water per decade.

Paris Climate Agreement
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As Mengel noted in the press release, his team’s predictions for 2300 sea levels could be underestimated, too. “Even a sea-level rise of up to three meters [9.8 feet] until 2300 cannot be ruled out completely, as we are not yet fully certain how the Antarctic ice sheet will respond to global warming,” said Mengel.

The severity of the situation ultimately comes down to how quickly and efficiently we act to reduce further harm. Climate change is winning, but it hasn’t won. If we take action now, we still have a chance to protect our planet and all the living creatures on it.

The post Today’s Delays in Addressing CO2 Emissions Could Influence Sea Levels for Centuries appeared first on Futurism.

Futurism

Refurbished Organs Could Save Millions on the Transplant List

Organ transplantation is a miracle of modern medicine, but it has a pipeline problem: roughly 20 people die every day while waiting for an organ transplant. Scientists at Harvard Medical School think they may be able to solve that problem by sprucing up old organs from pigs and animals, giving the organs and their new owners alike a new lease on life.

Surgeon Harald Ott and his lab have developed a method that strips animal organs of their cells by washing them in a detergent, leaving behind a tissue scaffold that can be seeded with human stem cells from the patient in need. This would prevent a patient’s body from rejecting the organ, and mean that transplantees would not need to spend their lives on anti-rejection drugs. As the cells grow on this scaffold, the lab uses a bioreactor that pumps the organ, keeping it healthy by stimulating it in the same way it would move in the body.

The team has successfully refurbished lungs, kidneys, hearts, and portions of intestines from rats and pigs to make them human-donor compatible, and then transplanted those organs back into animals. Though the human cells in these transplanted organs made them incompatible with the rats’ and pigs’ bodies, the organs worked — showing significant promise for future human trials. The lab also successfully re-grew muscle within human cadaver hearts that had been similarly stripped of their cells.

A human heart partially re-seeded with human stem cells being cultured in a bioreactor. Image credit: Bernhard Jank, Ott Lab, Center for Regenerative Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital

“Your iPhone breaks, your battery breaks, you switch it out. Medicine, in some ways, is possibly moving in that direction,” Ott told the Wall Street Journal. “I could measure you up, basically, take an organ off a shelf, ideally make it personalized so that you wouldn’t reject it, and then I would implant it into you.”

However, Ott estimates it will be at least a decade before these organs will be ready for clinical trials in humans. In the mean time, Ott is among a wide group of scientists seeking to improve the transplantation process. From better methods of preserving donor organs, to gene editing pig organs for humans, to even bio-printing and growing human organs in the lab, the era of patients waiting endlessly on transplant lists may be coming to an end.

The post Refurbished Organs Could Save Millions on the Transplant List appeared first on Futurism.

Futurism

Weak iPhone X Sales Could Also Be Hurting Samsung

Countless reports have emerged suggesting that Apple’s iPhone X is struggling to gain momentum among consumers and that sales are weak. But the American tech giant isn’t the only firm being affected by disappointing sales of the handset.

Samsung, which produces display panels for the handset, may also fall victim to this epidemic.

According to a report from Nikkei, it’s believed that Samsung is currently looking for more companies to buy into its organic light-emitting diode technology amid fears that Apple may slow down orders.

These panels aren’t exactly cheap, and many companies are using liquid crystal displays as an alternative to cut costs. Of course, the iPhone X does cost a hefty $ 1000. And clearly, during the design phases, the firm thought it could make the money back on the screens as a result of large profit margins.

An official at Samsung told Nikkei that the firm has been looking to drive up profits by flogging its display technologies to third-party manufacturers. “Samsung is increasingly selling OLED panels to outside clients,” they said.

Essentially, Apple approached its South Korean competitor to order a large bulk of OLED panels, which led it to increase production. But sales of the iPhone X haven’t exactly gone to plan.

Now, it’s thought that Samsung has a large amount of OLED panels left hanging about the production line. So it could end up losing money if orders don’t start to pour in.

On average, these displays cost more than $ 100, which is nearly 50 percent more than the price of LCD alternatives. Most smartphone manufacturers opt for the latter.

Speaking to Nikkei, IHS Markit financial services specialist Hiroshi Hayase said investing in OLED panels “makes it difficult to compete with rivals on price”.

In January, leading Wall Street analyst firm Longbow Research predicted that Apple will sell less iPhones in 2018 than previously thought.

He cited the expense of the iPhone X and battery throttling debacle as being two factors that may put off consumers from buying Apple’s smartphones.

“Apple found iPhone price elasticity with the introduction of the X blunting some demand. Reception of the iPhone 8/8Plus was lukewarm with Apple shifting production back toward the iPhone 7 as a result,” he said.

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