Under my byline

Energy saver

Posted in Architecture/Design, Books, Living by Rrishi on 17 October 2009

OVERLEAF 51

The scene is New York City in 2025. Henry Poiret, a former FBI scientist, is a specialist in environmental balance sheets who tracks down energy wasters of all kinds for his clients. For the very first time, he allows a journalist to watch him at work — and to get an inside glimpse of his new lab.

Meet Henry “the Sniffer” Poiret, the elderly but energetic sleuth who hunts down “power hogs and energy wasters, gas guzzlers, and climate killers” for his clients. He’s super tech-savvy and equipped with a cutting-edge lab in which he can recreate in virtual 3D any shop floor or manufacturing or process site, and then walk through it hunting down opportunities to pare energy consumption and investment, with the help of a virtual Mr Watson.

Dr Poiret and Mr Watson in the lab (c) Siemens 2009Yes, it’s a trifle heavy-handed, but be indulgent — Sniffer Poiret is a fictional detective in a magazine published by the German engineering giant Siemens. It’s called Pictures of the Future and its Spring 2009 edition landed quite by chance on my desk. Now I’m a fan.

Poiret has a long and illustrious record, which includes the setting up of an “almost completely CO2-neutral district” and the greening of New York’s yellow cabs “thanks to electric drive technology”. Today he’s helping “a European manufacturer of railway systems” by checking their new high-speed trains for energy waste, because the manufacturer is hoping to win a contract to supply the trains to New York’s transit authority.

In his virtual lab Poiret discovers, among other things, that the manufacturer has used aluminium sheets from China. Not good, says the Sniffer, because China’s aluminium industry runs on electricity from coal-fired plants which still don’t have the technology to sequester enough of the carbon dioxide they emit. Better from an environmental perspective, Poiret suggests, to use aluminium made in Iceland or Norway, where power comes from renewable geothermal energy.

And so on. The Poiret story occupies just two pages, but the items and ideas mentioned in those few paragraphs are mined in the next 27 pages, with almost a dozen articles and interviews exploring the engineering and social ramifications of the changes associated with making the fictional energy-sleuthing scenario into a reality. Each piece looks at the state of the art as well as problems and prospects.

Product life cycles are the main theme. The treatment is wide-ranging though a little technical, and naturally Siemens experts and technologies are highlighted. One article looks at the energy and resources a product (say, a washing machine) uses up not just in manufacture but during its entire lifespan and beyond, including disposal and recycling. Further on, there’s a life cycle assessment of the production of pig iron. There’s something on energy-saving lighting technology, an interview with a professor of process technology on the “cradle to cradle” concept (where the product’s life cycle never ends and nothing is wasted), an essay on using life cycle assessment to make the building of trains less environmentally damaging, on upgrading power plants (which, because they take so long to build, may be obsolete before they are completed) — and so on.

This is just one section of three. The two others cover industrial security (the fiction segment describes two brothers wondering how to sneak into or disable a biological research lab near the North Pole in 2025) and “innovations for new markets” (the fiction section follows a group of children in an energy-independent Indian village checking out their community’s new 3D energy-usage monitoring system, in 2025). The last section also has an interview each with Rajendra Pachauri and Nandan Nilekani.

You get the idea. I’m amazed at the range of work Siemens seems to be doing, and wonder why Indian tech majors don’t produce magazines like this. If you know of any, I’d be happy to hear about them.

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