Researchers' Zone:

It's not only living beings that communicates. Even energy has a language, which can help us avoid great threats.

Did you know energy possibly speaks?

Understanding the language of energy flows can help us prevent energy blackouts due to climate change and cyber attacks

Can a language ever exist without letters, words, or phrases?

The short answer is yes. Energy seems to have its own language, embedded in the flow from production to consumption. Understanding this language can help us secure our energy systems and resources.

Humans can communicate among themselves by using the tools of a common language, meaning words and phrases, but cannot use the same tools to communicate with plants and animals.

Animals do have their own ways of communicating through signs and sounds that humans do not (always) understand.

In this way, living beings interact to form their own languages and convey their messages.

Have you wondered if non-living beings can have their own language?

A short narration of a highly acclaimed sci-fi movie ’Arrival’ starring Amy Adams might help answer this question.

In the movie, aliens visit 12 different parts of the world in their mysterious aircraft without any cues of interactions with humans.

As humans tried to understand their purpose of visit, the obvious question here was not having a common language for communication – ’How do we talk to the aliens?’.

This is where this movie challenges the audience to think deeply about the evolution of a language.

Languages, as humans know them, can usually be communicated in written and verbal form.

Human languages are predominantly straight-forward, where meaning can only be derived from a sequential arrangement of letters, words, and sentences.

Going back to the movie, the aliens communicated differently using ‘circular symbols’ that defy all the rules of syntax and sequence followed by most human languages.

How can we exploit the language of energy for a sustainable future?

So, an important take away here is that we do not need a standard structure of language to have effective communication.

Similarly, energy flows everywhere around us from generation and production to consumption, which we only use for electricity and heating/cooling. However, have we ever pondered these questions:

1. Can a simple energy socket in Aalborg tell us more about the energy being produced in Aarhus? If yes, how effectively can we understand the language?

2. How will we exploit this language for a sustainable future of energy?

Before we answer these questions, let us understand the problem first.

Wildfires, hurricanes and cyber-attacks challenges our energy security

Energy systems today face severe risks due to climate change and digitalization. Even though we have smart methods to monitor and control our energy systems, we still face energy supply interruptions in the world that are commonly known as blackouts.

These blackouts are increasing across the world because of weather-related natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, snowstorms and cyber-attacks.

These events can disrupt electricity generation. As extreme weather gets more intense due to climate change, more blackouts could be a consequence.

Every minute of such energy interruptions causes huge monetary loss and affects lives.

While there is very little that we can do to stop such unpredictable events, an innovative technology that can quickly restore energy supply to end the blackout is the need of the hour.


Current technologies are not secure enough

While several researchers are focused on determining the impact of natural disasters and cyber-attacks on the community from a social perspective, I want to find solutions where energy systems can heal themselves and thereby achieve the fastest restoration when blackouts occur.

Since my PhD, my research has focused on the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for intelligent control and monitoring of energy systems.

However, such technologies, which can be used to transfer, store, create, collect and process data about energy systems, also have their weaknesses.

While the use of ICT to transmit and collect critical data from remote locations can contribute to rapid recovery in the event of, for example, a natural disaster that disrupts the energy supply to a major city, cyber attackers can also hack into ICT to manipulate the data and cause problems.

So the use of ICT alone does not guarantee a stable energy supply. That's why we need to find out how energy systems can heal themselves, so that they become immune to both natural disasters and cyber attacks.

The language in energy we never realized exists

Our research then delves into solving the abovementioned problems by simply using the energy flow to convey embedded language and meaningful information from point A to point B.

By doing so, we do not rely on ICT or any other technology that invites new issues. To understand this new language, we take the following example to simplify how it works:

Person A and B are mute, meaning they do not have a voice. They communicate using signs. Imagine both A and B have to collaborate to solve a puzzle together.

In that case, A and B are most likely to communicate about ‘what are their initial thoughts on the puzzle pieces?’ or any questions concerning only the puzzle. Using the puzzle as a context, the signs that they use are largely driven by how well they are solving the puzzle.

It is highly unlikely that A and B will start exchanging signs about a movie while solving the puzzle.

Similarly, this example can be picturized for the energy systems where all the energy sources in it operate as a team (like A and B) to produce the required energy that is always demanded by the users.

How can we translate the language of energy?

When our system experiences any voltage flickers or disturbances, they also emit contextual signs (like puzzle as a context) in the form of non-regular patterns seen in energy.

These patterns vary in different contexts. In general, these irregular patterns form the energy language that is only understood by the energy units.

For estimating the remote data just by measuring energy, my work has developed ‘translators’ for each energy participant in the system, meaning that I have tried to understand what each irregularity means for the status of the energy system.

Based on the measured energy, this translator after decoding the energy language will guide each source of energy to alter their generation.

Going beyond the current practices of using another ICT on top of energy flow for exchange of information, this work uses energy flow as its intrinsic language without the need of other technologies.

Hence, this simplifies the security and reliability of the energy system as we can now co-transfer energy and information together without any threat from hackers.

Energy can do much more than light up our home

This research will also allow our system operators to implement smart functions by measuring energy itself.

While more research needs to be done on how successful this idea can be in very complex systems, we have a good starting point in our published article. This can stimulate more discussions on finding secondary applications of energy.

When it comes to restoration of energy supply after weather-related disasters such as wildfire, hurricanes, the technology invented in our work can self-heal the energy system by repowering it using its own embedded language to collectively repower the energy system.

So, these are some of the critical examples where energy language will play a big role.

However, that is not all. This language can be used to monitor new fluctuations in our systems, enhance smart and flexible use of our energy resources, facilitate energy efficiency.

Currently, we struggle with situational awareness or disaster management tools for energy systems, where this can be a breakthrough.

The time has come to see green energy do so much more than just lighting up our homes or heating. We just need to get well-versed in this new language.


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