Electronic Hardware Development Crucial to Growing Energy Demands

By Wilma Gaile Meeks
December 2010

The Author is Marketing Director at Advantage Electronic Product Development, Inc., in Broomfield, Colorado, USA. → See also:

We can all marvel at the speed with which the development of electronic hardware has escalated since its humble beginnings. That’s a good thing. The rate at which we are currently consuming energy, however is guaranteed to outpace the rate at which we are developing energy. That’s a bad thing. As we rush to plug the gap between what we use and what we produce, electronic hardware designed to increase energy-efficiency is stepping up to take the lead. Electronic hardware is achieving a genuine measure of cleaner air and energy independence with the development of Smart Home/Smart Grid applications as well as more efficient electronic products.

Making our buildings more eco-friendly by improving their efficiency is an area attracting growing attention. Studies conducted by U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) show that approximately 74% of all electricity produced in the United States each year is consumed by buildings, and buildings use about 39% of the total energy produced. Of this, it is estimated that 32% of energy is used in homes and 13% in commercial buildings is attributed to heating. The application of “green” energy-efficient technologies can raise comfort level, improve air quality, reduce operating costs and enhance building values.

Polls have shown that the Americans are volitionally paying more money for electronic products that provide energy efficiency. As the return on investment becomes clear, the demand for more energy efficient electronic hardware has soared. When a high volume of this hardware has been deployed, operating costs are predicted to drop as low as 12 cents per watt-hour.

As the costs associated with energy shoots upward and natural resources rapidly decline Americans are re-thinking energy efficiency and recognizing it is an important solution. Energy-efficiency technologies optimize operating efficiency and improve comfort and safety. Systems such as HVAC, security, lighting, fire and safety equipment monitor energy usage and feedback information to users so they can effectively eliminate waste. The sensors, routers and controllers used in Smart Grid and Smart Home applications are destined to bridge the gap and buy time for research and development in alternative energy sources such as wind and hydropower as well as for them to become more efficient and their infrastructure built. Designers of electronic hardware are contributing to energy efficiency with innovative electronic equipment that enables the generation of power from wind, water and solar in addition to bringing power from these alternatives onto the existing grid.

The power electronics industry has a major role implementing energy-efficient systems that in a manner serve as that “bridge fuel” to renewable resources and clean energy. With initiatives like the smart power grid making tremendous headway, the electronic hardware that makes it all function and the new designs directed at heightening energy efficiency are at the core of the solution.

What’s New?

Utilities and consumer electronics companies are providing a variety of hardware solutions that remotely control building systems such as HVAC, appliances and water usage. These hardware devices use wireless protocols designed specifically for energy-efficiency and communicating to utilities and users over wireless networks. Adoption of these leading edge technologies is enabling buildings to connect to smart grid applications employing one or more wireless protocols that can all be controlled a single point, either a building management system or a user’s computer.

One technology making an impact is a valuable energy-efficiency tool called Power Profiling that identifies where and how much power is consumed. Users can determine the exact amount of power is being used and by what, (HVAC, appliances, media center or lighting) as well as determine how consumption is affected by their actions. Proprietary algorithms are used to develop a building’s Power Profile by calculating information regarding the structure’s overall usage, combined with several data points such as the time of day and its energy consumption history.

Breakthrough devices that actually harvest energy and are self-powered, using no batteries are coming on line. For example, EnOcean is a wireless, energy-harvesting technology that transforms vibration, rotation and other motion, temperature changes and light into energy to power itself. The sensors can harvest infinitesimal amounts of energy. A technical differentiator is that they have also reduced the amount of energy necessary to transmit a signal to an incredibly small amount.

We are making important strides toward energy independence through the energy efficiencies created by these electronic hardware advances. If we succeed in reducing energy consumption by utilizing efficiency technologies, we maximize the potential gained from developing new energy sources and reduce our dependence on unstable foreign oil sources.


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