As an aspiring mechanical engineer, I read quite a lot of articles/journals/news on upcoming and existing technologies within the energy sector. If the article has a discussion or comments section, I would quickly skim through them and see what other people’s opinions are because there are engineers or experts who share their opinions as well (If you manage to filter and ignore the keyboard warriors that is). So from reading all these sources (which you can easily search the facts and figures online), here’s my summary and opinions of the top 3 technology critical areas within the energy section to date:
- Energy production
Despite the increase in renewable energy production, global production and consumption of fossil fuel have also seen continued growth. A lot of people are wanting to rid the world from fossil fuels including me but the fact of the matter is that there is yet a reliable alternative at this point in time. Yes there are wind turbines, hydroelectric dams, solar panels etc. but they do not produce anywhere near as much energy as fossil fuels. There are tons of money being invested to increase the efficiency and develop a more robust infrastructure for renewables but the rate of improvements is not going quick enough to supply the world’s hunger for energy. Countries around the world have to meet certain energy targets and this puts pressure on companies which can sometimes lead to abusing customer’s trust (A certain car company which cheated the emission tests).
On the up side, after learning from the 3 major nuclear power plant disasters, engineers have redesigned nuclear power plants to be safer and more reliable because they can produce more energy than fossil fueled ones and still emit way less harmful gases into the atmosphere. Also, countries have already started to share the responsibility for cleaner energy to consumers such as Recycling, Feed In Tariffs and even Cycle To Work schemes. Until we see a better, more stable and cost effective alternative to fossil fuels, expect more wind turbines, solar panels, hybrid/electric cars, fuel efficient engines to be built.
2. Energy storage
In my opinion, one of the barriers to further develop future technology is energy storage. We’ve come a long way from the voltaic pile to the Lithium ion batteries found in our smartphones nowadays. We’re all aware of exploding phones, e-cigs, hoverboards etc., so how can we be confident with current battery technology to usher in new technologies such as the Internet of Things which many have forecasted to be heavily energy dependent? For most consumers, Li-ion batteries are the best fit for purpose but unfortunately, many have argued that it has reached it’s maximum potential. We now need a battery that charges rapidly, higher in capacity, and safe for use.
The Tesla supercharger is by far the quickest charger I know alongside Storedot who are pushing the boundaries of conventional Li-ion batteries by integrating organic compounds into their batteries. Wireless charging is still slower compared to wired but a number of research is already under way to recover the energy lost during wireless charging. In terms of capacity, there is a huge buzz with graphene and super capacitors being the next big thing. I believe that as soon as they can safely integrate graphene with Li-ion and/or Super Capacitors, we’ll see a rapid rise in technology especially in consumer electronics.
3. Energy usage
Formula E is a good example of how engineers tackle energy usage alongside battery storage issues. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s basically Formula 1 but uses electric cars instead. Mid way through the race, drivers have to drive into the pits and instead of refueling, they get out of their initial car and into another fully charged car because one car can’t store enough energy to power through the whole race. Instead of fitting a bigger battery, they opted to make the car as energy efficient as possible. This included a 4 year long research into better motor and power electronics alongside improved aerodynamics of the car. Many other car manufacturers have already been producing engines similar in concept, called “Engine Downsizing”. Nowadays, you might find a 1.1L “eco” engine performing similarly or even better to a car with a 1.6L engine. One of the ways to downsize engines is by adding a turbo which improves the engine’s air intake by using exhaust gases to turn an air intake turbine, thus reducing the energy required by the engine’s primary air intake mechanism.
However, for us mere mortals, reducing energy usage can be as easy as switching off a light switch, wearing another layer of clothing at home or even taking a slightly cooler shower. For me, every day when I drive during the colder or warmer months, I would turn off my car’s a/c 5 minutes before reaching my destination. The car would still stay warm/cool within that 5 minutes and you’d save a little bit of petrol.
As the famous Malay saying goes, “Sedikit sedikit, lama lama menjadi bukit” (Bit by bit, over time, it will accumulate into a mountain)
Do you have a difference in opinion or ideas you would like to discuss? Feel free to comment or message me through my social media sites. I love exchanging knowledge and best practices.