Creating a truly energy-efficient world is achievable with technological advances, say Morgan Eldred and Dmitry Vilchinsky
Historically, all energy works through a concept of unequal exchange: you put more energy in to reproduce energy you find in nature.
For example, in oil and gas, you drill a well, build facilities and connect the well to those facilities in order to harness energy.
But by connecting machines together through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), we can obtain invaluable insights, allowing us to make incremental changes that create monumental impacts.
Leveraging this through the renewables sector, we can optimise processes a little at a time to work toward an equivalent energy exchange.
Why IIoT? What Renewables Can Learn from Oil and Gas
The industrial Internet of Things includes all sorts of cloud-connected equipment. Gathering real-time data from these specialised machines facilitates better decision-making and mitigates costly downtime by reducing system failures. This allows you to work faster and manage your production in smarter ways.
IIoT is most popular in oil and gas: automating oil fields, controlling fracking fleets and enabling predictive maintenance for most field equipment.
You can find out where and how to drill depending on the geologic structure, and make real-time drilling decisions instead of having to stop and measure manually.
Sensors in the drill receive data in real time during drilling, saving that data and comparing it to past measurements almost instantaneously.
So instead of wondering what should be done when a machine overheats or the drill faces an obstacle, operators can act immediately.
Why You Should Apply IIoT to Renewables
Similarly, renewables need IIoT to make forecasting energy generation (typically based on weather forecasts and historical data) and maintenance more accurate). For example, panels out in the desert accumulate a lot of dust. By monitoring generation, we can determine when the panels need maintenance, as energy production efficiency changes as a result.
What’s more, using IIoT delivers insight into how energy is produced, consumed and lost. Consider the installation of IIoT devices into a microgrid: it could gather data on how much power can be potentially generated and consumed in that area.
Through that data, we can influence consumers through promoting energy-saving practices when demand is high, moving away from the need for medium and peak load generation.
With all analysis done automatically in the cloud, we can obtain very fast yet precise insights. This can help determine the most opportune places for solar panels (sunniest), or for wind turbines (breeziest), which helps drive renewable adoption and its associated returns.
Applying Technology While Cutting Costs
Moore’s law says that every two years or so, the power of a computer’s processor increases by 100 per cent. In the industrial world, this traditionally makes it very expensive to capture and analyse data, as machines must be continually replaced.
With IIoT, companies can save billions by using the cloud to collect and analyze data, even applying other technologies like AI, machine learning and digital twin.
Facing the Roadblocks
Industries are always hesitant to change. Within energy, electricity is logically the most stubborn to budge, given the strict regulations for reliability, sustainability and security.
But by introducing IIoT as an innovative way to monitor volume, pressure, temperature, vibrations and other measurements at a lower cost than traditional SCADA systems, the conversation becomes easier. Making data-driven decisions enables companies to take steps toward improving energy efficiency.
Maybe through IIoT we can finally attain an energy-neutral position – putting in as much energy as we get. But only time will tell.
This column was authored by Morgan Eldred, managing partner at Digital Energy and Dmitry Vilchinsky, energy & utilities director at Luxoft, a global IT service provider of innovative technology solutions.