Thomas Edison Salutes a New Form of Energy Storage

Since the 1920s about 2% of the world’s electrical capacity has been supplied by pumped hydro installations. These massive hydroelectric storage batteries can respond within seconds, and improve overall grid efficiency. However hydroelectric facilities can be severely site limited; and cause significant impacts on the environment.

Typical hydroelectric pumped storage facility is a large scale, environmentally intense project

Typical hydroelectric pumped storage facility is a large scale, environmentally intense project

What if we had a large storage device that could be recycled indefinitely with no lasting environmental concerns either? Furthermore, what if something else could be used instead of water, with little environmental impact?

Such a concept is called the Advanced Rail Energy Storage system (ARES); and a 50 MW utility-size system is now in operation in southern Nevada. Check it out. The system is also much cheaper than traditional pumped hydro facilities.

An ARES “shuttle train”

An ARES “shuttle train”

ARES energy storage technology employs a fleet of electric traction drive shuttle-trains, operating on a closed low-friction automated steel rail network to transport a field of heavy masses [rocks, concrete, etc.] between two storage yards at different elevations.

During periods where excess energy is available on the grid, ARES shuttle-trains draw electricity from the grid, which powers their individual axle-drive motors, as they transport a continuous flow of masses (rock/concrete) uphill against the force of gravity to an upper storage yard. When the grid requires energy to meet periods of high demand, this process is reversed. The shuttle-trains provide a continuous flow of masses returning to the lower storage yard with their motors operating as generators, converting the potential energy of the mass’s elevation back into electricity in a highly efficient process.

At the Nevada site, shuttle trains move up and down a change of about 3,000 feet. At the end of the system’s 40-year lifetime, the rails are removed followed by regrading of the land back to original conditions—no lasting environmental impacts. Think about this … large wind turbines could also supply the excess energy to charge up this energy storage system!

Edison’s original electric storage batteries can be considered tiny portable pumped hydro facilities. He realized his electric utility equipment would function more efficiently if it could run all the time, even with the daily ups and downs of electric demand. Energy storage would make it possible to charge batteries for use later during the day … in electric vehicles. Certainly, Edison would like this innovative ARES concept!

Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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Thomas Edison Would Love Artificial Intelligence

Mention artificial intelligence and folks automatically think robots … sometimes true but certainly not always. It is our desire to associate something physical with this highly mathematical science. Artificial intelligence (AI) is the intelligence exhibited by machines or software. It is also the name of the academic field which studies how to create computers and computer software that are capable of intelligent behavior.

Visualizing the AI Thing

Visualizing the AI Thing

It’s not all that new, harking back to the 1950s; modern versions of it being built within high level chess games, medical diagnostic programs and trouble-shooting fixes. Anyone who has read through automotive repair manuals negotiating a series of questions to funnel down to a likely problem is actually using a common form of AI known as an “expert system”

Neural networks mimic complex systems.Riding a bike is a neural network function-balance for a biped walking robot is another. Seeing trends in massive data streams is another application; as are classifying problems into similar basic categories/groups.

Some common application families under the AI umbrella

Some common application families under the AI umbrella

The main goals of artificial intelligence include reasoning, knowledge, planning, learning, natural language processing (communication), perception and the ability to move and manipulate objects. Just a quick smattering of the kinds of applications AI can be used for:

  • Pattern recognition/classification
  • Optimization problems
  • Image processing
  • Simulation
  • Autonomous control of aerial vehicles
  • Pilotless cars/vehicles
  • Missile navigation
  • Smart homes/smart utility systems
  • Robotic control and mobility
  • Advanced learning techniques
  • Stock market simulation/modeling

When Edison codified how to transform raw ideas into marketable products through what became R&D labs, his process, composed of discrete steps (sub-processes) was actually an expert system. In fact, this versatile expert system soon spread all over the world, changing forever the business community and its realization of what technology driven product development could do for a country’s standards of living … what we recognize today as “progress”. GE immortalized this in their 1950’s corporate tagline …”progress is our most important product.” Way to go, Tom!

Keep your eyes on AI and be patient. It will change the world and how we do many things.

Thomas Edison said, “If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves …”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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Thomas Edison Pioneered Team-based Innovation

The very notion of “innovation” traces back to when Edison perfected his invention factory, later to morph into commercial R&D labs, team-based problem solving—a seismic and permanent worldwide economic shift .

Edison enjoying a meal with one of his teams at his legendary West Orange Labs.

Edison enjoying a meal with one of his teams at his legendary West Orange Labs.

Of all he invented, this was his most significant achievement. Before Edison died in 1931, every major corporation adopted this powerful innovation tool; and it remains fundamental to this day, whether a company does it in their own labs or joins in alliance with other labs.

R&D labs gave birth to legions of project managers who today manage and lead new product development teams all over the world-a process that creates jobs and whole new industries, and continually disrupts the status quo, the very heart beat of capitalism. It has been said of Edison that his life’s work has probably been responsible for one-fourth of all the jobs on planet Earth today; as well as account for 10% of the annual world economy … about $6 trillion.

Teams like this developed many of the new innovations at West Orange

Teams like this developed many of the new innovations at West Orange

General Electric had a powerful slogan back in the 1950s-“Progress is our most important product”. Edison is the fellow, in 1887, who unified progress with team-based innovation-exactly what we teach our children in school in STEM classes today. Thanks Tom!

Thomas Edison said, “I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others… I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent …”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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