Grid stabilization with increased renewable energy.

AI and solar PVWith the growing environmental concerns about climate change and the need for decarbonization, many private sector organizations, governments, and civil society have committed to a 100% renewable energy future.

As of late 2016, more than 300 cities, municipalities, and regions including Frankfurt, Vancouver, Sydney, San Francisco, Copenhagen, Oslo, Scotland, Kasese in Uganda, Indonesia’s Sumba island and the Spanish Island of El Hierro have demonstrated that transitioning to 100% RE is a viable political decision.

It is no doubt such ambitious targets to transition to 100% renewables will require new tools, concepts, and technologies to cope with the increased penetration of intermittent renewable energy into the grid. The good news is that technological developments, in the artificial intelligence and analytics space have already created tools and solutions needed to enable the decarbonization of the economy according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

As such, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has developed solutions in its recent report on the “Innovation Landscape for a Renewable Powered Future” which provides a toolbox of solutions for policymakers and guidance on how to apply them system-wide in a coherent and mutually-reinforcing way.

In particular, these solutions center around the application of digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), big data and analytics in increasing flexibility in the system for larger integration of renewable energy.

According to IRENA, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and big data, the Internet of Things and batteries are innovative solutions that will enable massive solar and wind use and amplify the transformation of the power sector based on renewables.

Why AI, Big-Data, and Analytics?

The increasing electrical loads such as electric cars, energy storage (batteries or pumped hydro) as well as decentralized renewable energy power such as rooftop solar PV systems, commercial solar, and wind power systems will need a more stable grid or a smart grid.

A smart grid is able to learn and adapt based on the load and amount of variable renewable energy put into the grid as a result of having lots of rooftops solar PV, other extra loads to the grid such as electric cars, energy storage (batteries and pumped hydro) and increasing decentralized intermittent renewable energy.

AI and Internet of Things

Without a smart system using artificial intelligence (AI), big data and analytics, grid operators will definitely not cope with the changing electrical loads and the increasing penetration of renewable energy into the grid.

Also, at its core, AI is a series of systems that act intelligently, using complex algorithms to recognize patterns, draw inferences and support decision-making processes through their own cognitive judgment, the way people do.

How can AI support the large integration of renewable energy?

Since renewable energy is very intermittent in nature as we would expect because there is no constant wind or solar generation due to weather changes, renewables such as solar and wind can be unreliable and many utility companies utilize energy storage (batteries or pumped hydro) to deal with this issue.

Excess solar or wind power is stored during low demand times and used when energy demand goes high. As a result, AI can improve the reliability of solar and wind power by analyzing enormous amounts of meteorological data and using this information to make predictions and knowing when to gather, store and distribute wind or solar power.

smart grid AIOn the other hand, AI used in smart grids can be used to balance the grid especially when rooftop solar and other decentralized renewable energy are involved and put into the grid. AI systems utilizing neural networks or complex algorithms to recognize patterns associated with various loads (electric vehicles or energy storage) and increased rooftop solar or other forms of distributed energy (wind or solar) which can make the system to be unstable. The most efficient way to balance this variability in the system is through AI in analyzing grids before and after they absorb smaller units, and in working to reduce congestion.

The IRENA’s report Innovation Landscape for a Renewable Powered Future explains these new AI tools and digital technologies that will support the deployment of renewables as the power sector complexity continues to increase.

According to IRENA, most of the advances currently supported by AI have been in advanced weather and renewable power generation forecasting and in predictive maintenance. However, in the future, AI and big data will further enhance decision-making, planning and supply chain optimization while increasing the overall energy efficiency of the energy systems.

For the renewable energy sector, AI and analytics can support it in several ways such as better monitoring, operation, and maintenance of renewable energy.

Five(5) benefits of a solar phone charger

With the growing environmental concerns of climate change and the decreasing prices of solar PV, solar energy is trending in many sectors, including but not limited to power homes and businesses. Also, portable solar solutions including portable solar chargers or solar phone chargers are trending with increasing awareness about renewable energy. This article attempts to explain five(5) benefits of using a solar phone charger:solar phone charger

  1. A solar phone charger is portable and uses clean energy to help you charge your electronic devices. Once you have selected your solar cell phone charger, whose cost can be estimated to range anywhere from $50 to $200 depending on the brand and features included, a solar phone charger is very portable as it can be carried anywhere to charge your cellphone. A solar-powered phone charger comes in handy, especially used during traveling or outdoor activities. Since it is portable during the day when there is sunshine you can use it in your picnics, hikes or when camping to use it to charge not only your cellphone but also your iPad, portable speaker, humidifier, etc.
  2. A lot of people especially in rural areas mostly in the developing world are not connected to the grid. As such, having solar chargers and other solar PV systems like solar panels and solar batteries are being used to produce power for both households and commercials helping to solve the energy access issue.
  3. A solar phone charger would probably be the main source of energy in off-grid areas to power cellphones. For instance, in Africa, around 640 million people don’t have access to a grid and where some people do have access to the electricity supply is unreliable and unstable. As a result, solar PV has become one of the main sources of energy to power homes and businesses using one of the most consistent and promising approaches to tackling this huge obstacle to energy access, that is, off-grid pay-as-you-go solar power model, now called PayGo.
  4. A solar phone charger uses solar energy – a renewable energy source. Even though energy from a solar charger might seem trivial or does not have an impact in terms of how much you can save when it comes to energy because cellphones or smartphones use a trivial amount of electricity. For instance, iPhone 5 uses 3.5KWh/year and costing about $0.41/year to charge them while Galaxy S III consumes 4.9 KWh/year at $0.5/year primarily because of the Galaxy’s larger battery. However, this might not impact you, but considering the aggregate impact (about 5 billion cellphones around the world) in terms of energy reduction from the grid and the increasing demand for mobile phones worldwide; your usage of the Sun’s energy to power your phone probably has an impact, if you look at it from a system’s perspective.
  5. A solar phone charger is one step to energy efficiency when you aggregate the number of cellphones from a system’s perspective. Currently, there are about 5 billion cellphones around the world according to GSM intelligence. Users for smartphones are expected to increase by 2023 to over 7 billion. Smartphones consume more energy depending on how many wireless data the device is using as well as the amount of power consumed in making those wireless connections. As a result, when not using energy from renewables, a solar phone charger can help in reducing your carbon footprint.

From a system’s perspective, electronic gadgets or even electric vehicles powered using solar power will have an impact in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduced while increasing the energy efficiency consumed in the long-term.

Some of the best solar phone chargers have been reviewed on Amazon. When looking for some of the best solar phone chargers, it is important to evaluate the number of devices that can be charged, the time it takes to charge, and overall durability when selecting a model.

Five great products on the market have been evaluated through Amazon to help determine which solar charger best meets your needs. You can learn more at Amazon.

To understand your energy profile and GHGs that can be reduced while going solar using a solar panel calculator can help you figure out your sustainability benefits. Learn more about how you can check instantly whether solar is right for you.

IBM research unveils a new battery free of heavy metals

electric vehicle batteriesWith the increasing demand for solar powered buildings, solar powered vehicles (electric vehicles(EVs) ) and smart grid power solutions; it is certain that there will be high demand for batteries. Many batteries including nickel and cobalt batteries pose an environmental threat to our natural ecosystem because of heavy metals.

From a system thinking perspective or a life-cycle basis – EVs, as well as all other going solar concepts, need alternative battery or storage solutions to significantly increase their environmental performance compared to conventional diesel or gas-powered vehicles.

For instance, in this article concerning EV sustainability issues, we saw that EV batteries are predominantly Lithium-ion batteries (e.g., Nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC), lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC)) which use lithium, cobalt, nickel, and graphite. As such, even with sustainable recycle and re-use programs to tackle the threat to the environment with increased adoption of EVs in the future, the development of sustainable materials or building new EV batteries that are zero in heavy metals will help to tackle these concerns from a system perspective.

Technological breakthroughs at the IBM research could help to solve the battery sustainability challenge:  

Researchers at the IBM research just unveiled recently a new battery discovery than could revolutionize the entire battery industry and help to solve the EV and going solar sustainability challenges when it comes to the elimination of heavy metals.

According to IBM research, it discovered a new battery which will eliminate the need for heavy metals in battery production and transform the long-term sustainability of many elements for our energy infrastructure. IBM research has discovered chemistry for a new battery that does not use heavy metals or other substances with sourcing concerns because the materials for this new battery are able to be extracted from seawater. Consequently, this lays the foundation for less invasive sourcing techniques than current material mining methods as noted by IBM research.

The new battery technology is also very promising because of its performance potential as determined in its initial tests which proved the new battery has faster charging time, higher power and energy density, storage energy efficiency and low flammability compared with the capabilities of lithium-ion batteries.

In addition, the new battery design could outperform lithium-ion across several sustainable technologies because it uses cobalt and nickel-free cathode material, as well as a safe liquid electrolyte with a high flash point. As such, this new battery design and chemistry includes a unique combination of the cathode and electrolyte demonstrated an ability to suppress lithium metal dendrites during charging, thereby reducing flammability, which is widely considered a significant drawback for the use of lithium metal as an anode material.

Lithium-ion batteries seem to be current battery technology at the moment, however, if new the battery discovery by IBM research is proving to perform better technically and environmentally, this discovery holds significant potential for electric vehicle batteries.

According to IBM research, the new battery will have a huge potential because of its flammability, cost and charging time.  It can reach an 80% state of charge with its configuration for high power at less than five minutes as shown during its current tests. IBM research is also using AI and machine learning techniques to mine huge data points that have helped to speed up this research and with better accuracy testing and the set hypothesis.

Future of solar in a smart building.

smarthomeBecause of the volatility of global oil prices, the cost of energy will continue to increase proportionately and especially when our energy demand continues to depend on finite fossil fuels. Similarly, the cost of energy for an average building in the USA or globally will continue to increase proportionately when the main source is from fossil fuels because the price for energy continues to increase due to volatility of oil prices. Solar PV and increased connectivity is an option that seems very promising and could help to reduce or mitigate the issue of climate change and increasing energy prices.

The advent of AI in energy management

Artificial intelligence technologyThe advent of new technologies such as big data analytics, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics and blockchain allows for smart building energy management systems that can provide monitoring made possible through the Internet of Things (IoT), advanced data analytics and via wireless connections.

Looking in the future, solar is likely to be sold as a core part of the smart building concept that includes a building energy management system, energy storage, Electric Vehicle (EV) charging and smart appliances. This makes more sense because sourcing all the energy from solar will help to save more money and help to achieve sustainability. Also, EV and smart appliances can help to balance the grid for instance, electric vehicles can be used as temporary storage to connected appliances to reduce power usage when needed.

IoTAlso, in the energy management space, lighting and HVAC integration are the two most common systems integrated into the smart building strategy to reduce the energy footprint, but the IoT industry has opened the door to more sensors and hence increased intelligence through data collection. Some of the most common IoT sensors have applications for smart metering, occupancy sensors, water detection, humidity sensors, contact sensors, and carbon monoxide detection among many others.

Internet of Things

The whole idea of making your building smart is to allow you to make more informed decisions about the building based on the data it provides. Data is aggregated via IoT (Internet of Things) controls and sensors in a web-based platform that can be monitored, controlled and acted upon in real-time or perhaps using your cellphone. The main advantage of having a smart building is to help facility and property managers gain insight into the detailed workings of their locations and gather useful data to improve building performance and efficiency.

Advantages of integrating solar in a smart building:

  •  Smart buildings utilize machine learning algorithms and can be able to forecast your energy consumption and through demand response mechanisms solar consumption by the building can be increased in times of high solar generation and vice-versa. Through IoT smart appliances can be remotely controlled digitally to adopt on-site demand. For instance, heat pumps, heat storage batteries and air conditioning units can be optimized with solar generation and be a way of using excess solar electricity as heat.
  • Battery storage and smart electric vehicle charging when integrated with solar PV could significantly increase solar consumption for some households and businesses and especially when solar PV is combined with battery storage.
  • Deep machine learning and artificial intelligence when integrated with your smart appliances and solar can help to forecast and manage generation and consumption as well as voice activation technology to make systems more user-friendly.
  • Generally, smart buildings through optimization increase energy efficiency, comfort and safety and with solar PV, more energy is saved reducing your energy footprint.

This article explained how the smart building concept can help to reduce energy consumption and allow for the integration of solar PV, EV charging and IoT helping you reduce your energy footprint to achieve sustainability. However, a key question is whether these smart building technologies can currently pay for themselves? Do they currently increase or decrease the return on investment on installation when combined with solar?  EnergySage is a great starting point to help you figure out your energy savings when it comes to going solar.