When we kicked off the month of May, I talked about the rise of smart meters and how with that rise comes an increase in data, creating new considerations for everyone in the ecosystem. This week let’s turn our attention to power plants and data centers to continue our conversation on energy.
As we know, there is a diverse mix of regulated power plants today—everything including hydro, coal, nuclear, natural gas, solar, and battery storage, just to name a few. In fact, the three major categories of energy for electricity generation are fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum), nuclear energy, and renewable energy sources.
The EIA (Energy Information Admin.) suggests natural gas was the largest source—about 38%—of U.S. electricity generation in 2021, along with coal at 22% and petroleum at only 1%. Nuclear energy provides about 19% of U.S electricity and renewable energy sources provide an increasing share of U.S. electricity of about 20%.
The bottomline is power is needed to generate electricity and to fuel our lives—and while we are certainly making strides with hydropower, wind energy, solar, geothermal, and more, I am wondering if the solution to our energy crisis might lie in tapping into the IoT (Internet of Things) and AI (artificial intelligence)? Let me explain with a few examples.
A Guidehouse Insights whitepaper Integrated M&C Platforms for Hybrid Power Plants published earlier this year, points to the fact there is still considerable confusion across the energy industry, especially when it comes to the associated technical requirements, best practices, and pain points. It goes on to bust six myths for hybrid power plants regarding legacy controls, legacy SCADA, battery capacities, among others.
The big takeaway is that we need software-based control systems to enable these hybrid power plants. While PLCs (programmable logic controllers) are still used to control the majority of first-generation RE plants, hardware-based controllers are now considered outdated technologies due to their technical limitations. Further, given the complex coordination requirements and autonomous decision-making capabilities demand by hybrid power plants, platform-based approaches are recommended. The result is being able to solve today’s problems and accommodate other resources such as hydropower and others.
This idea of finding solutions to today’s problems is one that many of large technology companies are embracing. In fact, we are seeing a transformation as many are beginning to think outside the proverbial box to come up with unique solutions to the energy crisis.
As an example, Jennifer Huffstetler, vice president and general manager, Future Platform Strategy & Sustainability, Intel, spoke with me last week on The Peggy Smedley Show about her vision for sustainable manufacturing and the supply chain, ecosystems, and what comes next. On that episode, she talked about innovative data center design and how to think disruptively and transforming what could be seen as a challenge into a significant opportunity.
The challenge is this: 98% of the energy consumed by a data center is rejected in the form of heat into the atmosphere. Thus, many data centers are looking for different ways in which they can reduce their use of natural resources.
Enter the opportunity: heat reuse. Intel and Submer’s partnership announced earlier this year aims to transform data center heat reuse to power municipalities. The deployment will operate out of DFactory, a hub in Barcelona. The installation at DFactory combines Submer’s SmartPod XL immersion cooling platform with Intel’s range of immersion-ready servers. Ultimately, it will enable circular heat-reuse models where AI and cloud workloads are cooled through immersion cooling and waste heat is injected into the local district heating network.
While this is one idea, many others in the data-center space are also exploring the idea of repurposing waste heat from servers. Where there are challenges, there are also opportunities—and the most innovative companies will almost certainly be the ones who “think disruptively” as Huffstetler says.
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