As its moniker suggests, the Internet of Things (IoT) is about the connectivity of ‘things’, not people. Hence, managing our hyper-connected world by using data from remote sensors in our devices to provide control in a smarter, more efficient way. As nebulous and vague as the ‘Internet of Things’ is, it has been cited as the hot technology trend of the future. In a recent Business Insider report, they estimate IoT growth will increase connections from 1.9 billion devices today, to 9 billion by 2018 (see chart below).
In fact, IoT is already a reality with 24/7 connectivity to laptops, tablets, smartphones, smart TVs, gaming consoles, and even wearable devices.
One of the best known applications for IoT is the smart metering of electricity, water, and waste systems as well as integrated management of home and building systems. Building temperature, humidity, ambient light and occupancy could be monitored by sensors and used to control heating, lighting, air-conditioning, and the operation of doors and windows, etc.
Smart thermostats such as Google’s Nest allows home owners to manage their heating requirements remotely via their smartphone. Where utilities participate, users can program their biggest energy inefficient appliances (heating and cooling systems, washers and dryers, refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, and pool pumps) to respond to varying energy tarifs and avoid peak demand periods. Sometimes demand reward credits are offered by utilities.
While these applications may make the workplace and home more comfortable and secure, the real motivation for adoption of such systems will be from potential energy benefits and hence cost savings. Avoiding peak periods would also have the broader environmental benefit of spreading demand, allowing power plants to operate more efficiently and reduce the need to build generating capacity to meet demand spikes.
But opinion seems divided over whether the Internet of Things will deliver improved energy efficiency overall. The exponential growth in the number of connected ‘things’ that all consume power could negate many of the efficiency gains of things like smart thermostats. More than $80 billion in power is wasted by connected ‘things’ according to an IEA (International Energy Agency) report. This is what is known as “vampire power”, or “vamping", and refers to energy used when devices are switched off or in standby mode. The IEA report notes the problem could result in $120 billion USD wasted by 2020 due to vamping!
One potential smart solution to vamping is to make appliances in the off or sleep mode actually power off but respond to a timer which is only responsive to the “on” switch during a portion of each second. The long term key to whether IoT improves energy efficiency lies with improving the energy efficiency of the devices themselves while at the same time providing innovative applications.
The wider potential of the Internet of Things is enormous and exciting. Wider ’smart grids’ could make our urban centers dynamic and responsive to energy demands, optimizing city-level energy use. As the Internet of Things continues to grow, the opportunity for bigger energy and environmental benefits from applications like smart grids could become a valuable reality assuming the overall efficiency of our ‘things’ also continues to improve.
We stumbled upon an interesting graphic that highlights just what it takes to keep the lights on in our homes and work places. It is a tale of both efficiency and waste. We thought it was worth sharing… (h/t The EnergyCollective.)
The starting point for the graphic (click on the image at left for the full size graphic) is an old fashioned (i.e., wasteful) 100 Watt incandescent light bulb. If you turned on such a light and left it running for a year, how much energy would it consume? That’s the easy calculation - 100 W = 0.1 kW. There are 8,760 hours in a year (roughly - don’t go getting all leap year on me) so our light bulb uses:
0.1 kW x 8,760 hours = 876 kWh.
Quite a lot, really, just to light a room!
The graphic proceeds to explore what it would take to produce that much power from each of our common energy sources. Interestingly, only one of these sources is something you can own - and that, of course, is solar. (While you could own a wind turbine, the one in the graphic is a 1.5 MW turbine, definitely not something to put in your backyard!) To be fair, the graphic assumes an installation of 100 square meters which is 1,076 square feet, and that is significantly larger than most residential solar systems. If your system is smaller, it takes longer for your system to keep the light on, but the end result is the same: your own power source meeting your needs, with no pollution or long-lived waste products to worry about.
On the other end of that scale is the coal plant where our light bulb requires us to burn nearly half a ton of coal and emit over a ton of CO2 in the process!
The good news is that both that wasteful incandescent light bulb, and coal-fired power plants are going away, just not fast enough. (Changing out your old 100 Watt light bulbs with efficient LEDs will drop these numbers by more than a factor of five.) Every solar installation directly reduces our greenhouse gas emissions - and saves the system owner substantial amounts of money over the lifetime of the system.
There is a fair amount of talk lately (in nerd circles) about a graph being circulated by the utilities and the California Independent System Operator ( CALISO, the entity that manages the electric grid in the state). Known as the “Duck graph,” it is being presented as a dire prediction of impending grid instability due to the increasing role of renewable energy sources. But where some see doom and gloom, others see opportunity. Here’s our take. (H/T John Farrell at REWorld.)
Here’s the graph (credit, CALISO):
As recently as 2012, this wasn’t a duck at all as net load had two peaks, one in the morning and one late in the evening.
But look at the center of the graph: as more and more renewable sources come online, the demand during the middle of the day falls dramatically, so much so that the utilities are complaining that there will be a risk of “over generation” - producing more energy than is needed and cutting into the baseline production (from power plants like coal and nuclear that need to operate continuously to be efficient.)
Also predicted is a rather steep increase in evening demand between now and 2020.
The net result is a curve shaped much like a duck, apparently a fowl predictor of grid chaos.
Frankly, we look at that graph and see progress and opportunity. Progress in that renewables, which not so long ago were sneered at as being a, “tiny amount of energy that will never amount to anything serious,” are now completely rewriting the load curve in the nation’s most populous state. Talk about coming a long way, baby!
The opportunity, of course, is right there as well. While adding large amounts of smart storage to the grid is an obvious fix for this “problem", as we noted just the other day (see Can Renewables Power the US?), we can handle this evolving energy future in a relatively simple manner—it just requires changing how we approach the problem. Here’s the video:
We can, and will, teach this Duck to fly.
As renewables become an ever larger share of the energy mix on the grid, we constantly hear the naysayers bleating that renewables make the grid unstable. Indeed, they claim that anything above a tiny fraction of total power demand penetration by solar sources will result in blackouts or worse since such sources are so variable. Besides, they say, what happens when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow? Renewables will never be reliable enough to fully power the grid.
But is that really true? Could it actually be possible to power the US using only renewable sources?
Amory Lovins over at the Rocky Mountain Institute thinks the answer is yes, and the short video that they have created makes a pretty compelling case. Take a look and decide for yourself. (Hat tip, Climate Denial Crock of the Week.)
Remember: “Whatever exists, is possible.”
Yesterday we attended the public hearing held by Senator Kevin de León (D-SD22) to discuss his proposed SB 39 which is intended to provide the mechanism for allocating Proposition 39 funds. We went into the meeting with significant concerns given the failure of the bill’s initial draft to say anything about clean energy generation. We came away impressed with Senator de León and encouraged for the future path of this legislation. Here is our report.
The hearing - technically a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Fiscal Oversight and Bonded Indebtedness - was held at Murchison Elementary School in Los Angeles, a school which could certainly benefit from the funds to be raised by Prop 39 and potentially allocated by Senator de León’s SB 39. De León chairs the subcommittee, but neither of his colleagues - Ricardo Lara or Mimi Walters - attended. Instead, Senator de León was joined on the dias by Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-AD15) - an old friend from Berkeley City Council days and one of the leading environmentalists in the State legislature. (Sadly, Assemblymember Skinner had to leave before we had our turn to speak. Perhaps she will read about our comments here.)
The format of the scheduled three-hour meeting was to take testimony from a number of invited speakers - representing LAUSD, the LA Chapter of the Green Building Council, the Building & Construction Trades, Global Green USA and the Coalition for Clean Air (my officemates from my time at CBE out in Venice) - and then hear from members of the public. During the course of the hearing it was hard not to be impressed by Senator de León’s concern for the largely working class community that he represents (Murchison school is in his district), his knowledge of the issues and his desire to come up with an appropriate formula that would be equitable and effective. He was articulate, passionate, friendly and humble - a combination rarely found in an elected official.
One topic kept coming up again and again - how best to allocate these funds so as to do the most good. Governor Brown is proposing to allocate the funds on a per capita basis - which seems even-handed, and easy to administer, but may not do such a good of applying the money to the greatest need. Senator de León was clearly focused on finding a different solution and he pressed the witnesses to offer their suggestions.
From our perspective, while many measures could be used - such as the percentage of students entitled to receive a free lunch - it seems to us that a metric more closely tied to existing energy inefficiency - such as kilowatt-hours per student - might be a better allocation measure given that it is possible to have poor students in an efficient school (even if that is not common). Another possibility would be to allocate funds strictly on a cost performance basis - direct the money to those projects that would produce the most bang for the buck - but pool the savings and allocate them to the neediest schools first. Of course, one of the secondary benefits of more efficient schools is that they also improve the learning environment by being cleaner, quieter and healthier places to study. Those benefits are hard to quantify and they make a “bang for the buck” approach less desirable if those benefits cannot be captured in the equation. Clearly the quest for “equity” here is complicated and it is hard to see how any allocation formula will satisfy everyone. (No doubt the reason for the Governor’s administratively easy approach.)
Which brought us to the time for our comments. Sadly, we represented the only solar installer in the room, although, curiously enough, there was a representative from national SEIA there who spoke before us and in favor of including solar in the mix. (Even more curious, there was no representative from CalSEIA there to speak.)
Given that SEIA made the point to include solar - which Senator de León appeared to agree with completely - we decided to shift gears and make the point about how solar could not only save energy and money, but unlike energy efficiency measures it could also enhance a school’s educational mission. We noted that our project at Westridge had done exactly that - with students and administrators alike excited about the addition of solar on campus, and we even mentioned our geek-fest over the analysis of solar eclipse data. Noting that solar was sexier than an LED, Senator de León agreed with us that both had a place in the mix of Prop 39 funds. As an adjunct to our comments yesterday, and since there is a chance that he and/or his staff will see this post, here is our Westridge video for their viewing pleasure:
It remains to be seen, of course, how SB 39 will evolve to accommodate the input provided yesterday and the process calls for continued monitoring. Still, we came away convinced that Senator de León is committed to doing the right thing and we wish him well in his efforts to balance the competing demands for funding and devise a formula that is fair and effective.
A future hearing is likely to be held at a later date in Los Angeles - we will let you know when that hearing is scheduled.