Editor’s Comments: Vision, Resources, and Timing

Aug. 15, 2018

Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into innovation,” technologist Dean Kamen notably said. It has become clear, throughout centuries of scientific advancements, that successful innovation and technological maturation require the miraculous convergence of vision, resources, and timing.

Once-speculative technologies (which have existed for over a century), such as solar powered devices and large-scale batteries, have—with the catalyzing effects of economics, policy development, and right timing—been embraced only in recent years as viable solutions and become mainstream.

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Illustrating the importance of this critical alignment, the October 1923 issue of Science and Invention magazine features a pioneering design for an early photovoltaic system—a lens on a swiveling hinge that was designed to convert solar energy into electricity by heating oil and powering a boiler.

“The generating apparatus … furnishes sufficient power and lighting current to supply a small town. The invention has the added advantage of working a few hours after the sun has set until the heat of the oil drops below the boiling point of the water. Where more power is needed, of course, a battery of machines will be used and more boilers added.”

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Although this solar power plant was never actually built, the design is remarkably ahead of its time, especially when you consider that it was developed when only about 35% of Americans had electricity in their homes. It exemplifies precisely the sort of creative thinking that inspires innovation while also revealing the importance of the catalytic conditions necessary for technologies to achieve widespread adoption.

In this issue of Distributed Energy magazine, we celebrate innovative technologies and the confluence of scientific discovery, creative thinking, the economics, and policies that work together to nurture their maturity. We highlight distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS) and the array of software platforms that facilitate the coordinated orchestration of building automation, generation assets, and energy storage. Once conceptual, these platforms are recognized today as powerful cloud-based tools that not only enhance operational efficiency but also support a changing energy landscape.

Today, energy resources are incorporated into complex power networks to provide an array of benefits. Managing these dynamic components can be complicated. In “Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems”, we explore the software technologies that coordinate and dispatch resources across an energy system, optimizing operations. These platforms are leading the way in generation asset orchestration while helping systems reach new levels of efficiency.

Contemporary buildings are more connected than ever before. Advancements in building automation systems (BAS) are ushering in a new generation of buildings that are ultra-responsive to occupant needs. The transformation of BAS software into platforms that integrate software and data management has revolutionized the way we interact with the built environment. The ability to perform analytics allows building managers to not only collect data, but to leverage that data with targeted strategies that help them conserve energy and create an enhanced occupant experience.

In “Shared Energy Resources”, we look into the future and explore the ways that machine learning and AI technologies are supporting distributed energy resources by predicting load profiles, renewable generation patterns, and ambient conditions to optimize the generation profile. They also take into account utility tariffs, wholesale power pricing, and fuel costs to produce an energy network that is dynamic, flexible, responsive, and efficient.

In “Global Village”, we learn about a microgrid project in Tanzania that is supporting economic development. With electricity from a well-designed solar-plus-energy storage system, small companies in the village of Ololosokwan are now able to expand their production and employ more members of the community. Through this insightful narrative, we see that technologies that were once considered far-fetched have become today’s solutions.

We share these stories of extraordinary scientific advancement, network design, and forward-thinking technologies in an effort to contribute to the power industry’s innovative momentum. We hope that with intelligent conversation and creative support, we can synthesize the exquisite blend of vision, resources, and timing necessary to inspire technological development. For we wholeheartedly believe Albert Einstein’s assertion that “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”