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Andrea Pedretti, CTO, Airlight Energy

Andrea Pedretti, CTO, Airlight Energy

By Andrea Pedretti

It would take only two percent of the Sahara Desert’s land area to supply the world’s electricity needs. Unfortunately, current solar technologies are too expensive and slow to produce, require rare Earth minerals and lack the efficiency to make such massive installations practical. To address this, scientists at Airlight Energy have teamed up with IBM and Swiss university partners to develop an affordable photovoltaic system that is capable of concentrating, on average, the power of 2,000 suns, onto hundreds of 1×1 cm chips.

The prototype system uses a large parabolic dish made from a multitude of mirror facets. The dish is attached to a tracking system that determines the best angle based on the position of the sun. Once aligned, the sun’s rays reflect off the mirror onto several microchannel liquid-cooled receivers with triple-junction photovoltaic chips. Each 1×1 centimeter chip can convert 200-250 watts, on average, over a typical eight-hour day in a sunny region. 
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Dr. Anna Topol, CTO, Energy and Utilities, IBM

Dr. Anna Topol, CTO, Energy and Utilities, IBM

IBM today christened a new generation of technology innovators, naming 66 new Distinguished Engineers from across the company. The DE rank recognizes people for their outstanding technical accomplishments, as well as their potential for breaking new ground in key areas such as cloud and mobile computing, Big Data analytics, social business, and many more.

This year’s class includes Dr. Anna Topol, IBM’s Chief Technology Officer for the Energy and Utilities sector. A native of Poland and mother of two young boys, Topol holds a doctorate in physics from the State University of New York Albany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and has earned nearly two dozen patents. She joined IBM in 2001. The Smarter Planet editorial team recently sat down with Topol for an inside chat with one of the company’s newest DE’s.

Smarter Planet: Where do you see the biggest potential for breakthroughs in your current area of specialization?

Anna Topol: There is a lot of innovation happening in the energy and utility sector. What has been learned from other industries such as telecommunications and retail, where the use of data analytics has had transformational benefits, is now being applied to help us be smarter about how we generate, consume and conserve energy.
Right now, there is a focus on automation and the use of smart meters, devices and sensors. For energy consumers, this translates into a decrease in change-related outages through increased efficiency and reduced mean time to repairs. Continue Reading »

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Anders Rhod Gregersen, Senior Specialist Plant Siting and Forecasting, Vestas Wind Systems

By Anders Rhod Gregersen

Deciding where to put a wind turbine is a lot like planting a tree: where you plant it is critical to its long term health and effectiveness.

For wind turbines, pinpointing the optimal location enables energy producers to maximize power generation at reduced energy costs. It’s something we at Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark have been working on for several years.

To do it, we mine Big Data and leverage predictive analytics for deep insights. We analyze literally petabytes of information, ranging from weather reports and tidal phases, to geospatial and sensor data, as well as satellite images and weather modeling research. In all, 160 factors are analyzed that influence location, plant performance and service life. Continue Reading »

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By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications

During the past year, we’ve profiled nine exceptional “People for a Smarter Planet” who exemplify the spirit of change, innovation, creativity and curiosity that lie at the core of building a smarter planet. They are inventors and researchers, academics and executives, thought leaders, dreamers, risk-takers, pioneers.

These individuals come from a wide range of fields and possess an array of interests and expertise. What they all have in common is a passion for their work and a commitment to make the world a better place.

They include Ruhong Zhou, whose avian flu research may help prevent a global pandemic; Dave Bartlett, IBM’s smarter buildings guru; Bill Reichert, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist with novel advice for entrepreneurs; and sustainability expert Sarah Slaughter.

If you haven’t met them yet, here are nine People for a Smarter Planet you should know.

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Klauss Gottschalk, Senior IT Specialist, IBM Germany

By Klaus Gottschalk

The Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ), nestled on the outskirts of Munich in the town of Garching, was established 50 years ago by the Bavarian Academy of Science, to provide supercomputing resources to researchers and scientists across the Munich Scientific Network of universities.

Since then, the Centre has been the home of such systems as the HLRB and HLRB-II and has grown to become the premiere computing operations center for researchers across Europe, as they work to answer computational-intensive scientific questions.  

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Volker W. Fricke, Solution Architect, Telematics & Telemetry, IBM Germany

By Volker W. Fricke and Clay Luthy

What would Scotsman Robert Anderson say if he could comment on the history of electric vehicles? As the supposed inventor of the first vehicle with an electric motor back in 1836 he might have been a bit frustrated over the triumphal procession of the combustion engine for the last 100 years. However the progress and raising interest in electric mobility in the last couple of years might put a smile on his face.

Driven by technology breakthroughs, increasing oil prices and a raising environmental awareness, electric vehicles (EV) are moving into the center of interest for consumers, enterprises and governments. For example, the European Union (EU) has set an ambitious goal to reduce CO2 emissions by 60 percent by 2050.

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October 26th, 2012

Ron Ambrosio, Global Research Executive, Energy & Utilities, IBM

By Ron Ambrosio

Over the last few years, an interesting transformation has been taking shape in the Pacific Northwest.

Research laboratories, product developers, testing companies, utility engineering departments, and universities have been working together to design and implement a new and smarter approach to managing electricity delivery.

This approach, being developed by the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Project (PNW-SGDP), called for devising ways to move electricity from generation plants through customer equipment, such as smart meters, heating and cooling systems, and just about everything in between.

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October 4th, 2012

Charles Vincent, Chief Architect, IBM Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities

By Fabienne Guildhary, IBM Communications, Energy & Utilities/Media & Entertainment

Often, history serves as a tool to teach us valuable lessons and help us avoid repeating the same mistakes. As Chief Architect of the IBM Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities, Charles Vincent is leveraging his considerable knowledge of Electric Vehicles (EVs) to better shape the future of transportation.

Charles’ passion for EVs was sparked long before his career in electronic transportation took off. Fascinated by the technology at an early age, Charles devoted a lot of time poring over vintage publications on the subject, such as American Electric Vehicle Association newsletters from the early 1900’s. Then in the 1980’s, Charles got the opportunity to put his knowledge and passion to work.  

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September 5th, 2012

As New York City public school children return to the classroom with the promise of new knowledge and a clean slate, the school buildings themselves are on a path toward intelligence.

It’s part of an innovative First-of-a-Kind (FOAK) project that will help public school buildings in the city reduce their energy consumption through analytics.

In New York City, where buildings account for 75 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions each year, it’s unreasonable to build brand-new, energy-efficient buildings from the ground up.

But what if you could use technology to sift through critical building data to make school structures more energy efficient and more cost-effective?

Members of the New York City Department of Education and the City University of New York (CUNY) asked IBM this question as they began to think about new ways to improve energy efficiency in the city’s public school buildings.

IBM’s answer was to invite them into its labs, where researchers were working on advanced analytics and statistical modeling technologies that could provide insights into the every-day operations of buildings, including energy usage.  Another First-of-a-Kind project was born.

The system that was created lets facility staff track and analyze energy use, compare school buildings’ energy efficiency, forecast power needs, and run simulations on building improvements to predict the benefits of various retrofitting projects.

For example, a facilities department manager or custodian could run the tool, click on the simulation capability, and find out how much energy could be saved by replacing old, single-pane windows with double pane windows.

Also, heating energy used in one building could be compared with that of a nearby building of similar size and age. Perhaps that building serves the same number of students but consumes 20-percent less energy. To improve the less-efficient facility, facilities staff could explore retrofitting projects through computer simulations.

The CUNY project stands to benefit not only New York City’s school buildings, but also the 1.1 million students within. IBM and CUNY are training teachers on the system’s interactive features, which can help examine real energy use and translate it into tangible classroom lessons on environmental impact.

As the City University of New York is discovering, bringing greater intelligence and connectedness into a building’s operations can go a long way toward creating a truly integrated and smarter building system, while reducing energy consumption and developing energy-conscious students along the way.

And as all the FOAK projects are proving, it is the dynamic nature of this close interaction with IBM clients and the changing forces of the real world that drives innovation and brings it to market at an ever-quickening pace.

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By Jim Fletcher, Distinguished Engineer and Chief Architect, Smarter Infrastructure, IBM

With gas once again flirting with $4 per gallon, imagine shopping for a car in a world where vehicles didn’t come with mileage ratings.

Sure, a smart driver would likely a gut feeling that the pint-sized Prius would be cheaper to fuel than the hulking Hummer for sale next to it. But without official data, or at least a Hummer driver willing to share mileage figures, it’d be tough to know for sure what it would cost to operate the two vastly different vehicles for years to come.

It sounds absurd. Yet for most buyers of houses, commercial buildings and other properties, that far-fetched scenario is pretty much the reality today. Buyers have precious little information of how much energy a given property will consume.

Yet while we’d roll our eyes at the owner of a super-sized SUV who seems surprised about high fill-up costs, who hasn’t heard a story of a person who bought a home only to discover later that it’s hugely expensive to heat and cool?

Luckily city planners, engineers and companies are recognizing that the vacuum of information about building performance is a key to boosting building efficiency, and improving real estate market information—better data helps owners and their tenants make smarter decisions.

An intriguing effort to make this sort of building performance data more transparent surfaced recently in New York City. It’s a map of the city’s five boroughs, color-coded to show the energy intensity of practically every building in the Big Apple’s dense mix of commercial, residential, and mixed-use regions.

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