Innovations in Smart Energy: Using IT and Other Advances to Curb Runaway Dependence on Fossil Fuels

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wireless wide area network (WAN) can help utilities with real-time load control of the power grid. Jaime says EV ownership will likely be clustered in affluent neighborhoods, at least initially, which could create unforeseen energy demands with the potential to overload the nearest transformer. Jaime also described an anticipated “charger availability issue” that would require EV owners to make reservations at a charging station. Wireless WAN technology could be used to both to map EVs and charging stations and provide needed data for an EV management system. “The integration of these things into the EV itself is going to be critical to the adoption of these technologies,” Jaime said.

Eric Giler, the CEO of Watertown, MA-based WiTricity, gave a mesmerizing presentation of the company’s “wireless electricity” technology, which uses magnetic induction to transmit electricity without wires between two coils that are tuned to the same resonant frequency. In demonstrating the technology, Giler said it represents a safer and easier way to charge electric vehicles, with the potential of eliminating 17 barrels of imported oil each year, and between 1.5 and 4.7 tons of carbon dioxide annually. The technology was conceived by MIT assistant professor of physics Marin Soljačić, who won a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 2008 for his work in this field.

The technology was impressive, but Smarr, who also is a co-principal investigator on the National Science Foundation’s GreenLight project, warned during his keynote talk that such innovations in smart energy might not come rapidly enough to staunch the unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide that are gushing into the atmosphere from the worldwide combustion of fossil fuels. Curbing CO2 emissions will require “heroic efforts,” Smarr said, adding, “nothing indicates to me that we have the will to do that.”

In charting the confluence of global forces that are shaping our childrens’ future, Smarr says we’re heading into an alarming nexus of climate and energy problems at a time when human beings also are increasing the population of the planet by 50 percent. Mindful of his diverse audience, Smarr concluded by thoughtfully recommending two contrasting books on the subjects of energy, carbon dioxide, and the future of our planet. For the technically minded, David JC MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air;” and for a more popular view, Thomas L. Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded.”

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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