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Energy scope lags on storage

Tuesday 28th February 2012

As Scotland and England vie for a $52bn offshore-wind future and Scottish Power takes a multi-million write down on its Longannet power station, baulking at the £1.5m cost for post-combustion amine capture retrofitting;
the US Air Force publishes "Energy Horizons: United States Air Force Energy Science & Technology Vision 2011-2026." Its graphics are going to found in many of the talks you may attend in 2012.

In a nutshell the graphics and tables are going to appear in a lot of 2012 technology presentation and the  report which defines energy as "much more than the lifeblood of our economy is one of those must have PDFs.

 The EnergyHorizons vision promises mission accomplishment, military flexibility, including efficiency in peacetime operations, independence of action during humanitarian, disaster relief, and military superiority during conflict."

Accordingly the report is as sweeping as the space horizon it considers. From propulsion technolgy to  moving compulsively to space as the ultimate high ground, with future technologies emerging to the best efficiencies for the Condor supercomputer and the future cyber infrastructure.

Space is the "ultimate high ground," providing access to every part of the globe, including denied areas, says the report. "Space also has the unique characteristic that once space assets reach space, they require comparatively small amounts of energy to perform their mission, much of which is renewable." 

(Below left) An artist's concept of what JAXA's Space Solar Power System might look like if it used laser transmission to beam solar power to Earth. Below right a radioisotope thermoelectric generator.


A number of desirable high-tech advances are mentioned. The Air Force is currently limited to 27kW arrays for satellite power, and sees that more power is required for future space missions. In terms of nuclear power in space, several satellite systems have been energised by Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTG) devices, dubbed space or nuclear batteries.

This source provides consistent power, and at a much higher energy and power density than current technologies.

Work on small modular nuclear reactors on Earth is also highlighted. "While the implementation of such a technology should be weighed heavily against potential catastrophic outcomes, many investments into small modular reactors can be leveraged for space-based systems. As these nuclear power plants decrease in size, their utility on board space-based assets increases."

"Space-to-space power beaming" could be transformational with an energy-beaming benefit for the military powering sets of fractionated, distributed satellite systems enabling smaller, more survivable and capable spacecraft than currently availble.

In addition to improvements from computer architecture, packaging, and system integration, much can begained by considering the interplay of algorithms and software with the underlying hardware and the software architecture itself.The Cloud is considered for agility and resilience. Interestingly the Grid is secure and smart mid FY16-20 but only becomes robust FY 21-25.

The 500 Teraflop ―Condor supercomputer at the Air Force Research Laboratory is an example where achieving such balance can deliver order of magnitude energy efficiency improvements.

By combining 1716 Sony Playstation 3‘s and 176 Nvidia GP graphical processing units, system take on a variety of compute intensive analytic problems, sustaining over 50% of its peak performance,dissipating only 257KW.

However, other applications needing a higher ratio of communications to computations likely should run elsewhere. Case studies have repeatedly shown that mismatches between mission applications, algorithms, and architectures can lead to gross inefficiencies, sometimes causing greater than 100 fold increases in runtimes. There is also an interesting caveat on Cyber Energy and Cultural issue with human trust in machines from FY16 onwards


The embedded nature of much mission-oriented computing poses additional technical challenges for energy storage and generation from renewable sources. Nanotechnology advances leading to super-
capacitors could dramatically extend mission capability and help meet tight size and weight constraints.


Mission effectiveness could also be improved by harvesting energy during the mission to extend battery lifetimes. Another key step is making the cyber domain and mission managers aware of mission critical items, including the energy status of all mission essential activities and alternative courses of action to achieve the mission, while conforming to energy constraints.

Nanotechnology, superconducting and quantum computing are all entitled future energy "enablers" but if without energy efficient storage,  it's still a very much hand to mouth power system. 

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