Saturday, May 5, 2018

We are launching a crowdfunding campaign

We need energy for everything in our lives. However, when a disaster or unexpected failure strikes, we're faced with many serious problems. We can’t survive without energy for long! Moreover, hundreds of millions of people around the world don’t have access to reliable and affordable energy. At Ascent Systems, we developed a solution that can serve as an uninterrupted source of clean energy on demand. No fuel, no emissions, anywhere in the world! We want to bring it to the people.
This is why we are launching a crowdfunding campaign: Autonomous Mobile Energy System.

After the Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, Puerto Rico was left without power for 8 months (see previous post)! In February 2018, earthquake in Mexico left half a million homes without power. Today we heard about the flood in Kenya and a volcano eruption in Hawaii. With the power lost it is not just lights – everything needs energy: businesses cannot function without it, schools cannot operate without computers or equipment, hospitals without hot water and so on. It costs not only money but also human lives. In Florida, people died in a senior housing because air-conditioning didn’t work. These events are becoming more frequent and more severe. Hundreds of millions of people live in a permanent state of disaster such as refugee camps, war zones, epidemics and other humanitarian crises. For them access to energy and clean water (which also requires energy) is a matter of life or death.

Today, when energy is needed on demand, practically the only solution is diesel generators, which require constant supply of fuel. There are several problems with this solution: 1) cost of fuel delivery can be high and it accumulates with the time; 2) burning fossil fuels creates emissions harmful for environment; but perhaps the most important, 3) a disruption of fuel supply, which is very likely in places where it is needed the most, will leave vulnerable people without source of energy and, in many cases, jeopardize lives.     
Unfortunately, renewable energy technologies are still expensive, intermittent in energy generation and can hardly be portable.

Drawing on our experience in space applications, we have designed an Autonomous Mobile Energy System (AMES). It combines advantages of several technologies in one module. It can fit into a standard shipping container, be delivered to any geographical location in the world, get rapidly deployed and serve as an uninterrupted source of clean energy on demand. The brain of the system is control software, which uses real-time data from the built-in sensors and machine learning algorithm for optimal decision making.

We are currently testing our technology on the research facility at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. We received support from the Government of Canada. Now we need $100,000 in order to complete the research and development and build a full-scale prototype for field testing.

People, justifiably, only believe in something new when they actually see it working. This is why we need to build a full-scale prototype, test in the field and demonstrate its efficiency. We have all ingredients for success: a great concept, space-inspired technology and a highly skilled and passionate team. We just need your help to push it through.

You can help in one or more of the following ways:
- Contribute to the campaign, any amount would be greatly appreciated
- Get the word out about Ascent and Autonomous Mobile Energy System, tell you friends, post on Facebook, twitter etc.
- You can donate in kind, or offer your expertise
- We are open to new partnerships or equity investment


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Back to Earth: Rebuilding Puerto Rico

I like talking about space and the future but real life and present day immediate problems beg to lower my gaze back to sinful Earth.

From the special IEEE Spectrum report.

On September 19 2017 as Hurricane Maria started churning through Puerto Rico, engineers of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) helplessly stared at the computer monitors that displayed real-time conditions on the grid. One after another, transmission lines were failing, and the team hastily debated their course of action. In this fragile state, the network wouldn’t be able to absorb an oversupply of power, excess voltages, or swings in frequency. They could inject test currents into the downed lines, to see which ones could be restored, or else reduce the level of electricity being put on the grid, to protect the remaining transmission system. Hour after hour, the urgency was rising.
By nightfall on the 19th, the crew knew their efforts were futile. Winds topping 280 kilometers per hour had begun toppling transmission towers, snapping concrete power poles, entangling lines, and battering power plants. The PREPA engineers at their workstations watched in dismay as small outages spread and bloomed like a virus. Finally, at 2 a.m. on 20 September, all went into total blackout. All of Puerto Rico was now in the dark.
Four hours later, Maria barreled into the island as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm tore a diagonal 160-km-long path from the island’s southeast to its northwest, demolishing tens of thousands of homes, washing away roads and bridges, stripping the limbs from lush green palms, and leaving in its wake a littered and jarringly lifeless landscape. Unofficial tallies after the storm suggest that about 1,000 people lost their lives.
In the months to come, Puerto Ricans—who are, after all, citizens of the United States, a country of unquestioned technological preeminence—would discover how breakable their modern society actually was.

Water treatment facilities couldn’t provide drinking water, markets and restaurants couldn’t refrigerate food, banks couldn’t operate ATMs or conduct transactions. Cellular and Internet access was gone. Street lights and traffic lights stopped working. Schools, hospitals, and stores closed indefinitely, factories and businesses shut down.

After the storm cleared step one was to figure out the exact scale of what had happened, all over the island. The control center was running on a diesel generator, but island-wide communications were down. That meant the usual way of gauging conditions on the grid—using automated remote terminal units at substations to collect and send data to the central supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system—didn’t work. PREPA’s grid reaches nearly every home, business, school, and hospital on the main island, as well as on the smaller islands. For months, the utility was unable to say just which customers were still in the dark. At first they relied on outage reports coming in via satellite phone and from amateur radio operators. 

Under normal conditions, Puerto Rico’s generating capacity exceeds 5,800 megawatts, but peak demand is only around 3,000 MW. About half of the electricity comes from PREPA’s 10 oil-fired power plants. Much of the rest is produced by a pair of natural-gas power plants and a coal plant. Renewables—including seven solar farms, two wind farms, and seven hydropower sites—supply just 2.4 percent of generation.
Puerto Rico's grid is lopsided: seventy percent of its power generation is in the south, while 70 percent of power demand is in the north. This is the biggest problem for PREPA. Hurricane Maria sliced straight through the middle of the vital connections between North and South. 
The transmission system consists of 4,000 km of line divided among three voltages. The backbone is a 230-kilovolt ring around the island, with two South-North corridors dividing the island into western, central, and eastern loops. This feeds an extensive 115-kV network that delivers power to population centers. Finally, a 38-kilovolt “subtransmission” network serves remote areas, as well as islands via underwater cable; it also supplies power to PREPA’s 51,000 km of distribution line.
Even four months since the hurricane the scenes of destruction were still evident. Steel lattice transmission towers lied in broken piles. High-voltage wires wraped around treetops. Where there was a wind farm, only the masts of turbines are sticking out, their blades shorn off, stuck up like fat white flagpoles. Near the beach town of Humacao, a large solar farm has been reduced to fields of broken glass and twisted metal.

Blue square tarps dot the landscape; these temporary roofs are all that shield the buildings’ occupants from the elements. After the storm, 200,000 Puerto Ricans decamped for the mainland United States in search of jobs, medical care, simply for normal life.

As of late February, the US Army Corps had brought in nearly 1,000 emergency generators. Truck-size 1-MW units went to hospitals and other critical facilities, while 25-MW units went to damaged power plants. The unit also received nearly 4,500 km of wire and more than 37,000 wood, concrete, and galvanized steel poles; another 13,000 poles were slated to arrive this spring. At first, supplies barely trickled onto the island, in part because inventories across the United States had been depleted by the disastrous 2017 hurricane season and wildfires in California.

Back in January PREPA announced a milestone: One million customers—roughly two-thirds of its residential, commercial, and industrial users—had their lights back on. The utility continues to boost generation. Most of that power however is coming from oil-fired units and a natural-gas fired plant. Other sites, though, sit idle.

If  Puerto Rico's grid recovery has been slow and contentious, modernizing the island’s electric system will likely take many years, billions of dollars, and a lot of creative thinking.

The restoration of Puerto Rico’s power grid is a timely object lesson on the vulnerabilities of modern electrical networks and on the emerging technological options for minimizing those vulnerabilities. Power experts are now not just repairing Puerto Rico’s grid but doing so with an eye toward a future that portends storms of increasing intensity and frequency. Grid operators around the world are considering the merits of microgrids, utility-scale energy storage, and distributed and renewable generation. But for Puerto Rican officials trying to rebuild their shattered electrical infrastructure, these possibilities are of much more than abstract interest.

There are a number of new ideas, and most share a common theme: a shift away from traditional centralized power plants and toward more distributed systems. For that to happen, government agencies have to agree on the plan. Microgrids, for example, still can’t connect to the main grid. The Puerto Rico Energy Commission is only now finalizing the rules to allow that to happen. But even the micro-grids are prone to disasters, although damage would be limited.

Here is the solution which could limit the scale of any disaster virtually to a point. Autonomous Mobile Energy System (AMES) can be delivered to any place which urgently needs energy, rapidly deployed and provide an uninterrupted source of clean energy regardless of external conditions 24/7.  

In case of disaster the module can be folded back into the transport configuration and withstand hurricane of category 4 and maintain its power ready to start generation again the moment the storm subsides. Ten thousand modules deployed each at the place of energy consumption would not require transmission lines therefore would not be affected by the grid being out. Moreover failure of any one module would not affect any others therefore the damage is minimized to negligible amount.

Such approach is also practically hacker- and terrorist attack-proof - a single module is not an attractive target comparing to the centralized grid or a pipeline.

And additional bonus - it does not require huge investment to start incrementally generate energy and contribute to the global problem.

Sustainable future is in distributed on-site clean energy generation.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Space Solar - the Future of Energy?

Today, there are many drivers for the development of renewable energy sources, with national defense, rampant over-population of the planet, quality of life for future generations, and concern for the environment all near the top of the list. Yet we seem content to burn the fuels we can gather from our surroundings, much like our ancestral cave-dwellers did for tens of thousands of years before “modern” man’s arrival.

There have been substantial efforts to introduce and make wider use of renewable energy, however, according to the International Energy Agency the world's share of renewable energy in 2012 was just 13.2% and according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the world's consumption of renewable energy in 2015 dropped to 12.5%. Taking into account that these figures include hydro power, which today makes majority of renewables (but has limited potential for growth) the share of solar energy is estimated at 3% or below.

Sun is the most abundant and unlimited source of energy. With the recent advances in technology and mass production solar approaches, and in some instances have reached parity with the traditional sources. Why don't we use it more widely and eliminate the need for fossil fuels completely? The reason is (and similarly for wind) is in its intermittent and unreliable nature, and their uneven availability across different geographical locations. Previously I have written about the Ascent Mobile Energy System (AMES). The module can be delivered to practically any destination, deployed and produce clean energy in autonomous mode. However, even such an advanced integrated system can be challenged to sustain uninterrupted energy production for extended period of time beyond Arctic Circle or in other locations with extreme environments.

There is a technology however which for a long time has been a subject of science fiction only. It is called Space Solar Power, or SSP. The idea of SSP in theory is simple: harvesting virtually unlimited solar energy with orbiting collectors and beaming it to Earth. Unlike terrestrial solar (or wind), the Space Solar is available any time of the day and year, is not subject to weather conditions or obstacles, and - the most important - has no geographical limitations. 

State of technology and humongous cost of its realization, combined with relatively low fuel prices, for a long time hindered its development. Now the technological gap is closing rapidly, and with the growing energy demand and all the challenges meeting it, the cost can be overcome. It became a subject of intense research in recent years and a number of countries have started testing technology in practice. 

The US, Japan, and Russia have all made investments in this area, and the space departments of Canada, Europe, and South Korea are also conducting related research.
However it is China who is expected to be the world's first country to build a practical solar power station in space according to Li Ming, a research fellow from China Academy of Space Technology.
China entered the top ranks in research of space solar power after decades of research which has significantly narrowed the gap with other leading countries.
China has undertaken the research of space solar power since 2008, with a number of major breakthroughs in wireless energy transmission achieved. According to Wang Li, another research fellow with the CAST, experts from both home and abroad agree about China's leading role in this field. Apart from the technology, the construction of the space solar-power station also needs huge investment, broad market and support from government, all three factors China can deliver, unlike other countries.
Space solar power will ease environmental and energy pressure on China, and also expected to spur the country's innovation and emerging industries.
(Source:  China Daily)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Ascent - Connecting Technologies

Previously we talked about the Future of Grid. With all the latest natural disasters - hurricanes, wild fires, earthquakes - it is time to talk about the future without grid now. Ascent Systems Technologies developed a concept of a Universal Energy Module. It combines advantages of state of the art solar technology, smart energy storage and energy booster in one integrated package. Thanks to the optimized configuration the system can fit in a small shipping container and quickly delivered to any geographical location in the world with no access to grid, such as remote communities, temporary accommodations, but especially to disaster sites in desperate need of power, heat, and hot water. Once delivered to the site, the module would automatically deploy itself to serve as a fully autonomous source of uninterrupted clean energy regardless of the time of the day or weather conditions.

Multiple modules can be combined into an array for increased capacity.  

Modules deployed in different geographical locations would be connected via intelligent network for constant monitoring of environments parameters and system performance. Welcome to energy freedom!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Ascent Adjustable Solar Mount

Solar mount with adjustable azimuth and pitch angles by Ascent Systems Technologies installed at the UBC Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability allows testing variety of solar collectors or PV modules under real conditions in a wide range of orientation angles. Counter-balance provides for easy handling.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Future of Grid, part 2 - NOT the Future We Want

Augmented Reality: An electromagnetic pulse can take down North America's electricity grid.
This article appeared in the The World If section of the July 13, 2017 Economist print edition under the headline "A flash in the sky"

ON MARCH 13th 1989 a surge of energy from the sun, from a “coronal mass ejection”, had a startling impact on Canada. Within 92 seconds, the resulting geomagnetic storm took down Quebec’s electricity grid for nine hours. It could have been worse. On July 23rd 2012 particles from a much larger solar ejection blew across the orbital path of Earth, missing it by days. Had it hit America, the resulting geomagnetic storm would have destroyed perhaps a quarter of high-voltage transformers, according to Storm Analysis Consultants in Duluth, Minnesota. Future geomagnetic storms are inevitable.
And that is not the only threat to the grid. A transformer-wrecking electromagnetic pulse (EMP) would be produced by a nuclear bomb, designed to maximise its yield of gamma rays, if detonated high up, be it tethered to a big cluster of weather balloons or carried on a satellite or missile. A midrange missile tested by North Korea on April 29th 2017 exploded 71 kilometres (44 miles) up, well above the 40km or so needed to generate an EMP.
Imagine a nuclear blast occurring somewhere above eastern Nebraska. Radiating outwards, the EMP fries electronics in southern Canada and almost all of the United States save Alaska and Hawaii, both safe below the horizon. It permanently damages the grid’s multimillion-dollar high-voltage transformers. Many are old (their average age is about 40). Some burst into flame, further damaging substations.
America runs on roughly 2,500 large transformers, most with unique designs. But only 500 or so can be built per year around the world. It typically takes a year or more to receive an ordered transformer, and that is when cranes work and lorries and locomotives can be fuelled up. Some transformers exceed 400 tonnes.
After the surge, telecom switches and internet routers are dead. Air-traffic control is down. Within a day, some shoppers in supermarkets turn to looting (many, unable to use credit and debit cards, cannot pay even if they wanted to). After two days, market shelves are bare. On the third day, backup diesel generators begin to sputter out. Though fuel cannot be pumped, siphoning from vehicles, authorised by martial law, keeps most prisons, police stations and hospitals running for another week.
With many troops overseas or tasked with deterring land grabs from opportunist foreign powers, there is only one American “peacekeeper” soldier for every 360 or so civilians. Pillaging accelerates. This leads many with needed skills to stay home to protect their families. Many of the rock climbers who help overwhelmed fire departments free tens of thousands from lifts begin to give up on day four despite the heart-wrenching banging that continues to echo through some elevator shafts.
Utilities can neither treat nor pump water or sewage. Raids on homes thought to have water become frequent and often bloody. Militias soon form to defend or seize control of swimming pools and other water sources. Streams and shovelled-out pits provide water in some areas, but sooner or later rain sweeps in faeces-ridden mud. Deaths from cholera and other diseases multiply.
As relief ships arrive, food, water filters and fuel are offloaded by hand amid chaos, but demand cannot be met even in port cities, much less inland. Where food can be grown without pumped irrigation, rural militias cluster into “aggie alliances” not keen to share with the hordes streaming out of cities. Some aggie alliances hole up in newly abandoned prisons, the better to defend scavenged crops and farm animals. The value of cash collapses along with faith in government.
The death rate picks up. Eventually, months later, about three quarters of the benighted area has power for at least ten hours a day. It would have been worse had 41 countries not dismantled transformers for reassembly in North America. (The most generous donors have to accept rolling blackouts.) Martial law ends six months after the original energy surge. Roughly 350,000 Canadians and 7m Americans have died.
A similar nightmare could happen in any rich country—grids outside America are vulnerable too. Such scenarios necessarily dip into “uncharted territory for an industrialised society”, as Thomas Popik, head of the Foundation for Resilient Societies, a think-tank in New Hampshire, puts it. But shorter blackouts suggest that things can get bad fast. Just three hours after Chile’s grid-collapsing earthquake on February 27th 2010, even relatively wealthy people began looting stuff they did not need. With electricity gone, normal rules had suddenly vanished and “out of control” emotions took over, says Roberto Machiavello, then rear-admiral and top martial-law official in Chile’s ConcepciĆ³n area.
Without soldiers at hospitals, Admiral Machiavello says, doctors would have stayed at home. Less than a week after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, many police officers opted to protect their families rather than work. Chris Ipsen, spokesman for the Emergency Management Department of Los Angeles, estimates that, with the grid down, Angelenos would be foodless in less than ten days. In poor areas, he reckons, groups would quickly form and say, “Hey, let’s go over to the mansions in Bel Air.”
In the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake in January 2010, cholera alone killed at least 10,000. Jacques Boncy, head of Haiti’s National Laboratory of Public Health, reckons that, in three months of blackout in America, faecal contamination of water would kill several million. That might be optimistic. The EMP Commission, an expert group set up by America’s Congress to study the threat, reckoned in 2008 that the first year of societal breakdown could finish off two-thirds of Americans.
A country’s electricity grid can be knocked out in other ways. One is cyber-attack. Hackers cut power to 230,000 Ukrainians in December 2015—but only for hours. Long-term damage from cyber-assaults is unlikely, says Kenneth Geers, a security expert who studied the attack.
What about terrorism? Shooting up transformers at just nine critical substations could bring down America’s grid for months, according to an analysis performed in 2013 by the Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), says its then-chairman, Jon Wellinghoff. Others think more transformers would need to be taken out. At any rate, information on which substations are critical is secret. In 2013 gunmen knocked out 17 of 21 transformers at a substation in San Jose. It was not a critical one.
The sun probably poses a greater risk of a sustained outage than hackers or saboteurs. That is one reason the EMP Commission reconvened in January 2017. Kit that protects transformers from EMP also saves them from geomagnetic storms, though the reverse is not true. George Baker, a staffer on the commission and a former boss of EMP research at the Pentagon’s Defence Threat Reduction Agency, says that critical military systems have been EMP-proofed. But other agencies, he says, have done “precious little” to safeguard civilian infrastructure. The commission will issue an updated report in September. It will be as grim as the assessment in 2008, he says.
The expense of installing surge-blockers and other EMP-proofing kit on America’s big transformers is debated. The EMP Commission’s report in 2008 reckoned $3.95bn or less would do it. Others advance higher figures. But a complete collapse of the grid could probably be prevented by protecting several hundred critical transformers for perhaps $1m each.
Yet not much is being done. Barack Obama ordered EMP protection for White House systems, but FERC, the utilities regulator, has not required EMP-proofing. Nor has the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pushed for a solution or even included EMP in official planning scenarios. (The Pentagon should handle that, DHS officials say; the Pentagon notes that civilian infrastructure is the DHS’s responsibility.) As for exactly what safeguards are or are not needed, the utilities themselves are best equipped to decide, says Brandon Wales, the DHS’s head of infrastructure analysis.
But the utilities’ industry group, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), argues that, because EMP is a matter of national security, it is the government’s job. NERC may anyway be in no rush. It took a decade to devise a vegetation-management plan after, in 2003, an Ohio power line sagged into branches and cut power to 50m north-easterners at a cost of roughly $6bn. NERC has repeatedly and successfully lobbied Congress to prevent legislation that would require EMP-proofing. That is something America, and the world, could one day regret.
This is NOT the future we want. Distributed generation with universal energy modules is the answer.

Read the previous and the following posts. 


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Installation of ITHS at UBC CIRS began


Ascent Systems Technologies achieved a significant milestone and made an important step toward its goal of creating uninterrupted source of clean energy. On May 16, 2017 it began installation of the Integrated Thermal Hydronic System (ITHS) at the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) at UBC in Vancouver. The system consists of a vacuum tube solar collector as a primary energy source, a thermal energy storage and an auxiliary energy source. The solar collector is installed on the specially designed mount attached to the rooftop platform. The unique design with the axle allows adjusting its azimuth angle and vary angle of inclination in a range from 0 degrees (horizontal) to 90 (vertical) degrees or even be flipped backwards. The integrated system will include embedded irradiation sensors and real-time environment monitoring capability. Within the next few months the system will be fully configured, after which testing will start at different angles, various environment conditions and using alternative control methods. When fully tested, brained with the advanced control algorithm developed in collaboration with the University of British Columbia, the system will be ready for deployment in the field. Thanks to the optimized system architecture it can be configured as a fully self-contained autonomous module capable of generating clean energy 24 hours 7 days a week. Fit in a small shipping container or a trailer, such a module could be delivered to practically any remote location. Once on site, it could immediately start generating energy without the need for fossil fuel or for being tied to the grid. Multiple modules deployed at various geographical locations will be connected in an intelligent grid for performance data collection and analysis as well as climate monitoring and solar mapping.

UBC CIRS - May 16, 2017.

Prof. Ryozo Nagamune (right) and his team of students helped bringing the mount to the rooftop platform.
Third from the left Mohammedreza Rostam - PhD student from Iran working on the predictive-model control for ITHS.

The tripod which is going to hold the entire structure

The tripod is going to be attached to the rooftop platform

It is not always straightforward

Solar axle is going to hold the solar frame

And now the frame is on the axle!

The frame's angle of inclination can be changed in the full range from 90 to -90 degrees.

The frame is held at the set up angle by tightening the four bolts on each side of the axle.

Finally the solar collector is on!

View from the back

You can tilt it.

It was a good day !!