It is sometimes dizzying to think of how quickly modern gadgets have advanced. In the last five years we’ve seen the mobile industry completely reinvented — and that came less than a decade after it started to really take off. It might be difficult to imagine, then, that the pace of innovation could actually increase in the near future. But it appears that we’re headed down just such a path.
The key to it all: energy initiatives. By improving the systems that power our gadgets, we will see breakthroughs in the gadgets themselves.
The biggest key to increased efficiency might be something that America’s most famous inventor, Thomas Edison, had advocated more than a century ago. His DC power systems had many advantages, but by the early 20th century Nikola Tesla’s implementation of AC power had become standard due to its ability to cover longer distances.
Yet so many modern gadgets run on DC power. It has, in many ways, become more prominent in our lives now than ever before. Yet our power grids still deliver AC power, which necessitates inefficient conversions. A move towards more DC power would then increase efficiency, which would leave room for more innovation.
Starts at the Data Center
The most prominent DC power initiatives are currently coming at the data center level. Power company ABB has provided DC power services to a number of data centers. They’re reported increased efficiency at those centers. Apple has spearheaded another portion of this initiative, building a solar-powered data center. Since solar cells produce DC power, the two initiatives could go hand-in-hand.
Since data centers control the flow of information to our devices, increased efficiency at that level means not only less energy used, but also increased output. With the inefficiencies corrected, we can receive our data packets faster.
Moving to the Grid
There is little chance that DC power replaces AC power on a grid-wide basis. At least, not any time soon. The AC system is so ingrained that any wide scale change will take years to implement. Yet given the DC dependence of modern technology, we could see a gradual shift start sometime soon and you can read about it here. Just think about all the electronic devices we use every day that run on DC power: computers, cell phones, tablets, video game consoles, TVs — even hybrid cars run on DC power.
When electricity first started flowing through the country, alternating current made the most sense. It was the most easily deliverable over long distances. Given the scarcity of plants back then, distance was an issue. But with the move towards more DC-powered items, including essentially anything with a computer chip, it could be time for a change. To change from an AC-powered system to a DC-powered one would take years and cost billions. But we’ve finally reached a point where the incentives might line up. You and I, the end users, will stand to benefit greatly.