Tag: smart grid

Smart grid project offers hope in UK's rising energy bill

With energy prices soaring ever higher and the government claiming it’s powerless to reign in the big suppliers, smart grids might be a lifeline.

David Cameron has called on the government to work harder and faster to bring down energy bills before another biting winter is upon us. And, after an energy summit between the government and six of the biggest energy providers, consumers were called on to spark more competition to help bring prices down.

But according to Phil Bentley, British Gas’ managing director, the “inconvenient truth” is that gas prices are going to continue to rise due to outside market pressures.

There is hope, however, that smart grids could eventually help curb rising energy bills.

Smart grids have seen a lot of development and they are edging closer to commonplace reality, though we might have to brave a few more cold spells first.

The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) has just handed over a £507k grant to the University of Westminster to develop the technology.

The aim of the project is to explore how smart grid systems can improve monitoring and operating energy supplies, which could one day offer substantial reductions in energy bills.

One of the problems is that there isn’t a shared vision of how to take schemes forward in a unified way. This is echoed on an international level – with discussions cropping up about standardisation in Europe.

The project will explore ways to successfully put a smart grid system in place in the UK.

This will involve bringing “new knowledge regarding possible UK energy system transitions”, in order to provide an “accurate understanding of the implications for people and society, and provide valuable support for government decisions on UK policy.” 

According to Dr Aidan Rhodes at UKERC, the work should bring about lower prices in the UK when they are in full swing.

“Smart grids can potentially lower the cost of energy in the long-term through smarter usage of generation resources, less energy lost in transmission and allowing consumers to access more time-of-use tariffs and to feedback energy into the grid,” he told TechEye.

Although smart grids are big business, it seems that it could be a while before they are able to drag down prices for the whole of the country.

“Most of these benefits are a long way off – a decade at least, and the investment and R&D effort going into creating a smart grid will cost more than business-as-usual in the short term.

“However, in the 2020s and 30s, smart grids potentially will reduce prices significantly.”

Smart grid boom swells Lithium ion demand 80 fold

A predicted boom in the use of smart grids is set to drive massive demand for lithium ion batteries.

While the batteries are already present in many consumer electric devices, IHS reckons that lithium ion storage systems will become commonplace.

In fact, revenues are set to rocket up to $5.98 billion by the end of the decade if the analyst house is correct. In comparison, revenues are expected to be at $72 million for 2012, meaning those in the know are stacking their chips on around an 80 fold increase.

Smart grids are able to provide computer monitored flow of energy both to and from a source, unlike regular grids which just send juice flowing one way. While there are applications for bigger businesses and large scale operators, what is more interesting is the ability for the home user to have their own smart grid.

With a continued move to small scale generation of energy through the use of photovoltaic cells this could see smart grids proliferate.

And, with the properties of lithium ion beneficial for energy storage in such applications, demand should soar.

One of the vital properties for smart grid energy storage is that the battery is easily rechargeable.  As lithium ion batteries are able to maintain full capacity even after a charge, this makes them well suited for long term use. 

Smart grids are seeing increased investment by big players at the moment.  The US has also tucked away a few billion for smart grid development.

In labs across the world, there are a multitude of improvements to the efficiency and performance of lithium ion cells.

It seems at least in smart grids, lithium ions are a good fit and here for the long-run.

Google hires Russians for "Irish jobs"

Redfaced Irish politicians are having to explain why they gave shedloads of tax breaks to the search engine Google.

When Google set up in Eire it was on the assumption that it would give the local IT graduates a job and solve unemployment. It all made the corporate tax rate of just 12.5 percent worthwhile.

However, Google now says that it’s being forced to hire Russian and Ukranian graduates to fill out jobs at its EMEA headquarters in Dublin because Irish grads aren’t up to much.

What is interesting is that Irish Central agrees saying that this is not the first time that it has heard such things.

Intel Ireland Chief Executive Éamonn Sinnott said it was necessary to transform Irish high-school so that they could get enough hi-tech grads out of its colleges to satisfy the demands of big industry players like Intel and Google.

At the moment students who don’t take higher level mathematics and sciences for the Leaving Certificate are prevented from entering into many of the scientific and numeracy-based courses the recruiters use to take graduates.

However the comments mean that the Irish government’s premise that it had a ‘young, skilled, educated work force’ are rubbish, particularly in comparison to India.

There are fears that the big companies will have to write the Irish experiment off as a bad idea and take their plants somewhere else.

Another problem for Ireland was pointed out by Google CEO Eric Schmidt who said that the country’s broadband is rubbish and it needed to get more businesses online. 

Intel and SAP build smart grid in Ireland

Chipmaker Intel and the maker of business software, which no one is quite sure what it does, SAP are splashing out on a £1.7 million ‘smart grid’ R&D operation.

The big idea is that the pair will discover how smart grids will actually work

The two companies two years ago established a research lab at SAP’s premises in the appropriately named Titanic Quarter of Belfast. It is the first time that Chipzilla has splashed out on research in Northern Ireland.

The director of Intel Labs Europe, Martin Curley, told Silicon Republic that it marks a novel way of how corporations like Intel, SAP and Nokia conduct research.

He said rather than opening its own labs, companies that see common technology ground are investing together in research labs.

It is a win win for Northern Ireland because the outfit will be hunting for graduates.

Curley said there are three major trends in the evolution of electricity ‘smart grids’

He thinks there will be mass collaboration, digital transformation and lots of eco friendly stuff coming from it all.

Intel sees the opportunity to put devices into people’s homes or utilise their smartphones, connect to the back end of utilities and deliver lower prices for consumers, and more efficiencies, Curley said.

Although SAP and Intel have engaged in research together before, this is the first time that they have established a shared physical location with pooled resources.

Japanese firms to start making superconducting wire

Sumitomo Electric Industries and SWCC Showa Holdings will steal a march on foreign competitors by beginning production of superconducting wire to be used in electric car motors and smart grids.

It is hoped that by switching from standard copper wire before rival companies from the US and South Korea the two Japanese firms will gain an edge in the global market.

The use of superconducting wire will mean significant reduction in power loss by conserving electricity and improving mechanical performance, which can mean in the region of 20 percent energy savings for a large factory.  For the motors of electric vehicles the wire will be able to increase driving range by around 25 percent, which could assist in the take-up of environmentally friendly transportation.

Sumitomo Electric seeks to become the world’s largest superconductor wire manufacturer next year by increasing capacity next year by double to 1,000km at its Osaka plant.  Its increased output of bismuth-based wire will see it overtaking US firm American Superconductor Corp.  The wire costs twice as much as copper, though volume production will lower this cost by 30 percent.

One of Sumitomo Electric’s customers will be Tokyo Electric Power, which will be purchasing superconducting wire for installation at a transformer station in Yokohama, making it the first utility in Japan to use the wire in commercial power transmission.  Further orders have been received including one for 40km from China, and an order for more than 100km from an unspecified buyer, according to Nikkei (subscription needed)

SWCC Showa, meanwhile, will begin the mass production of an yttrium-based superconducting wire this year for use in high-output motors, with needed plant investments to total $12 million.

Overall the domestic market for superconducting wire used in power cables will measure about $589 million in 2030, according to the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.  It is also expected that US will increase demand as it replaces its aging power grid infrastructure.

IBM CEO calls on world to embrace smart grid

IBM’s CEO, Sam Palmisano, has called on the world to embrace smart metering saying that the smart grid is “the internet of things”.

In a speech at the GridWise Global Forum conference the Big Blue head honcho said that we need a digital energy grid to address both the environment and the economy. It can help tackle global warming, cut energy costs, and provide more energy for areas with poor energy provisions.

He called for a substantial modernisation of energy systems throughout the world instead of “piecemeal” efforts that are currently being employed. He argued that governments and energy providers need to do more to convince consumers that smart metering is the way forward, particularly amidst concerns regarding security and privacy, which he said would need to be addressed.

The world has not yet shown consumers the full benefits of a smarter energy system, says Palmisano, and until then the full potential of the smart grid will not be realised.

However, he was not in favour of forcing consumers to employ energy dashboards for monitoring their energy usage, but rather called for an approach that inspires consumers to take “a more active role” in controlling their energy use.

He said that we are capturing data at “unprecedented volumes”, but it’s more important what that data tells us, not how much of it there is, which a smart grid can address.

He closed by saying: “Smarter energy is not some futuristic ideal. For one thing, there are real examples being deployed around the world. Smarter energy is practical because it’s not ideological.”

Cisco to buy wireless sensor network firm Arch Rock

Cisco has gone spending crazy, announcing its intent to buy another company, this time an IP-based wireless sensor network firm called Arch Rock.

The San Francisco-based Arch Rock makes wireless sensors for smart-grid applications, which Cisco hopes to use to help the utility industry’s transition to “an open and interoperable smart grid.”

Arch Rock’s wireless sensor products connect smart meters and other devices over a scalable and secure multi-way wireless mesh network, which is an important step in the advance of smart-metering technology.

“Arch Rock’s wireless mesh technology enhances Cisco’s IP-based, end-to-end smart-grid offerings,” said Laura Ipsen, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Smart Grid business unit.

The deal follows a recent alliance between Cisco and Itron aimed at developing ways to enhance smart-metering technology. It has only been a few days since that deal was announced, so clearly Cisco was already eyeing up Arch Rock during that negotiation process. The timing suggests it was keen to show the world, and its new business partner Itron, that it meant business in the smart-metering market.

This is perfect timing, as installation of smart electricity meters is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 31.1 percent between 2009 and 2015, according to Berg Insight. Market penetration is expected to rise from its current rate of 15 to 20 percent to nearly 50 percent in Europe and North America, with Asia-Pacific growing from under one percent to 25 percent in the same period. By 2020 market penetration should be near 100 percent in most regions, giving Cisco a lot of potential customers.

Arch Rock also offers a product called Energy Optimizer, which allows industries to analyse energy usage of their data centres using Arch Rock’s wireless sensor technology. This allows a company to monitor how much power is being used in a certain area, what the temperate is, what the humidity levels are, and how high the CO2 levels are. 

Arch Rock says this can give upwards of a 40 percent energy saving for a data centre, which is pretty significant. Given part of Cisco’s core business is in servers and data centres, acquiring Arch Rock is a very logical move.

Over the last week Cisco has been spending like crazy, buying or offering to buy several companies. It bought ExtendMedia, a firm focusing on content management systems for multi-screen video, and there were even reports that it wanted to buy Skype.

The pace of these recent purchases raises some suspicions of exactly what Cisco is up to. They appear to be in different sectors and are mostly aimed at enhancing its current product offerings, but Cisco may surprise us all with a new product launch based on these acquisitions.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. It is subject to a standard approval process and is expected to complete by the end of the year.