No matter how we get power, be it from water, sun, or fossil fuel, we need to use it wisely and efficiently.
Alternative energy sources are the buzz right now, with developers trying to generate power using sources from fuel cells to wind power to waste heat and motion. However, how energy is generated is only one part of the equation. How that energy is used, no matter how exotic the generation method, is as important—if not more so—to an application as how the power got there.
For example, according to a study commissioned by Advanced Micro Devices, U.S. data centers and their associated infrastructure consumed 5,000,000 kilowatts of energy, the equivalent of five 1,000-megawatt power plants.
That isn't to say that new methods shouldn't be developed. A new approach such as the MIT engine-on-a-chip microturbine power generator is a perfect example of an alternative energy technology with a great deal of promise.
Improving the performance of existing power technologies is also a great way to improve the situation. For example, Brookhaven Lab scientists recently discovered that gold clusters stabilize platinum electrocatalysts in fuel cells, paving the way for improved devices for vehicle applications where start-and-stop operation can cause catalyst deterioration.
However, an efficient system maximizes gains made at the generation and storage end. Recent devices such as the CAR2500 1U-high ac/dc rack-mount front-end rectifier from Cherokee (Tustin, CA) can deliver up to 2,500 W with an operating efficiency as high as 92%. The system's efficiency leads directly to power density and thermal management improvements.
Another promising new area in alternative power involves harvesting the waste energy in a system. EPAD Energy Harvesting Modules from Advanced Linear Devices (Sunnyvale, CA) capture, accumulate, and store power from a variety of energy sources. The energy can come from a low-level source, such as a small solar cell, or waste energy, such as vibration and heat.
But the bottom line is that we need to address every facet of power, from sources to storage to management to utilization, if we are to continue to reduce our energy consumption.