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. Continue Reading »
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 »
By Eoin Lane
People often say that water is the new oil, but really, it’s not. Oil is a fossil fuel that takes millions of years and a lot of pressure to create. When we burn oil – for example, by driving our cars – it is gone forever (or at least for a few more millions of years before it can be created again!).
Water, on the other hand, cannot be created or destroyed (this is not strictly true, but bear with me). The same amount of water is around today that was around when the Earth was formed. The truth is there is a lot of water on Earth – just not a lot of drinking water. Continue Reading »
By Jack Kardys
Miami-Dade County Parks is the third largest county park system in the United States, consisting of 260 parks and 12,825 acres of land. It is made up of 17 miles of beaches, the renowned Zoo Miami, golf courses, marinas, large athletic stadiums, campgrounds, pools and more.
As Miami-Dade County looks at new ways to re-vitalize the region, create jobs and spur business growth while benefiting residents, the parks system is at the epicenter. In addition to making sure we’re good stewards of the environment, we are committed to ensuring social equity with the right distribution of park facilities and programs throughout the community for people of all ages, sizes, shapes, and income levels.
Most of the parks in Miami-Dade County are anywhere from 50 to 75 years-old. Our beachfront parks were built in the 1930’s and 1940’s and the saltwater intrusion has been wreaking havoc on the system ever since. Our community pools were built in the 1960’s and the early 1970’s. The pipe corrosion from chlorine and the chemicals we use to keep those in balance tear up our pipes. It’s a challenge we face throughout the region. Continue Reading »
By Scott T. Rickards
In our data-rich financial universe, a fundamental economic question remains unanswered: at what cost is it economical for the world’s largest cities to bring additional water supply online?
The oil industry will tell you that $100/barrel oil is the value below which capital allocation can earn a return. Given its critical importance in our lives, why does the water industry not have a similar fast answer to the question? Is the ‘global water crisis’ a resource crisis or perhaps a capital crisis?
Precisely because of its critical importance, the water industry has been given a pass on cost transparency by everyone from politicians, to Wall Street, to economists due to the unimaginable consequences of not having an abundant supply of fresh water. As a result, the subject of water production costs remains largely unexplored and water has taken a back seat to virtually every other resource in the battle for private investment dollars. Continue Reading »
By Christopher Luongo
More school systems across the U.S. are looking for ways to balance their commitment to providing a top-notch education with the pressure of keeping their buildings in tip-top shape. To achieve this, some schools are moving away from paper-based systems and putting all their data, from operational and maintenance information to real estate and resource data, online. Doing so, however, is creating a whole new set of issues as the schools are now left to deal with the management of “Big Data.”
Since it’s unreasonable to build brand new, energy-efficient buildings from the ground up, more school districts are looking within and starting to leverage and exploit the Big Data of building information. They’re starting to sift through critical data to make school structures more energy efficient and more cost-effective.
School districts from Portland, Oregon to Palm Beach, Florida are taking this approach. And with IBM’s help they’re finding highly profitable solutions that are helping to cut costs, save energy and enable schools to make smarter decisions on how school buildings are maintained and used. Continue Reading »
At the United Nations’ climate summit in Rio, the German minister of environmental development, Peter Altmaier, created a new word for the English speaking world: Energy-Wende.
Energy-Wende is the shift away from nuclear power toward alternative energy sources like solar energy, wind power and other renewable energies. After the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in March 2011, the German government under Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to phase out nuclear power, which is being followed with great interest by the whole world. “If we succeed in converting the energy revolution, and still remain competitive, then we become a model for the world,” Altmaier added.
Large power networks are required for the nuclear phase-out and conversion to renewable energy. Wind is currently the most important source among renewable energy. Unfortunately, wind power is generated not where the need is greatest, but where the wind blows most – in front of the North and Baltic Sea coast.
This electricity has to be transported from the north to the south. That was different in the past, when conventional power plants were built near large cities and industrial centers. In addition, the supply varies with wind and solar power, depending on the weather. The electricity networks must be able to efficiently absorb it and move it to the point of consumption. The network expansion is therefore a fundamental part of energy policy, just as Smart Grids should be. Smart Grids use IT to gather and act on information in an automated way to improve the efficiency, reliability, economics, and sustainability of the production and distribution of electricity.
IBM Germany calls for the extension of intelligent networks to support the “Energy-Wende” in Germany
Smart Grids: Nervous system of the energy transition
By 2020, renewable energy sources should supply at least 35 percent of the required electricity in Germany. This conversion will cost about 200 billion Euros, though reliable estimates are difficult. Apart from investments in new power plants, transmission lines and energy storage, power grids must be equipped with additional intelligence. Without “smart grids” the green rebuilding of the energy supply is inefficient and the stability of the networks is at risk. Therefore the technology industry and leaders like IBM must partner with energy suppliers and governments to help accelerate smart grid activity.
The 1990s was the era of reengineering the corporation. Technology helped leaders overhaul their operations–everything from sales to supply chains. Now the phenomenon has spread to cities. Across the globe, municipal leaders ares rethinking and redesigning how they do things.
One of their biggest headaches is infrastructure–their roads, bridges, sidewalks, water lines and sewer pipes. They used to fix things when they broke. These days, increasingly, the forward-thinkers among them aim to fix things before they have a chance to break. And they’re using technology to help them optimize the way they invest in infrastructure maintenance and renewal.
Cambridge, a small city in Ontario, Canada, is in the vanguard of getting this right. It has been working with IBM Research to develop a system for prioritizing the city’s investments in fixing or replacing physical infrastructure so they meet the public’s needs while making the most of their limited budget. “We look at how we can use technology and revised business practices to make the city work better,” says Mike Hausser, Cambridge’s director of asset management and support services.
Some transformations can affect a person, a team, clients, and sometimes even reach a continent. Global Energy & Utilities Industry Leader, Michael Valocchi’s journey as a consultant has taken him through all of this and more.
Last year, Michael joined a group to revitalize IBM’s strategy in Africa which included examining how dozens of African countries can be transformed – infusing intelligence into government, bank, communications, energy processes. The team was steeped into African cultures, speaking and listening to African leaders about their critical challenges. Continue Reading »
New York City may seem an unlikely hot spot for solar energy, but think again. Consider the fact that there are 20 million square feet of usable solar farm space on top of the city’s 1,100 public school roofs alone–enough to generate 170,000 megawatts of electricity. So its no wonder that city government and business leaders are taking solar seriously.
Market forces are cooperating. Prices for solar panels are plummeting. But there remain some major impediments to solar adoption. All things considered, it’s still more expensive than traditional energy sources.
That’s where data analytics comes in. As part of the SMART NY, IBM is working with CUNY Ventures, a for-profit offshoot of the City University of New York, to create a system for gathering and analyzing information about the entire solar ecosystem within the city. The goal is to bring down the cost of installing solar. “We’re looking to make solar competitive with other sources. We need to mainstream this technology to make it easy to adopt,” says Tria Case, CUNY’s director of sustainability and coordinator of SMART NY.