How the IoT and Related Tech Are Helping to Update the Energy Sector


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.

See Also: How startups can work with cities to innovate for a smarter future

Energy-demand forecast data is improving

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.

See Also: Industrial IoT and energy efficiency will slash carbon emissions

The post How the IoT and Related Tech Are Helping to Update the Energy Sector appeared first on ReadWrite.


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Life on Europa Could Survive off Nuclear Energy, Research Finds

Evaluating Europa

Jupiter’s moon Europa is a hotbed of astrobiological interest. Below its icy crust is a deep ocean of liquid water, kept warm by energy from Jupiter’s gravitational interactions with the moon. While NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are planning for a 2025 mission to evaluate the potential for life on Europa up close, Brazilian researchers linked to the University of São Paulo (USP) have developed a model that uses similar environments on Earth to evaluate how habitable the moon may be for microbial life.

The surface of Europa, with bluish-white ice crisscrossed by reddish-brown streaks and cracks. Life on Europa may survive far beneath that icy shell by living off nuclear energy.
Europa is an icy candidate for identifying life in the universe. Image Credit: NASA

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, looked at the Mponeng gold mine near Johannesburg, South Africa. This very deep mine is leaking water full of radioactive uranium. The uranium’s presence breaks down water molecules into highly reactive free radicals, which then dissolves the surrounding rocks and releases sulfate. The researchers found that the bacteria could use that sulfate to create energy.

“This is the first time an ecosystem has been found to survive directly on the basis of nuclear energy,” said Douglas Galante, the study coordinator, in a press release.

By this method, the bacteria are able to survive without sunlight. Galante’s team says that the Mponeng mine is an analog for what the bottom of Europa’s ocean may look like.

Locating Life

Not only does Europa likely have about twice as much water as Earth; many think that this ocean is more Earth-like than originally expected. Galante explained in the press release that, because Europa’s ocean bed is similar to that of an early Earth, “studying Europa today is to some extent like looking back at our own planet in the past.”

How Life Evolved on Earth (Infographic)
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Understanding the conditions in which organisms can evolve and survive will help to support the 2025 mission to Europa. This expedition, dubbed the Joint Europa Mission (JEM), will hopefully use this advancing knowledge to fulfill its mission of locating biosignatures of life on Europa.

While the JEM is years away, researchers can use this information begin to predict what life may be found. From this study, it seems as though microscopic organisms, if found, would likely be extremophiles. As this parallel between early Earth and Europa becomes clearer, this work will also serve to expand our understanding of how life can originate in the universe, and what is truly possible.

The post Life on Europa Could Survive off Nuclear Energy, Research Finds appeared first on Futurism.


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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NASA May Stop Trying to Understand Dark Energy

First To Fall

In recent weeks we’ve heard how the Trump administration’s proposed NASA budget might affect the future of the agency’s projects. The International Space Station could be eyeing its last seven years in service; its funding will likely not be extended beyond the mid-2020s. Now, another NASA initiative is on the chopping block.

The new budget, if passed, will defund the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), a high-priority project by a blue-ribbon panel from the National Academy of Sciences in 2010. The telescope was set to launch in the next decade, helping astronomers in their quest to explore an expanding universe and unravel the mysteries behind dark energy.

NASA’s acting administrator, Robert M. Lightfoot Jr., described the cut as “one hard decision,” according to a report from the New York Times. He stressed the need to reallocate the telescope’s funds — the project is set to cost more than $ 3 billion in total — into other areas of research.

Astronomers have harshly criticized plans to nix WFIRST’s funding. A statement from the American Astronomical Society suggested that NASA’s budget reductions could “cripple U.S. astronomy.”

“A handful of people within the bureaucracy” David Spergel, former chairman of the academy’s Space Study Board, told the New York Times, “have overturned decades of community-driven processes and tried to set the direction for space astronomy.”

Learning more about dark energy — a cosmological force that makes up 68 percent of the universe — could have a profound impact on our knowledge of how and why our universe is expanding. Scientists want to delve deeper into its intricacies, but need better tools to do so. That’s where WFIRST comes in.

WFIRST’s original mission timeline was pushed back because of delays to the James Webb Telescope launch, which went well over budget. When it became clear that WFIRST wasn’t going to launch on schedule, NASA purchased a share of a spacecraft called Euclid, a mission to explore dark energy spearheaded by the European Space Agency. But the Euclid mission isn’t expected to be as comprehensive as WFIRST, and NASA will have to rely on an outside agency for dark energy data. Without a wholly NASA-based mission, our nation’s dark energy research will suffer.

It’s no secret that the Trump administration wants NASA to focus on sending astronauts to the Moon  — but now it seems clear that prioritizing that kind of attention-grabbing program might come at the cost of other, perhaps more important, research.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Congress will approve this budget in its current form. Despite the administration’s sweeping cuts and proposed reallocations, the clock has yet to strike midnight on the WFIRST mission.

The post NASA May Stop Trying to Understand Dark Energy appeared first on Futurism.


Scotland Has a Plan to Become a World Leader in Renewable Energy

European Leader

If Scotland wants to become a European leader in renewables, it now has a roadmap to follow: Renewables Scotland 2030.

According to the paper, prepared for think tank Common Weal by engineer Craig Berry, U.K. energy policies have failed Scotland since 1980. A whopping 34.9 percent of Scottish households are facing fuel poverty while the six largest energy companies have seen profit margins increase.

The paper outlines a way for Scotland to combat these trying energy issues and become a European leader in renewable energy by 2030.

The author of Renewables Scotland 2030 suggests that the nation’s new National Energy Company focus on five key objectives:

  • Reduce, and one day eliminate, fuel poverty
  • Meet at least 75 percent of fuel demand with renewable energy
  • Decentralize the energy supply
  • Invest in and advance research and development in environmentally conscious technologies
  • Use a not-for-profit approach to ensure that these green efforts yield social results

If Scotland shifts its focus toward these objectives, following the lead of German and Nordic nations, it could emerge a world leader in energy by 2030, according to Berry.

Making Progress

Scotland is already making some progress in revamping its energy sector. In September 2017, the Scottish government pledged to phase out gas and diesel passenger vehicles by 2032. In 2016, it set a goal to generate 100 percent of its electricity through renewables by 2020.

Global Warming Scenarios
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As part of that goal, the nation has dramatically increased its support for wind power. “We have a great resource. It’s Scotland’s terrible weather,” Niall Stuart, the chief executive of Scottish Renewables, told The Washington Post in 2016. In October 2017, that weather allowed Scotland to generate enough wind energy to meet an impressive 38 percent of its energy needs.

The objectives outlined in the Renewables Scotland 2030 report go beyond individual energy sources or initiative. If met, they would allow Scotland to break free from fossil fuels and establish itself as a leader in renewables to the benefit of not only the environment, but the nation and its citizens as well.

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Here’s What Trump’s New Budget Means for Renewable Energy

Cutting Costs

The Trump administration’s latest budget proposal released on February 12, 2018 could have major consequences for the future of renewable energy in the U.S. If Congress approves the budget, it would cut the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s funding by more than half, and completely elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program.

ARPA-E is a program that issues grants to energy startups from across the country. The program was nearly discontinued in 2017, but Congress awarded it an additional $ 15 million that ensured its survival for another year.

While Trump’s 2018 proposal ensures the Department of Energy (DOE)’s overall budget remains almost the same, it would cut the $ 305 million required to keep ARPA-E afloat.

The GOP’s rationale? The government shouldn’t be allocating federal funds to research that overlap with development projects that are being paid for by the private sector. But ARPA-E’s task is to support advances in technology that’s too early for private sector investment, Ars Technica notes.

Since its formation in 2009, ARPA-E has provided funding for projects that develop solar cells, wind turbines, biofuels, energy storage, and carbon capture, just to name a few examples. In a subtle — or perhaps, not so subtle — way, the GOP is making sure we divest from the future of renewable energy.

Without a funding program like ARPA-E, the U.S. runs the risk of missing out on burgeoning projects that could be alternatives to fossil fuels. An addendum to the budget proposal submitted a $ 1.5 billion increase to the DOE budget — $ 1.2 billion of which is earmarked for research into the country’s “energy future.”

But only $ 120 million of that “energy future” funding is allocated towards research into sustainable transportation, renewable energy, and energy efficiency technologies. “Research and development of clean coal technologies,” on the other hand, will receive $ 200 million in funding.

As expected, the new budget proposal pours money into forms of energy that supported by the administration, while defunding research into renewables. The United States’s energy future will have global consequences, and the Trump Administration’s enthusiasm for slashing renewable energy funding indicates that coal and other fossil fuels are here to stay, at least until 2020.

The post Here’s What Trump’s New Budget Means for Renewable Energy appeared first on Futurism.


Want a World Without Blackouts? Power the Future With Renewable Energy.

Renewable and Sustainable

Whether at the national or corporate level, an integral part of most plans to combat climate change is making the shift to renewable energy sources. With solar and wind power leading the charge, renewables are steadily finding their way into the energy infrastructure of a number of countries and companies. Some have already become 100 percent renewable, while others continue to carefully wean themselves from fossil fuel.

There is, however, a sizable hurdle that early renewable energy adapters will inevitably encounter. Energy output from solar and wind, and to a lesser extent hydrogen, are dependent on circumstances beyond human control. An emerging solution to this issue is the use of energy storage devices or commercial-grade batteries like Tesla’s Powerpack.

A new study from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) argues that this hurdle could very well be overcome by a combination of solutions. By making renewable energy completely reliable, it could provide consistent power across all sectors, potentially making blackouts a thing of the past. A manuscript of the study has been published in the journal Renewable Energy.

Lead author Mark Jacobson, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Stanford, also lead a recent study that presented a roadmap to 100 percent renewable energy dependence for 139 nations. In the new study, the researchers completed the roadmap, suggesting three scenarios that would maximize renewable energy output and sustain power to supply the grid.

Three Solutions

Using a combination of computer modeling programs that can predict global weather patterns from 2050 to 2054, Jacobson and his colleagues constructed scenarios where 139 nations, grouped into 20 world regions, had converted all sectors into renewable energy by 2050. The team also factored in the effect on energy output from solar and wind power sources. Using another model, the team then calculated the energy produced by more stable renewable sources, such as geothermal and hydrogen.

“One of the biggest challenges facing energy systems based entirely on clean, zero-emission wind, water and solar power is to match supply and demand with near-perfect reliability at reasonable cost,” co-author Mark Delucchi, a UCB research scientist, said in a statement. “Our work shows that this can be accomplished, in almost all countries of the world, with established technologies.”

The results described three scenarios in which nations struck a proper balance between energy output from renewables and predicted energy demand for 2050. Of note, in all three scenarios, blackouts at low energy costs were avoided for a five-year period. The researchers noted that having various energy storage options available was an important factor in that outcome.

For the 20 regions in CASE A, concentrated solar power (CSP) storage, batteries and thermal energy storage proved to be crucial — however, the study noted that “no hydropower turbines beyond current capacity or heat pumps were added.”

Similarly, the 20 regions in CASE B, also found that thermal energy storage and CSP-with-storage were key; the only difference was the addition of hydropower turbines. Though, the study noted that these didn’t increase annual hydrogen power output.

In the third scenario — CASE C — things played out a little differently. CSP and commercial grade batteries were the dominant energy storage options for the regions in the scenario (14 instead of 20),  but no hydropower turbines were included. However, the study noted that “heat pumps with no storage replaced all cold and low-temperature heat thermal energy storage.”

Jacobson summarized the results of the study, saying:

Our main result is that there are multiple solutions to the problem. This is important because the greatest barrier to the large-scale implementation of clean renewable energy is people’s perception that it’s too hard to keep the lights on with random wind and solar output.

Jacobson also noted that an important consideration for all three scenarios, in terms of creating a roadmap that works, is political cooperation between the 139 nations. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise, though — considering how clean energy programs and climate deals often depend quite heavily on the politics of the nations involved.

“Ideally, you’d have cooperation in deciding where you’re going to put the wind farms, where you’re going to put the solar panels, where you’re going to put the battery storage,” Jacobson explained. “The whole system is most efficient when it is planned ahead of time as opposed to done one piece at a time.”

Having a road-tested roadmap, so to speak, should at the very least help guide these nations — and the researchers hope they’ll be confident to take action sooner rather than later. If warnings about the rate of global warming are to be heeded, we need a stable renewable energy infrastructure in place well before 2050.

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Last Year Renewables Accounted for Half of the Energy Capacity Added to the U.S.

In 2017, renewables accounted for nearly 50 percent of all new energy capacity additions in the United States, according to a newly released report from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Our Warming World: The Future of Climate Change [INFOGRAPHIC]
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In total, the U.S. added 12,270 megawatts (MW) of biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, and wind energy capacity. Wind and solar accounted for the majority of those additions. Interestingly, the U.S. didn’t add any new coal capacity throughout the year, but did add 11,980 MW of natural gas electricity capacity.

A Promising Trend

This marks the fourth year in a row that renewables outpaced natural gas in terms of energy capacity additions in the U.S. Some are taking the news as a sign that fossil fuels’ days are numbered, despite resistance from the federal government.

“Notwithstanding a year-long effort by the Trump Administration and its congressional allies to prop up coal, nuclear, and natural gas at the expense of renewable energy sources, clean energy technologies have proven themselves to be amazingly resilient,” Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign, told Clean Technica.

“The unmistakable lesson to be drawn from the past five or more years of FERC data is that solar, wind, and the other renewable energy sources are carving out a large and rapidly-expanding share of the nation’s electrical generation,” he said.

While it’s true that renewables are on the rise, the aforementioned figures don’t reflect the nation’s total energy capacity — only additions to it. Coal still accounts for roughly 23 percent. Wind and solar energy combined is still less than 10 percent.

The U.S. is second only to China in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing 15 percent of the global total of carbon dioxide emissions in 2015. If the U.S. wants to truly address its role in global warming and climate change, it will need to continue to add more renewable energy capacity, while concurrently phasing out the fossil fuels that are contributing to our planet’s progressive warming.

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