Santa Clara—Creative and innovative thinkers are finding lots of synergies between photonics and green technologies.
The overall growth of the industry, as projected by OIDA, which is sponsoring a Green Photonics show here this week, is expected to be very healthy. Green photonics accounted for a market of $28.9 billion last year. That is predicted to grow to $261 billion by 2020, according to OIDA.
“A cultural interest in driving green photonics is starting to come about,” said OIDA Executive Director Michael Lebby. “One result is expected to be more efficient fiber optics transceivers and photodetectors.”
Jan-Gustav Werthen, a senior director at JDSU, says field trials are now ongoing to power lasers used in fiber optics by solar power. “Not many people are aware that JDSU is doing active photovoltaics,” Werthen observes. “Digital sensing must be deployed more widely,” he notes.
Optical Sensing Seen Playing Critical Role
In fact, if there was one area where numerous photonic applications seem to be in play in green applications, it was in optical sensing.
For example, Paul Sanders, a founding partner at QOREX, said fiber optic sensors are being used to improve oil and gas exploration. “The sensors went in first in commercial systems in the year 2000,” said Sanders. “The first deployment results have been very positive. Installing sensors down the well, creating an intelligent well, has led to increased oil exploration.”
“Shell Oil is the earliest adopter of this technology,” according to Sanders. “Results have included lowering the amount of overall drilling, with the drilling that does take place being more successful.”
Sanders acknowledges that the process is not cheap. Putting optical fiber cable down a 12,000 foot well, with all of that cable armored, can cost upwards of $250,000. But the results can far exceed that, he adds.
“Optical allows us to run cleaner coal,” said Henrik Hofvander, CEO of Zolo Technologies. Optical sensing allows the coal industry to burn coal more efficiently, he noted, simply by optimizing the existing infrastructure. Coal currently accounts for 52 percent of America's electricity. Some 90 percent of coal plants currently are at least 20 years old.
OIDA notes that another example of optical sensors is in wind turbines. By incorporating optical Fiber Bragg Grating (FBG) sensors on each blade of the wind turbine unit a single system can provide information for turbine control and also monitor the mechanical health of the structure. The optical sensors provide dynamic load measurements to the turbine controller. The embedded sensing elements deliver a full-range strain measurement over the blade’s operational lifetime and the system is resistant to the effects of EMI interference and lightning strike. The real-time load and strain information can be incorporated into the turbine’s monitoring system and can be used by load cycle counting and rain-flow data analysis techniques allowing for dynamic maintenance scheduling, according to OIDA.
Duke Energy Finds Various Photonic Apps Helpful
IP Thermography allows Duke Energy to detect a number of hotspots in that grid, including failing insulators or conductors, according to a Duke official. UV cameras allow Duke to identify corrosion in the system, this official said—corrosion that “is very difficult to detect with the naked eye.” Added the official: “Failures can be catastrophic, depending on their locations.”
Another photonic tool includes a video sagometer which can be used to monitor ground clearance, or sag, of power lines in real time by use of a camera.“We are interested in carbon avoidance technologies,” the Duke official said.
LEDs Gain Real Interest
Another photonic technology that is playing a role in green technologies is LEDs. High-brightness LEDs allow lower power consuming lighting solutions, according to OIDA. LEDs are starting to be seen in traffic lights, residential lighting, and even as back lights to televisions and displays. Organic LEDs are being used in a variety of small products, such as mobile phones, PDAs and applications that are sensitive to battery life.
Solid state lighting is increasingly becoming the light source of choice for interior and exterior architectural lighting, street lighting, automotive lighting, and diverse portable applications where energy consumption (battery life), long life and low maintenance are important, according to OIDA. In many new building and municipal lighting projects, solid state lighting is being selected for energy conservation as well as reduced life cycle costs and aesthetic reasons.
Water disinfection systems based on ultraviolet lamp technology have been in use for many years, according to OIDA. More recently, UV disinfection has gained notice due to the attention paid to chlorinated disinfection byproducts (DBP), and new measurements confirming the effectiveness of UV light to inactivate Cryptosporidium. Chlorination is not effective in treating Cryptosporidium. Moreover, chemical reactions caused by chlorine, mixing with organic matter, are known to produce several chemical by-products, including trihalomethanes. There is concern that DBP may be associated with cancer and other health effects. For these reasons, UV water disinfection is of growing interest.
IT Power Requirements Need to Be in Check
With the growth in information technology (IT) there has been a concomitant rapid increase in the electrical power consumption of computers and networking equipment, according to OIDA. Data centers are an extreme example. The total power demand in 2005 (including associated infrastructure) is equivalent (in capacity terms) to about five 1,000 MW power plants for the U.S. and 14 such plants for the world. The total electricity bill for operating those servers and associated infrastructure in 2005 was about $2.7 billion and $7.2 billion for the U.S. and the world, respectively.
In 2007, it was estimated that the Internet represented four percent of North American power consumption, according to OIDA. This level of power consumption has caused data center operators like Google to locate their large data centers in regions with inexpensive electricity and consider renewable energy sources including hydro power and wind energy. Google has more than 1 million servers and has been steadily adding 300,000 to 400,000 per year. Its data center in The Dalles, Oregon consists of two buildings, each about the size of a football field, and two four-story cooling plants. Google’s commitment to carbon neutrality has sharpened its focus on renewable power sources such as wind power and hydro power. The Dalles was chosen in part for the availability of hydro power from the Columbia River, while the local utility’s wind power program influ-enced the selection of Council Bluffs, Iowa for a new data center to be operational in 2009.
With this backdrop indicating the need to reign in data center power consumption, green opto-electronics are contributing to the effort, OIDA says. Optoelectronics suppliers such as Finisar are focusing on the ability of their products to provide “Low power consumption enabling a greener datacenter.” Active optical cable products, such as Finisar’s Laserwire, can significantly reduce power in data center applications, according to OIDA.
While the growth of green technologies, and the role of photonics in it, seems assured over time, it will not necessarily be a straight line upwards. Several speakers at the conference yesterday say there may be some near-term bumps. Gerry Fine, CEO of Schott North America, for example, said that a key policy of the German government to encourage green technologies is coming to an end. Several speakers also noted that Spain, which has had an aggressive green program, is capping its program. Fine believes that a shakeout may also be coming for the solar energy in the near-term.