The Future of Smart Energy: Creating More Sustainable Ecosystems with Smart Technology
The growing demand to reduce our carbon footprint has led to a surge of smart energy solutions. In this article, we will highlight various energy sources, including renewables, and how they will play a role for future generations.
We will also reveal how IoT-enabled technologies impact the development of the renewables market and what are the potential drawbacks faced by energy providers. Despite the challenges, smart energy can reduce our carbon footprint, helping us create a better, greener future for our children. Let’s dive into the details!
One factor that’s pushing growth of the renewables industry development is the looming energy crisis. In the turmoil of recent years, energy supply shortages have been threatening to thwart the economic development of countries. It has become clear that reliance on only one energy source isn't sensible. From coal to solar, stable energy production is key to the survival of humanity.
According to Gartner, 2023 is the moment of truth to drive full electrification forward. However, rising electricity costs can make the implementation of electric vehicle programs much more challenging than before. Also, the increasing prices for lithium and nickel coupled with sharply insufficient supply make the picture even more grim.
Even with the latest smart technologies, lithium production will likely not keep up with demand. Let’s look at the current projections:
As stated by S&P Marketing Intelligence, if all 53 lithium-producing projects in the current pipeline are aggressively developed, the market will stilll face a deficit of 605,000 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent, or LCE, by 2030.
What’s interesting is that Canada, the US, and Argentina have over 50% of the lithium producing projects on their territory. On average, the production cost for these 53 projects would be $17,353 per ton of LCE production per year.
Image source: spglobal.com
But time doesn’t stand still.
New technologies demand more lithium for the use of digital technologies and data analytics. Worldwide end-user Cloud spending is projected to reach nearly $600 billion in 2023, with an 18.8% growth forecast from 2022. By 2025, IoT devices are expected to generate 73.1 ZB (zettabytes) of data, which needs to be collected and analyzed.
Smart energy projects aim to improve energy efficiency, minimize the environmental impact of energy production and consumption, and reduce costs. But this is a developing industry. Smart energy providers are looking to capitalize on this market by testing and combining new technologies, including sensors, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and advanced analytics tools, to enable real-time tracking and control of energy systems. In many cases, they succeed, bringing new solutions to the market.
Benefits of Smart Energy
Shaping the energy sector
Solar energy technology benefits greatly from smart technologies. They make solar panels more affordable, efficient, and environmentally friendly.
Forbes reveals that in 2023, top solar panels on the market have around 25 years of warranty, 22.2–22.8% efficiency, and 405–460 W max wattage. That is pretty impressive when compared to first solar panels released about 40 years ago, which were about about 6% efficient.
What can be done to boost their efficiency? For solar panels, IoT technologies contribute greatly to tracking and management on the whole setups. Central management systems, often deployed locally to cut costs, control the panels by determining peak efficiency and overseeing battery health. System owners can also identify outages in real time if one of the panels malfunctions or has critically low performance. Therefore, these kinds of IoT applications are vital for the solar energy storage systems and they can greatly optimize performance in any kind of climate.
Solar energy advantages:
- Clear renewable energy source
- Zero transportation and distribution costs
- Accessible to a wide range of customers
- Cost decreasing over the years (photovoltaic panels)
- Efficiency - excess energy can be stored
Disadvantages of solar energy and panels:
- Dependence on climate and decreased efficiency in the areas with low sunlight
- Limited lifespan and decreasing capacity over time
- Hard to recycle; the recycling process includes thermal processing at 500 °C
- Insufficient lithium supply for Li-Ion batteries commonly used in solar panels
- Expensive for large energy capacity
- Regular maintenance (cleaning) is required for optimal performance
- Enterprise-scale projects require a large amount of land which could be used elsewhere
- Fragile and can be damaged by severe weather
In the US, wind energy accounts for 9.2% of electricity production; the total amount of wind energy produced in 2021 grew 17% from 2020. China, the US, Germany, India, and Spain are currently among the top countries with the greatest wind energy production capacity.
Other renewable energy sources
Having a moderate 3% average annual growth rate, hydropower (hydro energy) remains one of the most clean and efficient, but geographically limited energy sources. Additionally, declining water levels throughout the world prevent this growth from accelerating.
As for tidal and wave energy, it is only available in areas with a significant tidal range, and the turbine installment is quite complex. Alongside the environmental concerns, all these factors slow down the expansion of these energy production technologies.
Available along major tectonic plate boundaries, geothermal energy that can be harvested for human use is strictly location-bound. In the US, geothermal power plants in seven states produced about 16 billion kilowatt hours in 2021.
Biomass energy also has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Requiring significant initial investments, biofuels are projected to be used in the future, particularly in the vehicle industry, to produce electricity, heat /or transportation fuel.
The use of coal and transition to green energy
For the last decade, coal has still been the primary source of energy in the United States. Bituminous coal, subbituminous coal, or lignite are burned to produce steam power to drive turbines producing electricity. In 2023, China, India, Russia, and Japan remain among the top coal consuming countries alongside the United States.
Coal Consumption (TOP 5 countries)
Despite growing awareness of the negative environmental impact and CO2 emissions, it’s impossible to imagine modern economics without coal. It’s mostly used to generate electricity, produce steel, and for other industrial and manufacturing processes.
In China, during the first 2 months of 2023, coal imports increased 71%. It’s worth noting that the analysts of Wood Mackenzie expected China's coal demand to increase only 2% which turned out to be far from the reality.
We can say that the coal economy is here to stay - for some time at least.
In some regions, renewable energy sources may not always be available, or may not be cost-effective to implement. The coal industry provides jobs for millions of people around the world, and remains a reliable option for industrial processes.
It’s notable that multiple initiatives on the market offer to curb energy consumption for individual consumers including even bringing back rationing, with little insight on how corporations would follow the trend. Accounting for 35% of total US energy consumption according to EIA, the industrial sector energy needs don’t seem to be fulfilled by renewables any time soon.
Taking all this into account, governments must carefully analyze all steps of transition to cleaner energy before taking brisk steps. It’s clear that the transition to renewables is complex. It involves not only research and implementing green energy policies and regulations, but also real financing of green energy initiatives, heavy investment in the infrastructure, and increasing energy efficiency standards for buildings.
A more gradual transition towards cleaner energy sources and greater energy efficiency is needed. This will require investments in new technologies, job training programs for workers, and policies that support the development of renewable energy sources. By balancing the economic benefits of coal with the need to reduce its environmental impact, we can create a more sustainable and equitable energy system for the future.
Smart technologies for solar and wind energy solutions
To further improve and optimize all-purpose energy use, government organizations and companies rely on smart technologies. We have indicated some of them in the list below.
IoT smart energy use cases
So, how exactly are we going to move towards a cleaner, more sustainable and energy-efficient future? As proven energy saving solutions, smart technologies can help us better manage fossil-based and renewable energy sources at once.
Here are the top five examples of IoT smart energy use cases that can move the needle for energy supply optimization for a wide array of geographical regions.
Centralized energy management systems
IoT sensors in these systems collect data on energy consumption from all sources, which is then analyzed to identify areas for improvement. By optimizing energy use, businesses can reduce their energy bills and carbon footprint at scale. Not only businesses, but also communal services acting as B2C energy providers can harness these systems to increase operational efficiency. Flexible payments, consumption-based tariffs, real-time energy use tracking – all these solutions are already on the market.
Thermostats and similar devices used to control and monitor the temperature of a home or building can be astonishingly convenient. Connected to the internet and controlled remotely through a smartphone app, they use sensors to detect occupancy and adjust the temperature accordingly. Especially in the face of rising energy bills, building and office owners are eyeing these solutions to reach more energy savings for heating and cooling bills.
In smart metering, companies are recently looking for solutions that would cover not only the installation and maintenance of smart meters, but also the collection, storage, and processing of cloud data with the possibility of setting up alerts. Complete, pre-set smart metering IoT dashboards like this one can also control smart meters remotely and provide access to historical data as required.
Smart city lighting
Standard smart lighting sensors adjust lighting levels according to weather conditions. Light intensity can not and should not be the same for various ambient conditions, which can even lead to health risks for drivers.
To reach maximum energy savings and safety, light output is changed automatically once the readings of the IoT dashboard or a sensor reach a certain threshold. Despite high initial installment costs, municipal and government institutions throughout the world implement smart city lighting systems to spend their budgets more rationally.
Renewable energy management
Despite being vital for monitoring performance of certain types of traditional energy sources, IoT-based tracking and management of renewable energy sources so far remains only an option for solar and wind energy projects. Depending on the scale and needs, sensors can monitor a wide range of factors - from weather patterns to solar panel status or wind turbine movement. System owners often choose intermittent, and not real time tracking to decrease network connection costs. Low energy demands and the ability to work with an intermittent internet connection are among the primary requirements for such systems.
IoT-enabled manufacturing of smart energy industry equipment
The production process of the renewable industry can be complex, and every step must be carefully assessed and monitored. Even as more robotics permeates the manufacturing industry, simple sensors still are paving the way to optimize manufacturing and reduce downtime for any equipment of the renewables industry. For example, in solar panel production, sensors can track multiple critical parameters such as visual defects, electrical performance, and mechanical stress.
Challenges of IoT-enabled energy consumption tracking
For all kinds of energy providers, both government-owned and private, tracking energy consumption is vital. But it's important to remember challenges that can be significant threats for the industry, and to try to prevent system malfunctions before they happen.
1The quality and/or intermittency of the supplied energy is often not recorded. While keeping the record of overall consumed energy, few solutions provide tracking on voltage or frequency change. But this can be important data for energy producers and suppliers to protect their employees and equipment.
2Most smart meandering solutions are narrow, closed-in proprietary systems with no access to regional data, which could benefit the neighborhood in general. In most B2C energy tracking systems, users have access only to their accounts and therefore they don't have a clue about local consumption or whether it would be nice to withhold washing dishes or not use 5 devices simultaneously. Municipalities also have access only to the systems they installed, and they can rarely compare energy consumption with other cities. They also can't reach automation solutions that could potentially increase efficiency and cut usage costs.
3Data privacy and security can be at risk. As energy saving data is being collected at an unprecedented level, now companies own more data on private energy consumption patterns of citizens. While beneficial for payments and company resources optimization, vast data lakes are vulnerable assets which must be protected with robust security features, secure transmission, and secure authentication protocols. Some cases may also involve encryption. Companies must also update software and hardware, monitor for security breaches and perform data security training for personnel on a regular basis. Hacking attacks or misuse are especially dangerous and can compromise the privacy and security of the businesses or private citizens using the meters.
Renewable energy drawbacks
Renewable energy industry waste handling
In some scenarios, clean energy production is projected to achieve 100% by 2035, which includes 5–8 gigawatts of new hydropower and 3–5 gigawatts of new geothermal capacity.
However positive it may sound, we also need to create a plan to recycle used batteries, panels, and other renewable energy infrastructure waste. Currently, 90% of solar panels go to landfills once they have stopped being efficient. Right now, scientists are looking for ways to extract silicon from the used panels.
As for the wind energy, turbine blades are made from fiberglass and are hard to recycle. Most of them end up in landfills and are subsequently just buried in the ground. The overall mass of decommissioned blades in the US will reach 1.5 million tons by 2040 and 2.2 million tons by 2050. The same quality that helps turbines withstand weather and be durable, becomes a problem in the long run.
Image by cen.acs.org
The EU projects that around 30 million electric cars will be in the European market by 2030. Meanwhile, the percentage of recycled lithium-ion batteries is about 5% according to the BBC. These batteries are known to contain hazardous materials that can explode, pollute the environment, and damage health.
As the renewable energy industry grows because of reduced costs, more active steps need to be taken to recycle the industry waste. Emerging robotics initiatives, for example, aim at using robots to disassemble hazardous waste.
At the initial stages, investors must estimate not only the production, installation, and maintenance costs, but also the impact of the future smart energy project on the environment. By building smart grids such as Smart City Poles, municipalities can improve efficiency of energy consumption. However, they should also estimate manufacturing and maintenance plans to choose the best solutions on the market for a sustainable, greener future.
An IoT-enabled future goes hand in hand with cleaner environment needs. Achieving net zero carbon emissions by reducing direct and indirect CO2 emissions in the nearest decades is one of the goals uniting multiple world governments. And so, by using convenient and efficient energy-saving methods for their production or daily operations, businesses can harness smart technologies to stay ahead of industry trends.
If you need an end-to-end IoT platform to build your smart energy solution, Kaa provides essential features for projects of any complexity and scale. We offer ready-to-go solution dashboards to be a basis of custom PoCs or the production solution for your clients.
In a matter of minutes, you can connect devices and get your project going. With the flexibility of IoT microservices architecture you can scale infinitely, while ensuring performance, fault tolerance, device security and data integrity. Easily turn your use case into a enterprise-grade project, utilizing the latest cloud-native technology stack.
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