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As global population rates continue to soar, so does our need for electricity. At the same time though, it’s increasingly obvious that we need to both step up our efforts in finding alternative sources of energy and be more intelligent about the energy we do use.
One of the best tools we have in our quest to achieve a cleaner, more efficiently-powered future is data. And thanks to the growing number of devices and everyday objects embedded with connected sensors, collectively referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT), we have more data than ever.
That data, in concert with some very smart technology is changing the way we power our cities. Here’s how.
Before we start exploring how IoT is aiding new power-generating technologies, it’s worth taking a look at how it’s being used to manage the power we currently have at our disposal.
On the consumer front, most people with an interest in technology are aware of devices built by Nest, including smart thermostats that allow you to monitor and regulate the temperature in your home, saving energy in the process. In warmer climes, air-conditioners are also being fitted with connected sensors. Apart from the convenience of being able to control these devices with a smartphone app, they also learn your habits, helping save energy along the way.
Local governments are getting in on the act too. In South Africa, which is in the midst of a power crisis, the City of Johannesburg one of a growing number around the world installing smart electricity meters. The smart meters allow municipalities to get a better idea of electricity demand and to either advise its customers what to switch off to avoid load shedding or remotely do so themselves.
Expand that thinking beyond people’s homes and into the streets and the potential savings, through careful management, only get bigger. Take street-lights for example. Most street-lights around turn on when it’s dark, but that’s generally based on time rather than any clever tech. That’s slowly changing though. New, more intelligent street-lights use sensors to detect exactly how dark it is and adjust their brightness accordingly. Not only can that help save energy, it can also cut down on light pollution.
It’s not just about the environmental conditions either. In Amsterdam, the lights on one street dim depending on how much pedestrian traffic there is.
When it comes to actual power generation, the Internet of Things is playing an increasingly important role too. With connected sensors, it becomes that much simpler to figure out the best locations for solar and wind farms.
And once those power farms go up, sensors can also help ensure that individual solar panels and wind turbines face the right way to provide maximum electricity generation.
Connected sensors can also help detect when there are issues with individual components. That’s as true for solar and wind plants as it is for more traditional power generation methods, which in turn means that those components are out for less time and, in some cases, can be fixed remotely.
Beyond the grid
While most of the above ideas have the potential to dramatically alter the way we power our cities, they do still work on the principal of a traditional grid. Thing is, the Internet of Things could actually allow us to completely subvert that principal.
Combine smart sensors on homes and office buildings capable of generating and storing their own power (through technologies such as Tesla’s Powerwall), and it becomes more viable than ever to not only take pressure off the grid, but to feed back into it too.
The IoT Focus is a series of articles appearing across the Burn Media sites. Brought to you by General Electric, the series explores what impact the Internet of Things is having on business, homes, startups, and other aspects of our everyday lives.
For an example of the kind of connected technologies talked about in the article above, check out this General Electric video on intelligent lighting: