We often cover utilities and the power industry at 451 Research as clearly the world of emerging technology is somewhat reliant on electricity, and the industrial companies that I cover from an IoT point of view are significant users of energy. Clearly there are major challenges to the environment that large scale industry significantly contributes too.

One of the drivers for IoT in industrial is to improve energy usage through accurate local instrumentation. The economics of being more energy efficient may well help improve the planet’s situation as any company able to save 30% of their bottom line energy costs will quickly become uncompetitive if they don’t. Of course, saving the planet is not that simple, however there are things that yet more emerging technology might help us with.

Electric Cars

We have had a family Nissan Leaf, fully electric car, for the past 5 years. We are just about to pick up our newest one too. There can be endless conversations about range and charging but the Leaf is used for me to taxi my wife and daughter to Basingstoke station in the morning and then used for town runs to the supermarket and to our martial arts class. Each round trip is just a few miles. These short journeys are bad for traditional cars as was proven the first year of these journeys in my Subaru Impreza WRX, as I went through a couple of batteries and other mechanical woes and of course lots of trips to the petrol station.

We do go to Southampton and up to Fleet or across to various venues, but we don’t ever need to charge on the way. We just plug in at home to the dedicated charger. Long journeys, anything over 200 miles, we have an old petrol car or more often just hire one for a weekend.

Our new Leaf has a quoted range of 168 miles, up from the previous that was about 130 and the one before 110. Depending how you drive and the road type, it is actually usually about 30-40 miles less than the top number. Safe to say 168 – 30 miles is a lot of trips around Basingstoke though.

One of the things cars like the Leaf tend to do is perform energy recovery charging the battery as you brake or when descending a hill. Of course, you use that up climbing hills and accelerating quicker than it can recover.

If you have not driven an electric car you may not appreciate the difference in feel to Internal Combustion Engines (ICE). Electric typically has no gear change at all, the available torque from the motor is applied at any speed and remains consistent. In the Leaf, ECO mode alters the impact the pedal has, this certainly helps ICE drivers who are used to keeping the throttle pressed in order to maintain revs for the gear they are in. It can easily be turned off if you need to launch from a roundabout (a few of those in Basingstoke!).

The acceleration is faster at the low end 0-30 than my Subaru was, but with the constant torque of electric it means, that on a track, a geared ICE soon eats that up. Having said that there are now some very speedy electric vehicles like the Lotus Avija.

More to electric cars than driving

In looking to see whether to upgrade the Leaf or switch to another manufacturer I saw there was a trial scheme to allow the Leaf to not simply draw electricity from the grid but to also feed it back in. I have not yet fully decided on applying but wanted to share what it was.

The feedback of micro-generated electricity is very common from solar panels, but now the car’s battery can also be used as a storage facility. Charging up on cheaper electricity during low demand periods and then able to release it again when its required locally. This represents a decentralization of power generation and management in ways that would not have been possible only a few years ago. There are energy storage radiators that charge on low cost overnight and then mechanically release heat during the day, but with the car it is more connected and granular.

The renewable energy focused supplier OVO is working with Nissan, Indra and Cenex on a 2-year trial call project SCIURUS. Here a network connected charging point works in conjunction with an app for the user to say when they plan to use the car and what charge level they need.

Whilst plugged in, the charger will broker when to draw from the grid and when to feedback either Vehicle to House (V2H) or if you are not using the electricity Vehicle to Grid (V2G). There are lots of options for a quick boost if you suddenly need more or for adjusting schedules. Users are paid for any electricity fed back into the grid. There are more details and specs on the OVO website.

Really smart grids

This trial, and the ongoing growth in home-based solar generation of electricity, marks the start of a shift in how and where electricity comes from. Generating vast amounts of power in central locations and then having to transmit it, with the energy loss that occurs, around the country can be improved upon.

There are economies of scale in central placement of power stations and wind farms, so this is not an either-or situation. However, imagine a street full of electric vehicles and houses with storage batteries and solar panels, managing and smoothing out the power consumption collaboratively due to connectivity. It has to be better than filling metal tanks with dinosaur juice and burning it all off?