Mobile Computing Technology to Support Renewables Demand
As renewable energy investment and infrastructure grow, the energy sector must use connected, adaptable, and rugged technology to build and service renewable energy deployments.
The UN predicts that renewable energy could provide 65% of the world’s total energy supply by 2030. Renewable energy is also the cheapest power option in many parts of the world. In fact, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reports that almost two-thirds, or 163 gigawatts (GW), of renewable power installed in 2021 had lower costs than the world’s cheapest coal-fired option. IRENA estimated that, given the high fossil fuel prices, renewable energy infrastructure deployed in 2021 saved roughly $55 billion in global energy generation costs in 2022.
Renewable energy. Image used courtesy of Pixabay
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is expected to boost the renewable energy sector in the coming year. With this initiative, the White House expects to decrease U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by the end of 2023—a reduction of about one gigaton.
Renewable Energy Demand
The corporate sector is also taking advantage of renewable energy opportunities. More than 380 global businesses committed to 100% clean electricity through the RE100 renewable electricity initiative in 2022. While large U.S. corporations—such as Amazon and Verizon—continue to represent the largest buyers of clean energy, small and mid-sized companies are also increasing investments.
Accounting for more than 30% of total U.S. energy consumption, the increase in corporate-based renewable energy demand will test the sector’s ability to service a large portion of the nation’s energy users.
Residential renewable energy demand is also rising quickly, with residential solar energy deployments up 35% in 2022. With unpredictable, weather-driven power outages increasing across the country, households want and need more reliable energy sources. To help fight infrastructure costs, the Inflation Reduction Act adds $369 billion in climate-related programs and incentives, including residential deployments. Residents can expect to get back 30% of the cost of a home solar and battery storage system through 2032. This financial incentive—coupled with recent prolonged outages like those caused by Winter Storm Elliot—could cause additional spikes in this type of renewable energy demand.
Renewable Energy Workforce Challenge
However, renewable energy presents unique challenges for the energy sector. To start, infrastructure, such as wind turbines, takes up a lot of space. The average 2-megawatt wind turbine requires 1.5 acres of land. They can be over 400 feet tall on land and 500 feet tall when offshore, and turbines can have a diameter of over 360 feet. That’s taller than the Statue of Liberty and longer than a football field. At that size, you can’t install a wind turbine in a city or neighborhood. So, most are built offshore or in remote areas to minimize disruption.
Wind turbines. Image used courtesy of Pixabay
Similar to other energy sources, renewable infrastructure requires service and maintenance. Keeping with wind turbines, while they may look simple on the outside, inside they have computers and sensors to track energy collection, keep the turbine facing the wind, and monitor for service needs. Utility workers need special technology to run software and data analysis tools to monitor the internal conditions of the turbine and address maintenance issues.
As a result, utility workers can’t use just any laptop or tablet to service this remote and highly technical infrastructure. It may take several hours to travel to a wind or solar farm. And once on location, they often work long shifts in fluctuating weather conditions. Workers don’t have time to return to the office to get a missing blueprint or charge their laptops in the middle of the day. These critical workers need reliable devices that offer the same connectivity, communication, functionality, and accessibility as the computer sitting on a desk in an office.
Considering these challenges, utility workers ask these questions of their technology: Can the solution withstand a drop from an elevated work platform? Does it have long battery life? Can the device support the necessary software? Can I use it in freezing rain or extreme heat without it shutting down? Can I use the screen while wearing gloves? Can I quickly submit information from a remote location and receive feedback in real time from the main office?
Consumer-grade devices rarely meet these requirements, presenting a headache for field service workers and utility teams. While the upfront cost to deploy consumer-grade solutions may be lower, the value quickly diminishes when workers are out of range, out of computing power, in harsh weather conditions, or out of commission due to device failure. However, rugged solutions are now powered with next-gen processors and graphics to boost computing capabilities, shedding the previous notion that they restrict performance. This gives workers the ability to process large amounts of data, images, and video feed in real time. They also have multiple cellular and connectivity options to minimize network disruptions during the maintenance process.
Rugged Mobile Technology
Investment in renewable energy today doesn’t just help reach 2023 goals and accountability metrics. It pushes our communities, countries, and the global population toward a cleaner, more sustainable energy ecosystem.
The utility industry must equip frontline workers with technology solutions that meet their unique needs—like enhanced connectivity, durability, and modularity. Technology creators must innovate based on these specialized use cases and customer experiences. A partnership between these two industries streamlines the implementation of services, software applications, and hardware needs. With compatible and customizable mobile technology, utility workers will have everything they need to be successful in demanding renewable environments. Incorporating the right mobile technology also lowers long-term costs for utility companies and increases productivity.