The realization of power

Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD



The reason that power is sexy again isn’t because everyone suddenly fell in love with half-bricks, it’s that designers finally realized en masse that energy management is not only important, it is both a core infrastructure and enabler in this new generation of intelligent systems. A system cannot truly be intelligent until it can manage its own power (or at least fulfill a set of established parameters), enabling not only energy savings but improved control of all the subsystems involved.

The difference in energy consumption between an advanced intelligent system and a legacy automated system can be significant to the point of absurdity. The amount of energy waste tolerated as recently as 20 years ago (and some would say today) would boggle the mind (and empty the wallets) of today’s facility managers. The migration to intelligent power is such a no-brainer in hindsight that it is surprising that power engineering stayed in the shadows of the industry for so long, even though it is a core enabling technology without which nothing else would function.

Luckily even the most tone-deaf person when it comes to technology usually comes around when dollars and cents are involved. Intelligent power systems, smart infrastructures, and the creation of the industrial IoT have created an environment where it is obvious to even the cheap seats that it is not only unprofitable, but uncompetitive to offer systems with less intelligence (at any level, not just in power management) than the rest.

Now that the decades-long migration of the power industry from “dumb” linear devices to digitally-controlled switchers is just about complete, the stage is set for software-defined power. In 2015 Microsoft’s Steven Boyle said that the Internet turns everything into a service, and that observation will not leave hardware infrastructure out of the change, especially one so critical to everything as power generation and energy management. It is this paradigm shift that paves the way for power to evolve into a software-defined service as well.

The addition of green energy to the mix increases the importance of, and the inevitability of, this migration. Only an intelligent grid can manage the various shifting energy providers as well as grid load-shifting and stiffening for both reliability and performance in a profitable and safe manner. The advantage is that green energy is almost by definition high tech, and the systems created to harvest and manage the energy from solar, wind, and wave can easily be made compatible with next-generation grid management.

Another big advantage of this migration is that it demands skilled jobs and skilled people to perform them at a local level. You may buy your solar cells or your wind turbines from another continent, but engineering, management, and maintenance jobs will exist at every level.