Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The History of Innovation

It is important to review history to understand how radical innovation works with technology to transform people's perception and create new previously unexpected opportunities. In the recent post I talked about how an evolution of engine made it possible an evolution of the modern aviation. But there is another, crucial component of an aircraft, without which the machine would be useless - its control. It is what allows an airplane to ascent, change direction, stay in flight and safely land. Ability to control an airplane was in fact a real innovation of Wright brothers - and not the invention of an airplane as many may believe.

      Interestingly, in a speech to the Aero Club of France, 5 November 1908 Wilbur Wright admitted: "I confess that in 1901, I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years. . . . Ever since, I have distrusted myself and avoided all predictions". How things change! The next year already Wrights became engaged in the legal fight for establishing their priority of the first controlled flight and anything related to it. Their opponents derisively suggested that if someone jumped in the air and waved his arms, the Wrights would sue him ...

Today we are talking about the "Internet of Things" (IOT). The term was was coined in 1999, but Mark Weiser at Xerox PARC with John Seely Brown led visionary research in the late 1980's on what is now called the IOT and used the term "ubiquitous computing" as the third generation of computing. Their paper, "The Computer for the 21st Century", was published in the September 1991 issue of Scientific American. In the early 1990's, Steelcase from Grand Rapids, Michigan built and patented several inventions of what is now called IOT before becoming a charter founding member of the M.I.T. consortium called "Things That Think" (TTT) created in 1995. Start-up companies such as Echelon were founded in the early 1990's to commercialize IOT technology. GE changed their business model to a manufacturing/service model and began building products with embedded networked "smarts" in the 1990's and recently identified the "industrial Internet" as a $32 trillion opportunity. GM launched OnStar(tm) in the 1990's. IBM now promotes the concept of  "smart planet".

Today radical innovations are built with a new fourth generation of innovation theory and practice that replaces the linear stage model with an iterative nonlinear model. The linear model is only effective for incremental innovations within the dominant design (DD) that governs an industry or market. 4G creates a new dominant design. It was first described in the 1998 book, Fourth Generation R&D.  The USA Department of Energy is now practicing these principles which is Innovation Hubs. A similar concept is utilized in the Research and Innovation Centre concept at the newest Russian University Slolkovo Tech  set up by M.I.T. Economics changes with 4G to replace neoclassical and Keynesian economics with "Innovation Economics". 4G changes financial accounting to measure both tangible and intangible capital. 4G is based on capabilities which are built as people garner knowledge, tools, technologies and processes. It is a natural extension of the principles exercised by Systems Architecture.

Systems Architecture is concerned with formal tools and methods to define the elements and their interfaces of complex, large-scale technical and non-technical systems. It helps to structure and link the capabilities to build new technologies, organizations, business models and infrastructures.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Ascent and New Mobility

A couple of interesting modular concepts came across my view recently - accidentally, from the opposite parts of the globe.

One is Coodo. Simple, elegant, functional shape, multipurpose use and modular capability attracted my attention.

The Slovenian designers claim the module can withstand from -40C to +50C. I would be interested to know how they are going to provide that given large - although unarguably attractive - window surface area. I would like to know also what source of energy they use to maintain comfort and allow all modern conveniences from shower to TV and internet. I hope it is not a diesel engine and not the propane.

Ascent Systems offers a solution - compact and "green". It's Aero-Solar technology uses solar thermal energy as the main source with high-capacity ultra-compact thermal storage and super-efficient thermal booster. It reduces energy consumption by up to 80%, and because it requires very little electricity to operate, it can also be provided by solar PV modules integrated into the system making completely autonomous.


Another interesting concept is Romotow. This is a sleek foldable trailer, designed by the New Zeeland team from W2 Limited.

It can definitely benefit from utilizing the Ascent's technology to provide for its energy needs.


Moreover, I can picture it being used to house a packaged Aero-Solar configuration to provide energy for remote locations with no access to the grid or other sources of energy, like for example heli skiing camps.

And why not to attach it to electric tow vehicle and make the full thing totally "green" ?    Connecting technologies in action !

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Connecting Technologies - Part 2: Aero-Solar System

In the previous post we talked about how connecting technologies can create a new quality on the example of a turbofan engine which made possible modern commercial aviation.

I dare to claim that the same is just about going to happen with integrated building energy technology.
Let's look for example at today's solar thermal systems. Electromagnetic energy of solar radiation is captured by solar collectors, transformed into thermal energy of the heated core, and passed to the domestic hot water system via heat exchanger. The pump circulates the water in the system passing this thermal energy to the storage.

It would be nice if the sun would never set and we could collect its "free" energy 24 hours a day. As we all know, this is not the case. The stubborn sun doesn't want to shine all day. Worse even, it circles across the sky, it rises and sets at different time in winter and summer, not even talking about clouds and other nature phenomena, making it not possible to consistently collect energy during the day. At the best, we can count on taking the most of it but for one brief moment when the sun is directly above the collector (and even then, only if we tilt it at the right angle - which is a subject of a separate discussion).  Therefore the energy we can in theory collect during the day would have a profile something like the one shown here in dotted line. In practice, due to the delayed heat loss it might be something like a solid orange line.

However, what if the actual demand for hot water is not when we have the most energy available?
And indeed the typical household hot water demand is almost inverted to the energy profile. In the morning we wake up, take a shower, make breakfast and go to work. There is a morning spike in hot water consumption.  We usually not home during the day - at work, at school and other business - thus the consumption through mid-day is near-zero. Then we come home, we have a dinner, we turn on the dishwasher machine, we do laundry, take a bath - another, larger spike in hot water consumption.

Comparing both graphs, one can easily see that peaks of one correspond to the troughs of another! Classical economics question: how to match supply and demand?
One solution is to accumulate the excess energy when we have the peak of its availability and use it when we don't have enough, say in the evening. Sure, a hot water storage tank may do the work. This is what is used in almost all domestic hot water systems, regardless of the source of energy, either conventional gas or electric heater or alternative, like solar or geothermal. Speaking of the latter, this can be a consistent source of energy (shown in the solid black line on the previous graph), since the temperature under ground does not depend on the sun position or the weather - a couple of meters down from the surface it is practically constant throughout the year. The problem is in order to obtain enough energy, it requires drilling, which is often not possible in the urban conditions, sometimes not allowed for environmental reasons and is always expensive.

Back to solar. Many locations in Canada enjoy abundance of solar radiation, especially in summer.

Solar thermal system, on average, is the most cost-effective renewable system. It provides much higher efficiency than solar photovoltaic systems (the latter involves conversion of solar radiation into electrical energy, and any conversion means a loss of efficiency). It would not come as a surprise however, that  due to shorter days and lower sun, the energy coming from sun in winter is much less than in summer. If we want to match the summer peak demand, an example of this kind of energy balance over 12 months might look something like the graph below.

But we also want to take shower in winter - may be even more than in summer! How we should always match the demand? Of course, we can add more solar collectors, increasing the total energy collected to the point when we match the peak demand in the worst winter time. Then the energy balance may look something like on the next graph.

One can easily see that even if we manage to match the peak demand for any given moment, for the most part we collect much more energy than we are able to use, so we will need to dissipate (dump) it. Overcapacity is not a very sustainable way of building sustainable system, is it? Not even talking about additional cost for extra-collectors and, in most cases, simply impossibility to allocate a large enough area which would be required to accommodate that many collectors.        

We want to size the solar thermal system in such a way so to collect energy when we have an excess of it comparing to the demand to be stored and used when there will be lack (or absence) of the usable solar radiation. But how to choose the right storage capacity?  
A high-capacity thermal storage capable to accumulate large amount of thermal energy and be efficient enough not to loose it quickly, may require a large super insulated tank, ideally underground, which may be impractical or otherwise expensive.

The answer comes again in the form of integrated system. Air-to-water heat pumps (a.k.a. active thermal exchange) are becoming more and more efficient reaching COP 5-6 and more, meaning they can generate 5-6 times more energy than they consume. Combined with the solar thermal collector and high-capacity and low-loss thermal storage, controlled by the program using adaptive algorithm, this integrated system can satisfy demand at any time cost effectively, with high reliability, requiring little physical space, and using no fossil fuel.   

Ascent Systems Technologies, with support from National Research Council of Canada, has developed a program called ASPA (Aero-Solar Predictive Algorithm). It does exactly that - automatically chooses the most optimal parameters of the integrated hydronic system given the location and the actual demand.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Connecting Technologies case

Connecting different technologies can create a new synergetic quality.  

One notable example from the area which is familiar to me. The advent of aviation began with the first brave attempts of winged flight.

But only the connecting these flying machines with a propeller attached to a piston engine and finding a way to control it made it possible its evolution to the point of aviation becoming widely used both in commercial and military applications. 
By the end of World War II however the piston-engine propeller driven aircraft have reached their limit of efficiency and hit the speed barrier.

From the ancient times people knew there was another way of propelling the craft, which would allow reach practically any speed - rocket flight. It had one significant flow though - the thirsty rocket would quickly run out of fuel, limiting its application and preventing from commercial use.     

Neither propeller-driven nor rocket-driven aircraft could do more without a breakthrough.
New breakthrough came n the form of integration of both in one - turbofan engine! Exhaust gas from the jet is used to rotate the turbine, and the fan coaxial with turbine compresses the air improving the combustion. A portion of the incoming air goes into the combustion chamber. The remainder passes through a fan, or low-pressure compressor, and is ejected directly as a "cold" jet or mixed with the gas-generator exhaust to produce a "hot" jet. The objective of this sort of bypass system is to increase thrust without increasing fuel consumption.

Thus the integration of a propeller (fan) and a jet produced a completely new quality - the engine which is both fuel efficient and allows to achieve much higher speed. Most of commercial aircraft today use turbofan engines.