Earth Day 2017: How IT Is Playing a Crucial Role in Saving Energy

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Earth Day 2017: How IT Is Playing a Crucial Role in Saving Energy

On this year's Earth Day, which is April 22, more than 1 billion people from around the world will come together to make their voices heard about the environment. Many of them will focus on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to the EPA, electricity production generates the largest share of emissions in the U.S. It's an issue and an opportunity on which the technology community is already working to address with power producers and utilities. The following eWEEK slide show uses insights from the World Economic Forum, the Nuclear Energy Institute, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and GE Power to show how the internet of things (IoT) and software are being used to improve the reliability, productivity and profitability of the world's energy producers, while decreasing their carbon footprint.

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Electricity's Digital Transformation

The business model of the electricity industry has barely changed since the time of Thomas Edison 125 years ago, but the rapid rise of renewable energy, electric vehicles, smart energy management systems and more is challenging the status quo. Software can play a role in helping address these challenges, with potentially a huge payback. The World Economic Forum estimates the electricity industry could create $1.3 trillion in value by 2025 simply by embracing predictive analytics software to improve reliability, productivity and profitability. Societal benefits include job creation and reduced emissions, generating an additional $2 trillion.

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Software Can Reduce Unplanned Downtime

The U.S. energy fleet operates at less than 50 percent of capacity due to generating unit outages. On average, power units are unavailable for as much as 15 percent of the time due to maintenance and unplanned outages. This loss of power generation costs the U.S. economy an average of $1.5 billion each week, or $80 billion each year. Asset performance management (APM) software can eliminate 75 percent of unplanned downtime with the impact of reducing operations and maintenance costs by up to 25 percent.   

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Predicting the Unpredictable—Forecasting Solar and Wind Power

Today, wind and solar constitute 6 percent of U.S. power generation. Some states have set targets of deriving 50 percent of energy from renewables by 2030. However, thanks to Mother Nature, renewables are inherently intermittent. Analytics software can both more accurately predict the yield from a wind farm or a solar farm and increase the power generated by each.

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Software Can Make Traditional Fuels More Flexible

As renewables increasingly become the fuel of choice, traditional gas, nuclear and coal plants will increasingly be used to fill gaps in generation. This requires them to ramp up and down in ways they weren't designed to, with side effects including much higher fuel consumption or emissions. Software can help these power plants become more flexible by fine-tuning their operations. For example, GE's Operations Optimization software can reduce startup fuel consumption by 5 percent. Given fuel costs amount to as much as 80 percent of the cost of running a power plant, these are big savings.

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Software to Streamline Natural Gas

Inspired by the increasing availability of low-cost natural gas, 29 percent of total energy in the United States now comes from gas power plants. Even modern plants can benefit from a software injection. For example, the latest digital power plant software can deliver $320 million in savings from improved reliability and productivity over a 10-year period for a typical combined-cycle gas power plant.    

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Software Is Cleaning Up Coal

Coal now provides approximately 40 percent of the world's electricity, and it is likely to remain an important fuel source (particularly in emerging markets) for another 20 years or more. Predictive analytics software can reduce the amount of coal burned in a typical plant by 67,000 tons per year without reducing electricity output. That amounts to a reduction in CO2 emissions of 4 percent—the equivalent of taking 250 million cars off the road if applied to every one of the world's coal plants.

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Apps to Drive Nuclear Efficiency

Nuclear remains a key part of many countries' lower carbon strategies. In 2016, U.S. nuclear energy facilities produced enough emissions-free energy to avoid 554 million metric tons' worth of CO2. While the fuel itself is a smaller proportion of the cost of running a nuclear plant, operations costs tend to be far higher. This is where software can play a role. For example, APM software has predicted nuclear outages (known as SCRAMs) with 90 percent accuracy, making plants more efficient to run and with lower downtimes.

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Storage Applied to Energy

Hydropower generates 17 percent of electricity worldwide, and 6.5 percent of electricity in the U.S. It is one of the few energy sources that can be stored to help stabilize the grid. Software can make hydro plants more efficient, reducing maintenance costs by up to 10 percent.

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Software Will Enable the Electrification of Transportation

In the state of New York, transportation accounts for 34 percent of emissions and $26.7 billion in fuel costs. New York's buildings consume roughly 60 percent of its total energy. A connected electricity network could play a significant role in reducing emissions and energy consumption through electrification. Sensors technology coupled with analytics software can help predict demand, thereby paving the way for cleaner, more sustainable cities and communities.

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An Internet of Energy Could Have the Biggest Impact of All on Our Planet

Our electricity landscape is becoming increasingly fragmented. Consumers and corporations are becoming generators of electricity. Communities are forming their own microgrids. Utilities in Europe are breaking apart, separating grid management from power generation. Customers increasingly want to choose the type of electricity they buy, and from whom. For 100 years, the electricity industry business model has been linear. Now it is becoming increasingly integrated and networked with electrons and data flowing in all directions. The conditions are perfect for the emergence of an Industrial Internet of Electricity. Stay tuned.

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Evernote Embraces MacBook Pro's Touch Bar for Faster Note Taking

Fans of the Evernote application for taking and organizing notes can now take advantage of the Touch Bar on Apple's MacBook Pro laptop.
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