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Powering the Future: Emerging Energy Technology

Key Points
  • Energy harvesting devices capture and use energy from sources where it would otherwise be wasted.
  • Visible light communication integrates LEDs and data for indoor positioning and location tracking.
  • Artificial intelligence is being used to improve building performance and equipment energy efficiency.

TrendingEnergy technology is changing—fast. If you blink, you can quickly find yourself falling behind. To help you keep up, here are a few of the latest innovations that are reducing energy costs, improving performance and generally making life easier and more convenient.

Energy harvesting takes root

Energy harvesting devices capture, use and store energy from external sources—such as vibration, heat and radio waves—that would otherwise go to waste. Energy harvesting can augment battery power in sensors, controls and other applications. In many cases, it can eliminate batteries altogether.

The market for energy harvesting technology is forecast to reach $645 million in 2023—more than double its $311 million value in 2017—according to MarketsandMarkets Research. A number of forces are driving this growth: the increasing demand for wireless applications, as well as technology advances creating electronic devices that are smaller and have ultra-low power circuitry.

Researchers and developers are looking for new sources of energy to harvest and ways to use it. Energy-generating "smart tiles" were installed in Washington D.C.'s famous Dupont Circle walkway. The tiles flex slightly, and that movement is turned into power for streetlights. U.S. Department of Energy researchers are developing a self-powering temperature sensor that uses vibration energy from the environment.

Other promising applications for energy harvesting include implantable medical devices and wearable electronics. The potential is limited only by the amount of waste generated around us.

Data provides a guiding light

The Internet of Things—gadgets that can communicate and share information—is emerging and delivering benefits such as energy savings, improved customer service and more flexible lighting systems. Visible light communications (VLC) is a growing part of this trend.

VLC technology integrates light and data to provide indoor positioning and location tracking. LED fixtures communicate with mobile devices to enhance customer experience and increase sales in stores, but the technology could also be used in hospitals, warehouses and even offices.

The VLC market is still emerging, although a number of companies—Acuity Brands, Philips Lighting, GE Lighting—are in the early stages of development. Retailer Target is testing VLC technology in nearly 1,000 stores. Philips has installed VLC at the Dutch National Museum for Science and Medicine.

Challenges remain to widespread commercialization, according to a recent study. These include integration of VLC with existing communications standards, as well as interference from ambient light sources and between different VLC devices.

The future looks bright for AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the capability of machines to exhibit "intelligent" behavior, such as learning and problem solving. The technology has been in development for years, but it may be about to take off. A recent report by McKinsey & Company estimated that investment in AI technology ranged from $26 billion to $39 billion in 2016, more than triple that of three years before.

AI technology is being used in retail and lodging facilities, as well as manufacturing, but it's also being deployed to improve equipment energy efficiency and building performance.

Google used AI to reduce the energy for data center cooling by 40 percent. A series of deep neural networks use data from sensors to predict future energy requirements and provide recommended actions to optimize power usage effectiveness (PUE). Global facilities management firm ISS World is deploying AI technology from IBM's Watson Unit across 25,000 buildings in its portfolio. IRIS (Intelligent Room Integration System) from Starfield Lighting Automation is a new lighting control system based on AI principles.

Keep your eye out as these and other technology advances continue to improve efficiency and comfort, as well as reduce our impact on the environment.

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