The Internet of Things is a term often bandied about like Big Data as one of the great emerging technology revolutions just over the horizon. Internet of Things (IOT) simply refers to various pieces of equipment from jet engines to wind turbines to the kitchen stove becoming equipped with sensors that help to monitor and optimize performance and output needs. GE and many other major companies are big backers of the concept and are developing devices and systems around it.
IOT holds enormous promise for energy applications both conventional and renewable. One of the biggest challenges in energy is simply monitoring and occasionally repairing or replacing parts of the infrastructure, whether it’s a solar panel or a pipeline. One glaring problem with the IOT has always been the need to keep monitoring sensors powered and the associated wiring needs. A new technology is promising to change that and enable true wireless monitoring of in situ performance across a variety of applications. Related: How Realistic Is Saudi Arabia’s $2 Trillion Sovereign Wealth Fund?
University of Washington researchers have developed a novel technology that enables sensors and small electronics to be powered completely wirelessly from TV, radio, cell phone, and Wi-Fi signals. Using a principle called backscattering, UW researchers have developed miniature devices including cameras, motion sensors, temperature sensors, and other devices that don’t require a battery or any wiring. The devices are being built by a spin-off company called Jeeva Wireless and represent a major opportunity for IOT and even just basic consumer tech. So far devices can be powered wireless by signals up to 100 feet away, and as the technology improves, that distance may increase.
The researchers believe that the tech needed to wirelessly power the devices can be manufactured extremely cheaply – perhaps less than a dollar per component. That’s a critical threshold in that it would enable wireless power for applications ranging from security cameras to simple smoke alarms. Related: Huge Fire Erupts at ExxonMobil Refinery Near Houston
If the UW technology is ultimately applied on a wide enough scale, it is more likely to be a boon for renewable sources of energy rather than conventional sources. Miniature solar arrays and small storage batteries could both be made wildly more efficient if wireless power ultimately proves feasible. In addition, energy stored in renewably charged batteries could be wirelessly distributed via TV, radio, and Wi-Fi signals to a variety of devices. Given the short range on wireless power as described by the UW technology, small solar arrays and distributed batteries with antennas would seem to be a much more realistic mechanism to distribute that energy rather than conventional energy sources.
If the new tech holds as much promise as it seems, it should be massively important for data analysis and project management in many sectors including energy. There have been a lot of concerns over project costs in both shale oil and renewable energy, and wireless power would go a long way to helping reduce monitoring costs leading to more efficient projects overall. Related: Oil Stages Comeback On Bullish EIA Data
IOT is expected to be a $22B industry by 2020 growing at a roughly 25 percent rate over the next few years. In energy, that means advances in predictive maintenance, platform security, logistics, energy analytics, and many other applications – all leading to more energy produced at a lower cost.
From an investment standpoint though, wireless power has enormous implications. It’s very rare that truly novel hardware comes along, and wireless power could reshape the way nearly every device on the planet consumes electricity and power. Moreover, to the extent that wireless power leads to more devices out there being used in new ways, it could also lead to an increase in the total amount of electricity being used. As new devices are developed, people consistently have used more and more power for those devices. Wireless power and IOT are no different. Investors should keep an eye on the tech as it develops more going forward.
By Michael McDonald of Oilprice.com
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