Google announced in a blog post that it now purchases more renewable energy than it consumes as a company. Google began these efforts in 2017, with the goal of purchasing as much renewable energy as it uses across its 13 data centers and all of its office complexes.
To be clear, Google is not powering all of its energy consumption with renewable energy. It’s matching what it consumes with equal amounts of purchased renewable energy. For every kilowatt-hour of electricity consumed, it buys a kilowatt-hour from a wind or solar farm built specifically for Google. The company says that its total purchase of energy from sources like wind and solar now exceeds the amount of electricity used by its operations.
Google announced plans in late 2016 to increase its spending on renewable energy. In fact, Google intended to go 100% renewable. Today, Google announced it met the goal last year of matching all of its global energy usage with purchases of renewable energy.
This does not mean Google’s facilities all run on 100% renewable energy. It’s logistically difficult to get enough power from wind or solar in all locations to only use renewables.
In late 2016, Google announced that it expected to offset all of its office and data center electricity use with 100 percent renewable energy in 2017. Today, the company says it achieved that goal. Google has been working on reducing its carbon footp… Engadget RSS Feed
There’s a lot to be said for using car batteries as temporary energy storage facilities, but significant barriers still stand in the way of widespread uptake, as Jessica Twentyman explains.
What do you get if you cross an electric vehicle with a smart building? According to Hitachi Europe, Mitsubishi Motors, and energy company ENGIE, the answer could be an energy-neutral office block that uses cars in the parking lot as a temporary energy storage facility.
Last week, the three companies announced a project in the Netherlands that will see them test out their theories, by linking a Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) to ENGIE’s office building in Zaandam, via Hitachi’s two-way V2X Charger.
The V2X Charter can be used not only to recharge an electric vehicle (EV), but also to discharge the energy held in its battery back into a building when needed. In this way, when a building equipped with solar panels generates more energy than it needs, for example, the excess might be stored in vehicles until it’s required.
For the next stage of its project, the consortium will examine how EVs, renewable energy, and smart building energy management systems might be more closely coordinated to reduce energy costs and emissions, with the ultimate goal of making buildings energy neutral, according to Hitachi Europe’s chief digital officer, Ram Ramachander.
“Our technology can also help to create new business cases across the EV value chain,” he says, “including vehicle-to-grid technology, which enables flexibility with their energy distribution.”
The term ‘vehicle-to-grid’, or V2G, is not new. The idea of using car batteries as a source of power in grid services has been seen as attractive for several years, not only because of the growing lithium-ion capacity tied up in EVs, but also because much of that energy is not being used a great deal of the time.
As Vincent Cobee, corporate vice president at Mitsubishi Motors, puts it, the project in Zaandam aims to show that EVs and PHEVs “can be a vital component of energy in the future.”
Last month, automaker Nissan announced a partnership with energy giant E.ON at the Geneva Motor Show, which focuses in part on “vehicle-to-grid infrastructure and advanced bi-directional charging technology to allow customers to optimise their energy use and costs.”
The UK government seems to see a lot of promise in V2G, too. In February 2018, the Department of Transport announced a new £30 million investment in V2G technologies, which it hopes will unlock the potential for EVs to be used to power homes, rather than the other way around.
Transport Minister Jesse Norman certainly didn’t hold back his enthusiasm for the technology. “These projects are at the cutting edge of their field,” he said. “Just like the visionary designs of Brunel and Stephenson in transport, they could revolutionise the ways in which we store and manage electricity, both now and in the future.”
One of the groups that will benefit from that funding brings together energy storage specialist Moixa Energy, the UK’s National Grid, Western Power Distribution, and Nissan’s Technical Centre Europe, among others.
If electric vehicles are left plugged into smart, two-way charging points when not in use, argue the consortium’s members, their batteries can feed power into the network at times of peak demand. Just ten new Nissan LEAFs can store as much energy as a thousand homes typically consume in an hour, they claim.
“Smart chargers can also control when cars recharge to avoid stressing the network and to store surplus power when demand is low. This will allow the grid to operate more efficiently, support high levels of renewables, and rely less on fossil fuel power stations,” the consortium says.
Its study, V2GB – Vehicle to Grid Britain, aims to establish the best way to incentivise a rapid rollout of the technology, via sharing the revenues that result from V2G energy flows among drivers, owners of smart charging stations and car parks, and aggregators of battery capacity.
Internet of Business says
A promising technology, but the journey to becoming a mainstream, everyday option is still some way off for V2G. One concern it that discharging energy from a stationary EV stresses its battery, which is one of its most expensive components.
Paying drivers to take part may prove to be the critical incentive that helps V2G schemes succeed, but not all drivers will be persuaded to participate, especially if they’re concerned about their EV being drained of power just before they set off on a journey. This is where smart energy management software may play a big role, by helping to ensure that charging and discharging fits in with drivers’ preferences and schedules.
Utilities’ ability to keep up is also in question. It’s no secret that many are already struggling to deal with growing EV charging requirements, even though they look set to gain massively if they can reposition themselves as ‘the new petroleum companies’.
Recent analysis by research firm Wood Mackenzie, for example, predicts that simultaneously charging 60,000 EVs in Texas could cause a massive grid failure in that state – even though that total accounts for just 0.25 percent of the 24 million vehicles registered by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.
Plus, there just aren’t that many EVs available that support two-way flows. Most EVs can chug away at charging points, but vehicles capable of regurgitating the contents of their battery for use elsewhere are yet to emerge in substantial numbers.
In short, automakers have a lot of work to do to make V2G systems work.
But that is not to say that the hurdles can’t be overcome in time. The benefits are potentially huge: a more resilient smart grid, energy-neutral buildings, cleaner air, and lower carbon emissions.
I’ve long used Belkin’s $ 35 Wemo Insight Switch in my home, both for automation and energy monitoring. Now, Fibaro has a new, competing product called the Fibaro Wall Plug. It comes in two options: a $ 50 version and a $ 60 model that adds an integrated USB plug. I’ve been testing a review unit of the latter and it’s a great, if not more expensive alternative, that has some automation limitations depending on which hub you use.
Yes, you’ll need a hub for the Wall Plug because it uses a Z-Wave radio for connectivity. In my testing, I connected the Plug to a SmartThings hub — technically an Nvidia Shield TV with Samsung SmartThings USB Link — but to use all of the Plug’s smart functionality, you’ll really need a Fibaro Home Center controller and the Fibaro mobile app. I’ll explain why in a bit.
From a design standpoint, the plug is elegant. I like the look of it and also the fact that it doesn’t cover up the second outlet in your wall, which some smart plugs can do. The rounded corners and small-ish size of the 2.32-inch plug look very modern and clean.
Note that since SmartThings doesn’t natively support the Fibaro Wall Plug, I had to install two custom handlers so that the SmartThings hub would recognize and report usage on both the main outlet and the USB port. It’s a pretty easy, cut-and-paste process, but worth noting.
Once that’s done, there’s not much else to the installation of the Fibaro Plug though. You simply triple click a button on the Plug to put it in pairing mode and use your hub to complete the process. I was able to pair it with my SmartThings hub in under a minute.
Once connected, you just plug in any standard electrical or USB device to the Fibaro unit. I used it to power the Raspberry Pi we set up for our IoT Podcast VM and also some other appliances, such as my Keurig coffee maker and June oven. I also added the Plug to both my Amazon Echo and Google Home accounts so I could turn the plug on or off with voice commands. The Fibaro Plug worked with both assistants for basic power commands.
Monitoring energy usage
One of the unique features of the Fibaro Plug is the LED ring on the front of it. The color of the ring changes to indicate how much power the plug is drawing based on seven unique colors including white, red, green, blue, yellow, cyan or magenta. The latter, for example, shows between 1350W and 1800W.
Initially, the LED ring didn’t light up when the plug was under a load. A quick reset of the Plug (hold the Plug button until the LED turns yellow, let go and quickly tap the button) fixed it. Plus, you can see that information in real time or view the historical use with the SmartThings app for both the main outlet and the USB port. The LED is configurable if you don’t want it on at all or if you want to customize the colors for different power usage levels.
The SmartThings app can also control the state of the Fibaro Plug, meaning with one tap on your phone, you can turn the Plug on or off. You can even do this when away from your home. Personally, I like to have it always on since most appliances have their own power switch. However, if you’re planning to use the Plug with a lamp, this is an easy way to turn that light on or off, even if you’re not using a smart bulb.
It’s tricky when it comes to automation and getting information from the Fibaro Plug, however. Yes, you can create automations that turn the plug on or off — helpful for lights — but that’s about it in the SmartThings world. And unless you use the Fibaro hub and app, you won’t get energy alerts. And although it would be nice to know if my refrigerator lost power, I can live without the notifications on energy usage. But my plans for automating the plug fell a little short when using SmartThings with it.
For example, I’d like to put one of these plugs in our master bathroom and have my wife use it with her hair dryer. Why? Because drying her hair is the last thing she does in the morning before she heads down to the kitchen. If I could automate the kitchen light based on the power draw of the hair dryer, she’d automatically enter a well-lit kitchen. The only way I can see to do this would be to use a Fibaro gateway and corresponding Fibaro app.
Regardless, the Fibaro Plug works well if you understand the hub and software limitations when using it with SmartThings, which could eventually change with an updated device handler. If you do have a Fibaro Home Center, you’ll get all of the impressive functionality the Plug offers.
The health, energy, and transport sectors are among IoT-enabled systems at increasing risk of a cyber attack. But why is this, and what can these sectors do to protect themselves? Kate O’Flaherty reports.
From power stations through to medical devices, internet-connected critical national infrastructure is at increasing risk from cyber attack.
Last year, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) warned that assaults on critical infrastructure are “highly likely”. Increased tensions between Europe and Russia, and between the US and China, raise the stakes even higher.
Indeed, the NCSC said the Kremlin had already ordered attacks on energy companies with the aim of disrupting international order. Meanwhile, the US also recently accused Russia of attempted assaults on its utility sector, and blocked the largest deal in technology history, Broadcom’s hostile takeover of Qualcomm, on national security grounds.
But governments are starting to act. Under the EU’s network and information systems (NIS) Directive, organisations – including those in health, transport, energy, and finance – could be fined up to £17 million if they fail to implement robust cyber security measures.
The global energy sector has already fallen victim to several successful cyber attacks. In 2010, one of the first known large-scale incidents, Stuxnet, targeted an Iranian nuclear facility. Then in 2016, malware known as Industroyer was apparently deployed by the Kremlin to strike Ukraine’s national grid.
So why is this sector more vulnerable than others?
Unintended uses of equipment
The risk is elevated because utilities are often running old supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, which were never intended to be connected to the internet in the first place. Adding to the security challenge, Internet of Things (IoT) programmes are being layered on top in a bid to increase efficiency.
The same challenge applies in healthcare, where the tightly regulated world of medical equipment – where machines are often extremely expensive and are used for many years before being replaced – has often seen old systems added to local hospital networks. Such devices can’t be redesigned, patched, or upgraded overnight.
Speaking at a Dell IoT launch in New York last year, IoT security company Zingbox claimed that hackers had entered US hospital networks via insecure medical devices, including MRI scanners and X-Ray machines, accessed patients’ medical records, and changed drug doses remotely.
Healthcare providers should consider whether all such devices need to be connected to the internet, and actively explore what the impact would be of the device being compromised, or used to access other critical systems.
They should then work with the manufacturer to take preemptive action.
The rapid growth of the IoT in these sectors is emerging as a further security challenge. According to recent research from the Wi-SUN Alliance, the IoT utilities sector alone could be worth as much as $ 15 billion by 2024.
Oil and gas firms, which have a long track record of using SCADA and industrial control systems (ICS) to drive efficiency, are the most eager to add the IoT to this mix, with 88 percent considering it a priority. Utilities are not far behind, with three-quarters of all firms investing in the IoT, according to Wi-SUN’s research.
“One reason for the growing interest in IoT is the fact that it plays into several other key areas, such as IT automation, big data analytics, and organisational connectivity,” says Phil Beecher, Wi-SUN Alliance president.
Adding to this, today’s connected energy systems differ to those of the past, which were historically on separate networks: “You had to physically be there to hack it,” says Ken Munro, partner and founder at penetration security company, Pen Test Partners.
When IoT solutions and processes are layered on top of legacy systems, it creates an inviting prospect for hackers and hostile ‘actors’, says Karl Lankford, senior solutions engineer at remote access specialist, Bomgar.
Lankford points to “lots of new products” being fast-tracked into use by manufacturers, which are keen to exploit the cost-saving efficiencies that the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can deliver.
He warns: “In the rush to make everything internet enabled, security can sometimes be overlooked, and businesses have to ensure that someone isn’t creating or opening a backdoor into the network.”
• In a recent Internet of Business report, IBM laid out the ground rules for securing the IIoT.
In healthcare, the WannaCry cryptoworm last Spring demonstrated the potential impact of a successful cyber attack, when it brought more than one-third of the UK’s NHS Trusts to a standstill, causing cancelled appointments and halting life-saving treatments.
As is often the case with health technology, the ransomeware’s impact was significant because of the high numbers of computers running an outdated and unsupported operating system – Windows 7 – which had not been patched.
Earlier NHS security review recommendations had not been implemented, partly for cost reasons. Had they been, WannaCry’s impact on the NHS would have been minimal. This tells us that ignoring security recommendations for cost reasons is a false economy.
Keeping operating systems and applications continuously patched and upgraded is essential. Particularly in an environment where hardware upgrades to run more recent OSs may not be possible for budgetary reasons.
There are numerous examples of vulnerable systems and devices in healthcare. For example, last year in the US it was discovered that 465,000 pacemakers needed a firmware update to close security holes. (Former US vice president Dick Cheney was reportedly so paranoid that his heart defibrillator could be hacked that he demanded doctors fit a new device without a Wi-Fi connection.)
Healthcare systems pose a particular challenge to security specialists, because replacing old technology is not always possible.
Greg Day, VP and CSO EMEA at enterprise security provider Palo Alto Networks, cites the example of an MRI scanner. “It’s very expensive, and embedded within it is a lightweight operating system. But you can’t just upgrade it; the company that made the hardware, such as Siemens, needs to test it to see if it’s compatible. There’s often a complicated supply chain involved.”
Meanwhile, Dan Lyon, principal security consultant at Synopsys, explains that is not always easy to recover healthcare systems after a breach. This is because medical devices need to be serviced by the manufacturer, and lack the data backup and restore functions that are usually performed when recovering from malware attacks. “This could mean an extended period of downtime while the manufacturer either repairs or replaces the medical device,” he says.
As the IoT becomes an integral part of critical industries, the transport sector is also vulnerable. According to Alex Cowan, CEO of specialist security vendor RazorSecure, the risks to transport organisations include: “Many connected devices are being put in security zones that they were never designed for, with connectivity back out to the internet and weak segregation of systems such as virtual LANs.”
Close to the edge
So, what can be done to mitigate these risks to critical industries? In the future, Edge security will be integral, as well as systems that look for unusual behaviour.
The edge environment is where much real-time AI and IoT processing will take place, because with an estimated 30 billion connected devices online by 2020, a mass of-in-memory processing will be essential, with other data-crunching carried out near the source.
Cowan points out that the NCSC’s guidance for NIS encourages a shift towards active security monitoring and anomaly detection, rather than attempting to secure each and every IoT device.
AI, machine learning, monitoring, and detection, together with automatic discovery and identification, may be the only realistic approaches to IoT security in the long run: systems that detect unusual profiles and/or infer unusual behaviour as it emerges.
In the energy sector, Munro advises segregation, access control, and updating kit. He says: “Security isn’t perfect: all it takes is one high-grade attack and we are stuffed again, but with industrial control systems, issues tend to be systemic. A vulnerability in one can lead to a breach of them all, which is why it’s so important to have good defences.”
Policy is also important. Doug Wylie, director infrastructure and industrials practice at information security centre SANS Institute, says organisations need to accept the risks and apply counter measures, including response and recovery. “It’s understanding what the risk profile looks like, and the threat landscape. This is often addressed by ensuring that people are continuously trained.”
Overall, visibility is key, says Palo Alto’s Day. “What do we have out there; what technology is it using, and who is responsible for it?”
But in the end, a very simple solution could help those tasked with protecting these vulnerable connected environments. Munro says: “People have got to be proactive. In most cases it’s about not missing patches and not using default, common, or reused passwords: the basics just aren’t being followed.”
Additional reporting: Chris Middleton.
Internet of Business says
A raft of recent reports have identified IoT security as a blind spot for many organisations. And as IoT systems are layered on top of legacy networks and critical systems, this introduces a much broader attack surface, where responsibility for security becomes less and less clear.
This is why organisations need to take responsibility themselves, stress test systems, and consider the possible impacts of a cyber attack in advance. The NHS did this, but key security recommendations were ignored. Budgets are often the real killers, it seems.
However, several Internet of Business reports reveal that many organisations simply aren’t taking responsibility, and are doing little to secure the IoT, despite strong awareness of risk.
And as Kate O’Flaherty points out, the unique challenge in healthcare, and in some industrial deployments, is that many types of device or machinery were never designed to be connected to the internet in the first place. Taking MRI or X-Ray machines offline inevitably impacts on hospitals’ ability to treat sick patients.
Instead of living on the edge, organisations should look to the edge for new solutions.
KateO’Flaherty is a freelance journalist with over a decade’s experience reporting on business and IT. She has held editor and news reporter positions on titles including: The Inquirer, Marketing Week, and Mobile Magazine, and has written articles for The Guardian, the Times, the Economist, SC UK Magazine, Mobile Europe, and Wired UK. She is also a contributing analyst at Current Analysis, covering wholesale telecoms.
Questions still abound about the sustainability of cryptocurrency mining and its impact on energy consumption. Per figures from Digiconomist, Bitcoin consumes 53.28TWh annually (about as much as Bangladesh consumes in a year) and about 262KWh per transaction. For some context, that could power more than 3,000 US households a year. Ethereum, the world’s second largest cryptocurrency, is a little easier on electricity by comparison but still consumes 15.22TWh a year at 55KWh per transaction on average. Needless to say, this leaves behind a hefty carbon footprint and casts doubt on the future of cryptocurrency. This all fits into wider problems…
Energy sector improvements have the capacity to affect almost every other industry. We all recognize the importance of a reliable energy system — after all, no business runs without electricity. As DataRPM, a Progress company that uses anomaly detection and prediction to provide a stable energy supply, notes in its recent e-book, “Since energy literally drives everything in the industrial world, the energy and utilities industry itself is under constant pressure…to tackle efficiency problems and perform 24/7 without disruptions.”
Another thing we all know is that electricity costs money. Thankfully, the Internet of Things is empowering companies to better understand their energy consumption and adapt, so as to reduce both their consumption and their costs.
Industry represents a huge proportion of U.S. energy consumption – about a third of the total — and that figure is projected to increase further. With consumption on the rise, energy companies are incentivized to improve efficiency in order to decrease their total operating costs, and opportunities for these improvements are abundant.
According to independent studies, U.S. industry could introduce measures that cut energy consumption by between 14 and 22 percent. IoT technologies that either exist or are being developed are among the tech-based solutions that promise to address efficiency and security issues for the energy sector.
Startups are exploring IoT-oriented solutions
Entrepreneurs often look for areas to make a difference, and the energy sector represents a substantial opportunity. Companies such as WIFIPLUG, which produces a smart plug that currently works with four IoT platforms, are helping both businesses and consumers reduce energy consumption by learning their routines and making it easier for them to adjust their energy usage. The company was part of the 2017 cohort of the Ameren Accelerator, which is currently accepting applications for its second annual cohort in hopes of finding other energy solution-focused startups.
BlocPower, a tenant at the Urban Tech Hub in New York City, is another promising project. The company is utilizing the IoT to build a platform meant to grow clean energy usage in the nation’s inner cities, which it feels are often overlooked by large companies.
Renewable energy sources are becoming increasingly capable, but they’re not always easy to incorporate into the grid. In addition, weather has a big impact on the success of these energy sources, making them less reliable than those based on fossil fuels. Right now, renewable sources can’t always meet peak demand on their own.
Scientists at the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites-North Carolina (CICS-NC) are taking steps to improve data analysis and create more accurate forecasts of energy demand. Knowing the demand for a specific area is an important part of determining how best to meet its need. As artificial intelligence and the IoT further develop, the predictive capabilities of both will aid the energy sector as it seeks to balance the grid and meet industry and consumer demands.
Industrial companies are using tech to increase efficiency
Industrial companies wanting to improve their operations naturally turn to tech solutions. In the case of Honeywell, the New Jersey-based company is improving its IIoT abilities in oil and gas by partnering with air emissions firm Aereon of Austin, Texas, with the goal of helping its customers increase the efficiency of their supply chains and decrease unplanned downtime.
In addition, the IoT and AI are obvious partners when it comes to achieving energy efficiencies. Google’s DeepMind technology — the same AI that taught itself to play Go and beat the best players in the world — has helped the company predict increased demand on cooling systems at its data centers. That information helped Google reduce its energy usage by 40 percent, which will save it hundreds of millions of dollars over the next several years. The U.K.’s National Grid is in the preliminary stages of talks with Google about putting DeepMind to work as well.
There’s no denying it — the IoT has had an impact on the energy sector, and its influence will continue to grow. Tech innovations promise to bring the grid into the 21st century and create a safer, more efficient system while reducing costly reliability issues. By making investments in a smart grid and fully utilizing the IoT, we’ll be able to take full advantage of renewable technologies such as solar and wind power and create a brighter future, both literally and figuratively.