UKPN flex, energy efficient AI, space manufacturing

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Image: Lancaster University UK Power Networks contracts demand increase/supply turn down flexibility, making AI more…

Technology Trending: UKPN flex first, more energy efficient AI, space manufacturingTechnology Trending: UKPN flex first, more energy efficient AI, space manufacturing

Image: Lancaster University

UK Power Networks contracts demand increase/supply turn down flexibility, making AI more energy efficient and space manufacturing moving closer are on the week’s technology radar.

UK-first large-scale flexibility product enabling more green power

British system operator UK Power Networks has contracted more than 400MW of flexible capacity through what it labels a national first to increase demand or turn down supply during periods of excess power, alongside the regular demand turn down or generation turn up to manage peak demand constraints.

The operator reports that over one thousand bids for more than 1,000MW of flexible capacity were made – up from just 28 in the first flexibility tender in 2018.

Running from Summer of this year to the Winter 2025, UK Power Networks anticipates being enabled to more efficiently connect more renewable energy to the network and avoid the costs of network reinforcement for capacity that may only be needed for a few hours a year.

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Sotiris Georgiopoulos, DSO director at UK Power Networks, comments that this will be the decade when net zero becomes real for many of its customers.

“That means millions of new electric vehicles, heat pumps and other low carbon technologies like domestic solar and batteries. Tapping into customer flexibility means we can connect more renewable energy and low carbon technologies to the network.”

The UK Power Networks DSO has committed to saving customers £410 million (US$511 million) over the next five years by using flexibility to deliver capacity on the network at lower cost than building new infrastructure.

Making AI more energy efficient

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are becoming more and more ubiquitous in analytics and new digital applications such as ChatGPT and the metaverse.

But while bringing efficiencies, such systems may themselves not be so energy efficient and are contributing to the growing carbon footprint of digitalisation, currently estimated at around 4% of global emissions.

A new £250,000 (US$310,000) project led by Britain’s University of Lancaster, InterNET Zero, aims to tackle this issue and other challenges of these technologies by “by transforming academic knowledge into practice”.

The researchers, together with partners including the Energy Systems Catapult, intend to engage with a range of stakeholders, including technologists, policymakers, and citizens, to rethink current autonomous system design and to co-create new visions and pathways for more resource responsible and trustworthy Internet infrastructures.

“AI and machine learning are making more of the key decisions regards the Internet’s energy use and emissions, with less human oversight,” comments principal investigator Dr Michael Stead from Lancaster University’s design research laboratory ImaginationLancaster.

“There is consequently a growing argument that if society is to successfully transition to a digital net zero future, we should start to consider these technologies as key mediators that must be actively negotiated with, in the same way that we work to build trust between one another.”

Space manufacturing moves closer

Space is considered the next frontier for manufacturing items such as semiconductors with the microgravity environment eliminating the need for highly sanitised clean rooms and opening the way for potential new production techniques that could create smaller chips.

So far the major challenge has been considered as how to return the manufactured products to Earth in a cost effective way with the thermal conditions arising during re-entry but the British start-up Space Forge believes its technology overcomes this problem.

Whereas the ablative heat shields used on SpaceX’s capsule require replacement after each mission, Space Forge’s system, which also includes a water vehicle for soft landing and rapid recovery, is designed to be reused.

Space Forge’s heat shield is made out of a high temperature alloy and while able to fold inside a launcher for the lift-off, is able to unfold and become large enough to radiate away the heat generated in the re-entry.

So confident is Forge Star that the company is offering its ForgeStar platform as microgravity as a service.

Other potential products that could benefit from production in microgravity are pharmaceuticals and new metal alloys with the potential for larger and improved crystal formation and more uniform alloy mixing.

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