Over the past two years, one clear issue has been driving much of the innovation in the automation sector. That issue is energy — as it relates to alternative energy sources and energy efficiency.
I have heard some people say the recession gave industry suppliers the time to concentrate on these innovations since the old standbys had slowed down so significantly or that federal incentives created this boost artificially. But I don’t think either of those rationalizations represents a significant reason.
I say this because, as an editor, I was getting inundated with information about new or pending products related to alternative energy sources and energy efficiency more than a year before the industrial economy fell off the cliff in late 2008. While many of these early announcements focused on products for the wind and solar industries, just as many — if not more — focused on energy efficiencies and energy harvesting.
Among those early announcements were Siemens’ regenerative drives, ABB’s energy harvesting sensors, and Rockwell Automation’s energy management software to name a few.
This push toward efficiency and alternative sources of power for automation and control systems continues. Some of the more recent announcements include:
- Linear Technologies’ LTC3105 synchronous boost converter, which operates over an input range of 0.2 to 5V, making it useful for harvesting energy from high impedance alternative power sources, including photovoltaic cells, thermoelectric generators and fuel cells. See news item here.
- Kollmorgen’s new hybrid Power Generation System designed to deliver power at the desired voltage and modularity to adapt to evolving commercial and military vehicle upgrades. See news item here.
- Eaton’s launch of its S-Max Solar Inverter Series that converts sunlight into clean energy for use in residential, commercial, industrial and utility sites. See news item here.
- Virginia Tech’s Lumenhaus, an 800-sq-ft energy-optimized “smart” home that leverages an active system of motion controls to minimize the overall HVAC load on the house. See news item here.
- Wago’s 758 series IPCs managing energy from 500+ square meters of PV panels and 11 tons of batteries aboard a solar-powered boat. See news item here.
Looking back on nearly three years of concentrated industry focus on these types of product developments and applications leads me to think that it’s not extra time on suppliers’ hands or government incentives driving this. Getting this level of cross-industry concerted effort off the ground requires one thing — customer demand.
For continued economic viability reasons and a generally smarter approach to resource management, more and more companies are realizing they have to pay close attention to their energy costs. Energy may be cheap again today, but the spikes we saw less than two years ago are still fresh in most businesses’ minds — and no one believes that the relatively inexpensive energy we’re enjoying now is here to stay once the global economy starts heating up again.
The automation and controls industry, as well as the industries they largely serve, are not commonly populated by tree huggers. They are, however, rife with folks who, once they see the advantages of a new approach, are quick to catch on to it. I think that’s the real story behind this continuing upsurge in interest for alternative energy sources and energy efficient technologies.