7 trends that will determine the future of energy

The future of energy will blow your mind away completely. The energy industry was always in focus of numerous technology trends, be it power management, energy extraction, or finding new ways of using alternative fuels. Going forward, we will be driving cars fueled on biodiesel, construction workers will work with wearables and exchange information with glasses and gloves, and energy might not only be harvested on the planet we live in, but in the outer space as well! Solar space farms will not be science fiction anymore, considering countries such as Japan are already trying to send solar harvesting satellites in space, which would be able to store this energy for later use.

Harvesting energy in outer space does sound a bit farfetched, but prototypes are already here and technology is moving forward rapidly. Our planet Earth does not have endless sources of energy for us to spend, and the need for such energy is exponentially growing. In other words, whether we like it or not, we have to move out to find newer ways of producing it. Is it possible that trees light our parks just like lanterns do? Yes, it is! Biomimicry was always in nature of humanity – then why wouldn`t it be when it comes to light sources as well? We have mimicked dragonflies and what not. Although making a tree into a lamp sounds awkward, it is both logical and aesthetically beautiful! Entire cities will be powered and designed by a smart grid system, connecting all possible things and their electricity in a single network!

Video Credits: Shell

Now we have electricity networks designed to connect the powering as well. However, a smart grid system would take it all to a whole new level. The smart grid would also be fueled with big data, predictive analytics and sensors it, so that cities could actually have insights on how energy could be stored, saved, and better deployed, and not overused. Are we prepared for a completely new energy management and ready to move on to new sources of energy? We have to, because old ones might run out. Energy is going to be very important in the future, because everything we use in our everyday lives, including homes and our jobs, run on some kind of energy or are related to it. The world is dependent on energy, and there are plenty of new technologies and ideas out there that will help this sector expand and nurture to the extent beyond our imagination.

Are algae the fuel of future?

We need fuel to do anything and everything today. We need it drive a car, to oil a machine, to even fly a plane! But what would we do if it runs out? Can you imagine a world without fuel at all? You can’t, right? Well of course, it would change our lives forever. In view of this, science has started to develop something that will prevent our fear of a world without fuel, cars, or anything motorized from coming into reality. And the answer to this problem is simple: algae. Algae fuel or algal biofuel is an alternative to fossil fuel, which uses algae as its source of natural deposits. Unlike fossil fuel, biofuel is clean and healthy. Furthermore, it does not produce toxins and carbon dioxide when burned, and it is renewable! Like other plants, algae use the energy from the Sun to create sugars, which they live off of. Some of them contain a high amount of fatty molecules, similar to vegetable oils, which can be converted into biodiesel. Several companies and government agencies are funding efforts to reduce capital and operating costs, and make production of algae fuel commercially viable.

Algae under microscope

Biofuel blend would perform just like traditional jet fuel in existing aircraft without modification of the engines or the aircraft. Would you drive a car on biodiesel? Would it be of same speed? Would you fly a plane on biofuel? It is a green alternative that will save the world’s power. Algae grow fast, are better material than land plants for complete biological degradation, and most importantly, are natural! Any kind of help and contribution they can make to solve the global fuel crisis is going to be crucial. When we take petroleum out of the ground, we are buying a resource that was created millions of years ago and we don’t pay for it. We’re using nature’s inventory of carbon! Think again!

Internet of Things as an instrument for harvesting energy

There are countless opinions that are fueling the Internet of Things (IoT) hype. Everybody’s talking about IoT. However, is there a chance for energy amid all this hype? Energy is everywhere within reach; it just needs to be harvested. This is the principle of energy harvesting. How can billions of communicating devices be powered? The answer is energy harvesting. Wireless and battery-less technology significantly eases energy monitoring and control of buildings with little intervention into the existing systems. How should billions of communicating devices be powered? Wireless powering technology could be the answer to this question, especially with numerous ways of using wireless protocols, harvesting energy, and connecting individual devices. The wireless devices are highly flexible to install, so that individual components, wall switches, sensors, and relay receivers can be easily networked to form an intelligent system without complex cabling. Wireless and battery-less technology significantly eases energy monitoring and control in buildings with little intervention into the existing systems.

Going forward, we will have smart energy grids, connecting complete cities with energy, and all other things in it, and scheduling and maintaining powering on its own. In further optimized systems, central equipment such as boilers or air handling units are integrated into the wireless communication system. This and the wireless powering of the alarm system are clear examples of how the Internet of Things will be embedded within an electricity network. We will also see smart meters that will put an end to estimated billing by measuring exactly how much energy is actually used and at what cost, and that too in real time! Smart metering technology has the capacity to empower consumers by giving them greater control over their electricity and gas use, and by increasing competition in the retail energy market. It is hoped that this will not only change the way people think about energy consumption but also provide customers with a new level of understanding energy usage and pricing, so that they can easily compare providers and swap them more rapidly. It is clear that wireless energy will, however, be a focal point in the future IoT. Wireless energy was an idea Nikola Tesla strived to accomplish. Can IoT fulfill his dream?

Electricity poles with LED light and NEST thermostat

How big data is electrifying the energy sector

Do you think about how much data is behind a simple task such as lighting a switch? Well, information is power, and to literally power the world, we need a lot of data. This is where big data will shine in the future. From expanding power grids to smart meters, the energy sector is growing in big ways and big data is there for every step. With the help of big data, renewable energy companies will be able to better predict the optimal locations for their equipment. Big data can help with small-scale customer outreach by tracking and processing the current usage rates for neighborhoods and individual addresses. By finding customers with energy profiles that could benefit from solar energy, renewable energy companies can pinpoint interested parties instead of canvassing thousands of uninterested individuals.

See also: Smart farming: the new agricultural benchmark

Smarter energy means doing everything as efficiently as we can and optimizing across the entire energy system, which literally means more data, more energy management, more efficiency! If we want to make energy smarter, we just have to know more about it, and big data will lend us a new perspective on it. The country’s power grids are growing every day, which means the networking tools used to run them are growing as well. With grid monitoring, power companies can track energy spikes and energy flow data by grid and region. Insights into potential energy performance improvement by looking at monthly usage trends? Yes, anytime! Analyzing everything and being able to predict things that will happen with the help of big data is going to be a huge asset of any technology; however, in energy, prediction is probably the most important thing.

Sky with solar panels, wind turbines and binary code

If it becomes precise enough, harvesting and maintaining will be much easier than it has been so far. Utilities companies will soon have access to extensive structured and unstructured data that they can analyze to help them optimize their business processes and develop new business models. This includes information provided by apps on mobile end-devices, online portals, and social media. The point of the analysis is not only to get a handle on the data but also to extract useful information from such a large amount of data, giving companies a competitive edge. Will this mean they would need more workers to analyze this mountain of data? Perhaps, they will only need the right software to tackle it. All other technologies will also influence big data in the field of energy. Be it connected devices, sensors, robots or drones, everything will transmit data, receive data, work on it, or accumulate it. All this information will need to be properly structured and used for the benefit of energy consumption. Energy will become larger with big data.

Will robotics disrupt energy industry?

The energy industry has a lot of jobs and tasks which humans have a hard time completing. Here’s where robots can pitch in and accomplish these jobs much more efficiently and easily. Isn’t it easier for a robot to clear big solar panels in the desert? Isn’t it easier for it to work in a nuclear plant? Robots will be used more and more in this sector, because it is a lesser risk for humans, and they can perform better in any kind of hazardous and potentially dangerous situations! Time and data has proved that humans are not capable of doing certain jobs that need a high degree of precision. Robotics has time and again demonstrated that robots will be able to provide perfect solutions to such problems. Leaving conventional assembly units and letting robots do our work in the energy industry? Why not? It is sure safer and better!

Pink robot puts plug in wall socket

Is wearable technology the next frontier of energy savings?

You have probably heard about solar power harvesting through solar panels. But can you imagine power harvesting from your wrist? Wearing a smart watch, smart wrist band, gloves, or glasses that power themselves from the Sun without you having to manage or think about it might not be that far. Energy will be harvested not only in the form of solar power but by vibration or pure movement! Manufacturers such as Seiko have already been using this method since a long time, albeit in a simpler way. However, with the wearables market being on the rise today, this is set to change. Every manufacturer will have to keep pace with energy management through wearables. Reducing energy usage, storing power, or replenishing it are many different aspects of how wearables will change the industry. And that’s not all! Wearables will be used to maintain and “sense” temperature in your home, energy devices, and what not. Would you like your wristband to know when to put your air conditioner on sleep?

Biomimicry LED – glowing trees are the streetlights of the future

Mankind has always desired to emulate nature. Many types of biomimicry approaches have been used in history. However, what we are going to talk about now is really mind-blowing! You know how a firefly glows in the dark? Can you picture a tree in the park where you usually take a walk glow the same way? A line of trees lighting your way home instead of lanterns? This is just one of the projects where plants and nature’s way of showing us possibilities can be used to present energy in a completely different fashion. It is not only to make use of power and life itself but a mere creative side of humanity that we think is diminishing with the progress of technology. It looks great, it is clean, and it shows us how we must not forget the beauty of life, while also benefiting our power management.

Lawn under dark sky with fireflies

Can we harness energy from outer space?

When Armstrong traveled to the Moon, he uttered, “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” What would he say if humanity would now extract power from space? This is not far away, as some companies and scientists are already working on projects of solar sails, satellites that will float in space, collect solar energy, and transfer it to the Earth! Now this does sound sci-fi, but what if we said that someday, we will also extract power from a star? Yes, it is indeed the future! Interstellar power harvesting, powerful magnetic fields to carry plasma away from the Sun’s poles into space, laser heating, and many other different techniques could be and will be used. Imagine space-based solar energy farms by 2030! A Type 3 civilization would be so advanced, with such a huge demand for energy, that they could be extracting the material from all the stars in the galaxy and feeding it directly to black holes to harvest energy. Feeding black holes to other black holes to spin them back up again! It’s an incomprehensible feat of galactic engineering. And yet, it’s one potential outcome of our voracious demand for energy.

Digital solar flares around planet in outer space

The future of energy

Every technology that is focused on taking a step forward in energy is actually a step to save the world. Energy has been one of the most important things in the new era, and it will be even bigger in the future. Everything mankind invents is dependent on some form of energy. Every device we adopt and use in everyday life, and even our jobs are dependent on it. We cannot move forward without energy, and the technology we use to enhance production is also reliable on energy. In order to keep going forward, we clearly have to find more sources and more ways of producing energy and keeping it clean. Some will say the future lies in biofuel or harvesting in space, or just in analyzing it and making the consumption more organized. How will this go on? Going forward, we will think and use technology that is much more ecology-based, and work more and more on saving it because it is not eternal.

Energy will be used through Internet of Things, analyzed and predicted through big data, or eventually, harvested in space itself! Major utility companies will compete to find a path for producing energy and in an easier way. This might happen sooner than we think with the usage of big data, connecting all devices into a smart grid or investing into outer space harvesting. There are many creative uses we can already see in action, such as biomimicry LED, glowing trees and what not. However, what is most important is that we keep in mind how to find new sources to harvest it, and in weirdest places, such as algae! Whatever happens, we cannot live without energy, in any form. It seems that the more technology improves our lives, the more it makes us subordinate to its fuel. Is mankind actually using energy, or is energy using mankind?

This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

Trendwatcher, futurist and international keynote speaker Richard van Hooijdonk takes you to an inspiring future that will dramatically change the way we live, work and do business.

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