Today we’ll dive into the energy industry as we continue our series examining how technology is rapidly transforming industries from all sectors. Perhaps no other industry has such a vital symbiotic relationship with technology than energy; after all, without energy, how can we even use our technology?
As the energy sector literally fuels technological advancement, technology also fuels it as we develop more efficient and powerful means of collecting and distributing power. Let’s take a closer look below.
Know Your Industry
Today, 10% of power in the United States comes from renewable energy sources, but there are also entire countries that are carbon negative due to environmental conservation and clean energy. Here are the big trends in energy that we’re seeing in the face of climate change:
- Renewable Energy: This is the biggest and most visible area of growth in the energy industry as private corporations continue their search for ways to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels. Today 29 U.S. states have renewable portfolio standards, and the world’s first 24/7 solar power plant recently began operations in Nevada to power 75,000 homes. Scaling renewable energy operations is big business, so expect to see solar panels, wind turbines, hydroelectric dams, and nuclear power plants rapidly become more efficient and produce more with less.
- Batteries: Between personal smartphones and tablets, portable medical devices, electric cars, and more, we are becoming more and more dependent on battery-powered mobile devices, so making those batteries more efficient and longer-lasting is no small concern. Researchers in Australia recently discovered that a type of salt bath can increase the charge life of lithium-ion batteries, and the Argonne National Laboratory found a way to alter the oxidization process of a lithium-air battery that could make them five times more energy-dense. As Tesla doubles down with their under-construction gigafactory that will produce cars as well as lithium-ion batteries for the home (Powerwall) and larger enterprises (Powerpack), Wired is even referring to them as a battery company that also makes electric cars.
- Solar Roadways: This is something of a combination of the two trends above, but solar roadways have moved from science fiction to reality. The Missouri Department of Transportation will be testing out a solar sidewalk at the Route 66 welcome center before potentially adding the specialized panels to Route 66 itself. Multiple universities and companies are also working on wireless charging roadways that will use magnetic resonance to charge electric cars driving on them. This intersection of the energy and automotive industries is just one more fascinating way technology is transforming almost every aspect of our lives.
Your IT Budget
Budgeting in the energy industry is extremely important. As we see focus shift towards renewable energy sources, so should budgets. R&D dollars for new power generation and power distribution will continue to rise, while budgets in place for older methods will continue to be cut. Companies focusing their legacy IT budgets on creating efficiency will be rewarded with manageable profit margins through volatile industry shifts. And the companies properly funding innovation and scalability initiatives in renewable, clean energy programs stand to position themselves well for tomorrow’s demands.
Because every industry in existence relies on the energy sector, security here is absolutely crucial. This includes access control and other physical measures at nuclear power plants and areas that could put the surrounding population at risk, as well as cybersecurity around the infrastructure that keeps our power grid running. Energy faces threats from people every day, be they foreign governments, terrorists, “hacktivists” focusing on environmental concerns, or run-of-the-mill cybercriminals looking to make money. Because of how crippling an act of cyberwarfare targeting our power grid could be (recall the accidental northeast blackout of 2003 that lasted up to a week in some areas), private and public energy providers must ensure that the infrastructure that guards these systems and keeps them online is absolutely secure.
Currently, compliance efforts are focused on using more renewable energy and cutting back on fossil fuels, which of course increases the number of wind turbines and solar arrays in action. We see this happening at the local, state, and national levels. Once these goals and requirements have been fully met, policies will shift to regulate the renewable energy providers themselves. These companies will most likely have to comply with stricter measures that will govern locations of their generators and plants, power distribution, efficiency, and more. It’s important that these organizations stay flexible as they continue to grow, so they are ready when the landscape shifts again.
The energy sector is more important than ever before in advancing technology as countries across the world cooperate to reduce our carbon footprint. Carbon-neutral and negative technologies are in-demand across all levels of government, and more powerful and longer-lasting battery-powered electronic devices are in nearly every home and business today. Efficiency is the name of the game, and batteries and renewable sources of energy are the ways to play.