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Power AI Operating Systems Software The Almighty Buck Technology

Can An 'OS For Electricity' Double the Efficiency of the Grid? (vox.com) 146

New submitter mesterha shares an "interesting article [from Vox] on how to optimize our use of electricity": Waste on the grid is the result of poor power quality, which can be ameliorated through digital control. Real-time measurement makes that possible. 3DFS technology, which the company conceives of as an "operating system for electricity," can not only track what's happening on the electricity sine wave from nanosecond to nanosecond, it can correct the sine wave from microsecond to microsecond, perfectly adapting it to the load it serves, eliminating waste." "They claim energy reduction of around 15% but anticipate their AI tuning can get eventually get 30%," writes Slashdot reader mesterha. "Seems too good to be true, but it has the support of publications like Popular Mechanics." [3DFS won one of Popular Mechanics' "breakthrough awards" in 2017.]

Can An 'OS For Electricity' Double the Efficiency of the Grid?

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  • by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Thursday June 07, 2018 @10:13PM (#56747056)

    it's fun to read, but not terribly rigorous.

    • Just what I was thinking.

      Popular Mechanics is a content provider.

      • Popular Science is even better. Remember how the Rolamite was going revolutionize a bunch of stuff, due to its low-friction operation? Or how the Rovac was going to make the need for refrigerant fluids go away, in air conditioners?

        Not so much, as it turns out.

        https://duckduckgo.com/?q=popular.science+rolamite

        https://duckduckgo.com/?q=popular.science+rovac

    • Getting on the cover of popular science or popular mechanics is usually the kiss of death.

      Still waiting for the NUTCRACKER VTOL that they claimed would be all the rage

      https://i.pinimg.com/originals... [pinimg.com]

      or the Helicopter RV
      https://i.pinimg.com/736x/36/f... [pinimg.com]

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Thursday June 07, 2018 @10:38PM (#56747154)

      The root problem is mostly cheap/crappy industrial AC motors. Replace them with variable speed DC motors and the reactive load mostly goes away. The new motors will pay for themselves in a few years with lower energy bills.

      • You know.. my initial internal reaction to reading what you wrote (half-life: about, say, 3 minutes) was to think to myself "That's a nutty idea, 3-phase industrial motors are a mature technology, very simple comparatively speaking, have a long lifespan, why should they change them for something more complicated?", but thereafter I thought to myself "..but while they are in fact a 'mature technology', that also implies they're a very old technology, and while elegantly simple in design, they were so because
      • The problem is not new, and the solutions are not new either. Sounds like yet another entrepreneur/innovator doing what otehr people are already doing. This is some of the benefits of smart grid technology, being able to monitor and check for problems with electricity distribution (phases not aligned or unbalanced, voltage sagging, etc). And in the smart grid there are already several "operating sytems", a complete B.S. term that has no actual meaning outside of marketing.

    • Popular Mechanics? Sweet, this will be a world changer in no time, just like the space planes we had 20 years ago, the robots that have been everywhere for decades, and the military-grade nanomaterials that have already changed every aspect of our everyday lives. It's a fun read sometimes, but PM is not exactly a hotbed for real science and accurate predictions of the immediate future.
    • The VOX link is quite good, for a more in depth look at the tech.

  • Drop in a couple of Voodoo 2 cards and run them on your electrical grid in SLI mode to get clean power!
  • They will just use it as an excuse to triple the cost. Did phone bills get cheaper? Did bandwidth get cheaper? Did rent get cheaper?

    No.

    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

      My landline was pretty cheap. Feature for feature, phone bills definitely got cheaper from 1980 to 2018.

    • by pubwvj ( 1045960 )

      Actually, yes, phone bills and bandwidth have gotten a LOT cheaper. Rent not so much but that is a finite physical world resource which is quite different than energy or information resources. Moore's Law doesn't apply to apartments, so far.

    • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Friday June 08, 2018 @02:26AM (#56747762) Journal

      Ten years ago we charged $2.50/GB and we were cheap. My old business partner still has the page up:
      http://xcite.net/hosting/ [xcite.net]

      Current. Pricing is about 8 cents / GB.

      When I was a kid long distance calls were about $1/minute. That was the "fair, minimal profit" price set by the government. Then long distance rates were deregulated and Sprint dropped their price to 10 cents per minute - a 90% reduction in price right away. Current pricing is about a penny per minute, unless you pay $30 for unlimited minutes.

      Whoever you've been listening to, whoever has been giving you ideas about how the economy works, has clearly been lying to you, telling you the exact opposite of the truth. Might be time to get some new sources of information.

      • Yea but look at your per month average expenditure on your phone bill now vs. then.

        • My current phone bill is $35/month. That's an all-inclusive price, I don't pay $1-$2 per minute for long distance like I did in 1980. Don't pay extra for call waiting, caller ID, etc. Of course that also includes internet; I'm posting this on my phone.

          That's less than half of the *minimum* you could pay in 1980, if you didn't make any long distance calls. Calls from one side of Dallas to other were long distance. The average cost for basic phone service, without any long distance, caller ID, call waiting,

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Whoever you've been listening to, whoever has been giving you ideas about how the economy works, has clearly been lying to you, telling you the exact opposite of the truth. Might be time to get some new sources of information.

        Economy only works for the customer if there is competition. Is there any competition over the power grid?

        • by green1 ( 322787 )

          Our government claims our power grid has "competition". Of course that doesn't mean multiple sets of wires exist that you can switch between. It just means that they added a layer of bureaucracy on top of it, so now you pay 2 companies instead of 1. You pay the "wires service provider" AND the "electricity retailer". Surprisingly bills did not go down when they added "competition" in this way....

  • by quenda ( 644621 ) on Thursday June 07, 2018 @10:39PM (#56747158)

    ... so I'm leaning towards a "no" answer.

    • If you would be sure about the 90-95% efficiently then there would be no need to be "leaning towards" the infeasibility of doubling that efficiency, isn't it?
      • by quenda ( 644621 )

        If you would be sure about the 90-95% efficiently then there would be no need to be "leaning towards" the infeasibility of doubling that efficiency, isn't it?

        What do you call it when a human can't pass the Turing test?

      • From a quick skim it sounds like when they say "double the efficiency" they actually mean "halve the losses". My first impulse is to blame the reporters for that confusion, but it's also possible marketing-weasels were involved.

    • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Friday June 08, 2018 @06:30AM (#56748338)

      ... so I'm leaning towards a "no" answer.

      Not even close. Transmission lines are about 90-95% efficient.

      Grids on the other hand have on top of that: multiple stages of transformers, switch rooms, losses through reactive power, losses due to harmonics, slow reaction to load changes and shifts, not to mention major losses due to backfeeding from end users generation like solar through systems that were designed to be efficient feeding the other direction.

      The answer is still no, but that's because they're playing buzzword bingo rather than just calling it an intelligent control system. Not everything needs "an OS" or "AI".

      • not to mention major losses due to backfeeding from end users generation like solar through systems that were designed to be efficient feeding the other direction.
        That is nonsense.
        The grid does not know if you:
        a) switch of your AC, or
        b) feed in 2kW with your solar panel

        A) and b) look exactly the same.

        • The grid does not know if you:
          a) switch of your AC, or
          b) feed in 2kW with your solar panel

          A) and b) look exactly the same.

          I didn't say they don't look the same. I said there's efficiency problems. The grid most definitely does care if it's 500kVA transformer is powering 50 AC units, or if it is powering 5. There are big differences in electrical efficiency especially at the lower power when you start getting dominated by iron losses.

          But back to solar power. It may be a small efficiency problem for you if all your customers turn off loads, but it becomes a big problem if all of them backfeed 2kW into the system. Power transform

          • It may be a small efficiency problem for you if all your customers turn off loads, but it becomes a big problem if all of them backfeed 2kW into the system.
            No it is no problem: it is EXACT the same thing.

            Power transformers typically have been compensated to work efficiently in one direction only.
            Yes and no. Feeding in e.g. solar power is not supposed to go via a transformer in your block into a higher voltage level. If you want to feed solar power into the grid on a higher level, every installation has to

            • No it is no problem: it is EXACT the same thing.

              No. Power flows the other way making it not an exact same thing.

              Feeding in e.g. solar power is not supposed to go via a transformer in your block into a higher voltage level

              Not being supposed to is not something in control of power installations at the MV level. A lot of these transformers have little more "control" around them than a small auto-recloser on one side. You may say it doesn't happen, I say I was part of a program that saw these things mass replaced all over Australia where 1/3rd of houses have solar panels on them, and this caused major problems. I also say if it's not such a problem why did ABB, Sch

              • No. Power flows the other way making it not an exact same thing.
                The power does not flow the other way, it flows the same way.

                I get it that the sun doesn't shine in Germany (though it has been a lovely week) and there are very few solar panels here
                Germany has the biggest solar installations per capita of the world.

                • by quenda ( 644621 )

                  The power does not flow the other way, it flows the same way.

                  That's not an argument, it is a contradiction. Try reading again. thegarbs was quite clear.
                  The houses being fed by a particular pole-top transformer are collectively generating more electricity than they are consuming. Presumably in the middle of a workday when few people are home.

                  • The houses being fed by a particular pole-top transformer are collectively generating more electricity than they are consuming. Presumably in the middle of a workday when few people are home.
                    He did not say that. And if that is the case, then the "block" has to be connected to the next higher distribution level: like it is done in every other country outside of the US.

                • The power does not flow the other way, it flows the same way.

                  Consuming 2kW vs generating 2kW is not power flowing the same way. Re-read what I said.

                  Germany has the biggest solar installations per capita of the world.

                  Indeed. Germany has the biggest installed solar capacity per capita in the world. What it also has is that installed capacity in a very different way than most other countries with large reliance on industrial generation, e.g. solar farms, and large scale commercial installations. In actual number of installed solar systems Germany is on par with the likes of Australia, a country with 1/5th of the number of households.

                  Ger

                  • Consuming 2kW vs generating 2kW is not power flowing the same way. Re-read what I said.

                    Of course it is.

                    high voltage grid ---> low voltage grid that is the normal flow.
                    If you connect a solar panel to the low voltage grid, it is no difference for the high voltage grid if you cancel a 2kW consumer in the low voltage grid or switch in an 2kW producer. The high voltage grid has to feed in 2kW less into the lower voltage grid: it is exact the same for the high voltage grid.

                    And then again, if your low voltage g

                    • If you connect a solar panel to the low voltage grid, it is no difference for the high voltage grid if you cancel a 2kW consumer in the low voltage grid or switch in an 2kW producer.

                      How did you get this far into this thread and still not know what we are talking about. Go back to this comment and start reading again. https://slashdot.org/comments.... [slashdot.org]

                      Germany has 7 times as much solar power installed then Australia.

                      Indeed it does. You know what else Germany has? A German guy who habitually doesn't read posts and keeps repeating the same irrelevant nonsense.

                      Go back to the top of the thread, and try again. There's no sense trying to save this conversation so far down. It's quite clear you haven't understood the last 3 posts I made because you still thi

          • Power transformers typically have been compensated to work efficiently in one direction only.
            As the power only flows in one direction, that argument is irrelevant ...

            No idea where we got lost in the discussion, but that happens easy in text based conversations :D

            • Okay let's look at the scenario again with an actual practical example: My street.

              25 houses. 16 with solar panels. Nighttime load consumption by all houses is between 3-9KW. Solar generation is zero. Let's assume the middle point (e.g. I have gas cookers and no airconditioning so my night time load is small compared to others with electric stoves and ovens). 6KW x 25 = 150KW being drawn from the pole top transformer at night.

              Average empty standby consumption of a house is around 300W (Australia is ineffici

    • Depends on where you're looking. The nationwide transmission grid is pretty well managed. But the more local distribution and neighborhood grids aren't handled as well and the local utilities may not even know when there are problems. There are already several solutions out there to help with monitoring and tweaking, so there is nothing new or novel in the article other than using Slashdot as a marketing outlet.

  • 3-Phase (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pubwvj ( 1045960 ) on Thursday June 07, 2018 @10:48PM (#56747200)

    Actually, this sort of thing does have potential although non-electrical-engineers may not realize why. I have single phase (sort of almost 2Ã) at my farm. I installed a 3Ã digital phase converter (Phase Perfect for those who are interested) which uses very little power itself but generates a third phase and puts the other two in proper alignment so I can now run large motors (grinder, bandsaw in my butcher shop) efficiently. This makes the motors run smoother, cooler and last longer.

    • What is "sort of almost 2 phase"?
      • Opposite phase (Score:5, Informative)

        by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Thursday June 07, 2018 @11:58PM (#56747392) Homepage Journal

        He's referring to "opposite phase", which is common in the US. You get two 120-volt phases that are 180 degrees apart.

        You can go across the two phases to get 240 volts for high-power appliances such as stove and clothes dryer, but that's all you can do without special equipment. Three phase requires three sources 120 degrees apart, phase-to-phase.

        • Three phase requires three sources 120 degrees apart, phase-to-phase.

          The Navy uses three phase electricity aboard ship. Just requires a generator designed to produce it. Does NOT require three generators....

          • Three phase requires three sources 120 degrees apart, phase-to-phase.

            The Navy uses three phase electricity aboard ship. Just requires a generator designed to produce it. Does NOT require three generators....

            He didn't mean three generators, probably just poorly worded. A three phase generator could technically be described as three 120 out of phase generators in one. The point was its not so simple to get to three phase power from a single phase source.

            • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

              The easiest method is to run a single phase electric motor that is hooked up to a three phase generator. Though a quick check on eBay shows that solid state ones are readily available.

              • Sure, running a single phase motor off a three phase gen is super easy, just hook it up across one phase or line to line. It won't be a balanced load, but it will work. It is powering a three phase motor from a single phase gen that requires a bit more complexity.
                • You misread, what they suggested was one of the easier ways to turn 1 phase power into 3-phase power:
                  1-phase power -> 1 phase motor -> 3 phase generator -> 3 phase power

                  • You misread, what they suggested was one of the easier ways to turn 1 phase power into 3-phase power: 1-phase power -> 1 phase motor -> 3 phase generator -> 3 phase power

                    Yes, I did mis-read. Thanks for clarifying.

  • I could see a 15-30% reduction in the amount of wasted power, but the overall power waste is probably ~10% so reducing the overall waste by 30% would be rather impressive.

    Its all about cost. Thicker wires will also reduce losses, (as will coaxial cables etc. How does the cost of this compare to the cost of other methods of waste reduction?

    • >I could see a 15-30% reduction in the amount of wasted power, but the overall power waste is probably ~10% so reducing the overall waste by 30% would be rather impressive.

      Not really reducing 10% waste by 30% would drop it to 7% waste.

      • 3% energy savings, times 3.8 billion kWh of electricity used in the US last year, is still a 114 million kWh/year reduction - well worth it *if* it can be done cheaply enough.

  • How to do this (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Thursday June 07, 2018 @11:38PM (#56747320) Journal
    Got grid connected solar that will only turn off when the grid is down? Let the power company turn solar on/off at any time with their own network command.
    That gives the grid control of all power that pushed back into their grid.
    Got AC? Let the power company turn the AC on/off depending on weather and what they want to do with their grid.
    Make everyone connected to the grid pay extra for a new huge new grid battery.
    The new big battery will allow the grid to respond to slight changes in demands to the grid.
    By having control of your AC and grid connected solar the grid can make more profit.
    Suggest every new dwelling gets solar with a network on/off command connection to ensure the grid can control all new solar.
    Suggest a battery pack for homes thats also grid controlled. So the grid can charge and access battery power as needed per dwelling.

    Will this result in a better use of the grid?
    Exisiting power generation can last longer without having to build more generation.
    Thats an efficiency in the ability to generate profit every year.
    The people living in a dwelling will have to be without their AC for hours for that to glance out.
    All your AC are belong to the power company.
    The power company will decide when on a 100 deg day your "networked" AC will be turned on and off on their grid.
    No AC for you.
    • Or, you could RTFA and see an excellent idea well executed, rather than an off topic rant.

      • by Wimmie ( 446910 )

        Well, I did.

        The line that makes the most sense in the article:

        "By now, many BS detectors will be ringing at full volume. I get it. This sounds like magic beans."

        I see lot's of random claims (saving lives, detecting hacked systems and whatever).
        What they do it high speed sampling of the current and voltage and compute 26 parameters
        (why 26, something I must have missed when I got a degree in electrical engineering).

        OK, you can characterize whats happening and try to correct some stuff.

        40 years ago we kept the

        • So, the actual data Center test result is just an inconvenient truth eh?
          It may shock you to learn technology has advanced a bit in 40 years

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      We've had the power company AC controller for years and I have never noticed a loss of cooling in the house, even during the day.

      I think they're really easy to bypass from what I can tell, and I don't think the power company has any clue.

  • by Circlotron ( 764156 ) on Friday June 08, 2018 @05:14AM (#56748170)
    Snake oil as far as everyone there is concerned. https://www.eevblog.com/forum/... [eevblog.com]
    • Man, what a terrible thread that is.

      I get trying to be skeptic and wary of scams, but geez, they could try to keep an open mind instead of kneejerking into "can't be done"-mode.

  • > Waste on the grid is the result of poor power quality

    Total average losses on the US grid as a whole is about 7%.

    This isn't a problem that needs fixing. Sure, getting that down to 5% would be great, but first we really need EVs.

  • I don't know if it's possible to use more buzz words in a article. What exactly do you mean when you say 'electricity' in a supposedly scientific explanation of a process? We don't generate electricity, we use the existing electricity in matter to transform and/or transport electrical energy. The KE of 'current electricity' (usually electrons) is a loss factor in the transmission of electrical field energy but the VOX article mixes the two into a unrecognizable mess if you are looking for technical details.

  • ... power factor and harmonic correction. Yes, this will help. But it is already a thing, particularly in switch-mode power supplies. Chip sets already exist that implement such correction. No "OS for electricity" required. 3DFS may have a better algorithm. But I doubt that there's more than a fraction of a percent to be gained in power supply efficiency. But this isn't a novel idea (unless one is making a pitch for a patent). Just incremental improvement in established practice.

    Some places that finer con

  • Here is an E-mail I just sent to the author:

    I just read your article on 3DFS technology. I have been in power generation for 17 years, and I think I can explain the problem you encountered with the professor of electrical engineering who hung up on you. My bullshit detector was going off pretty hard due to a single claim in the article, which you repeated a few times. After reading the full article, I think the technology is entirely possible, and even plausible. The problem is that the conversion losses i

    • It is important to highlight the relationship between the turbine and the generator here. Without 3DFS installed, the generator is not producing synchronized electricity and thus there are necessarily energy losses at this moment. The important questions to ask here are 1. Where do these losses go? and 2. How are they accounted for? Our contention is that they are being absorbed and distributed throughout the generator and turbine, increasing the temperature and wasted energy. Today, they are lumped in to
      • by jozer ( 58713 )

        The author was kind enough to respond to me, and I have responded in turn. Your reply ( I assume you are from 3DFS ) doesn't materially change my response.
        Here is the exchange:

        That is the claim that is drawing the most fire, but it is an actual claim 3DFS makes, not a mistake, so it's worth understanding.
        They are, believe it or not, aware that there are carnot-related losses in electricity generation. Their claim is that the 66% losses DOE claims under that banner are actually a combination of carnot and el

        • It is established science that the power factor, harmonics and phase balancing are the worst at generation. Electricity loss occurs in the moment, so whenever one of the three above is not perfect, loss immediately occurs. So that means that during generation, there is constant, and never ending loss, like having a hole in a hose, the more used, the more lost. This is a massive quantity of energy. Please enlighten me as to where these losses go today?
          • by jozer ( 58713 )

            It is established science that the power factor, harmonics and phase balancing are the worst at generation.

            This is false. Power balancing and power factor are both vector sums, and since different customers will have different phase imbalances and power factors, those will be averaged out at generation. Harmonics are generally additive, just like real load, except that most of those harmonics will be absorbed by the transformers and signal traps between the load and the generation point. As such, some of the cleanest power you will find on the grid is at the point of generation.

            Electricity loss occurs in the moment, so whenever one of the three above is not perfect, loss immediately occurs. So that means that during generation, there is constant, and never ending loss, like having a hole in a hose, the more used, the more lost.

            This is complete gobbeldy-gook. Th

  • There is a lot of innovation here and everybody has an opinion. I spend a lot of my days talking with engineers who continue to tell me how my technology works. Anthropologically it is fascinating to watch so many people twist their heads around in circles attempting to figure out what we are doing, so here I am to answer questions. For the record, I am not always very polite in my responses, and kind of a smartass, but this comes with the territory as we will all see when the trolls come out to play. So
    • I've seen way too many overly skeptical reactions on your product. To me, the technology looks amazing and sensible and the approach you have chosen with regard to protecting the technology from abuse by greed seems very noble.

      I'm afraid I don't have the EE chops to ask you the right technical questions, but I do want to wish you luck and urge you not to be demotivated by the onslaught of kneejerk skepticism. I think people have a hard time in accepting stuff that sounds too good to be true. The potential s

      • The individual savings always varies depending on the setup and power consumption, but the 10-15% is fairly standard on non-inductive loads and 20-25% on inductive loads. Over the coming months, we are releasing a "rental" program, where prospective clients can temporarily (albeit expensively) install Software-Defined Electricity into power networks and experience it directly so that the benefits are realized firsthand. By the end of the year, the market will be deluged with information regarding the savi
  • There is a lot of innovation here and everybody has an opinion. I spend a lot of my days talking with engineers who continue to tell me how my technology works. Anthropologically it is fascinating to watch so many people twist their heads around in circles attempting to figure out what we are doing, so here I am to answer questions. For the record, I am not always very polite in my responses, and kind of a smartass, but this comes with the territory as we will all see when the trolls come out to play. So, l

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