Breakthrough Energy Innovation. What Will You Change Today to Drive Sustainable Design?

Energy efficiency, sustainable design and green products are not new concepts but they are increasingly coming to the fore. Of particular recent note was the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) meeting in Paris and the commitment to limit global temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels.

Why the increased emphasis and urgency? A widespread and growing recognition that our use of Earth’s resources is accelerating at an unsustainable rate, with measurable consequences.

August 8th marked Earth Overshoot Day (EOD) for 2016, the date on which our resource consumption exceeds the Earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources and our production of CO2 is greater than can be sequestered by the Earth for the calendar year. Making the analogy to a bank account, if EOD occurs after 365 days then the account is perfectly in balance, with debits and credits canceling each other out. If it occurs before 365 days, then humanity is consuming resources and producing CO2 faster than the earth can replenish or sequester  — essentially debits outweigh credits in the earth’s bank account, depleting the underlying capital balance.

Put another way, in 2016 we are consuming resources at a rate that would require 1.6 Earths to replenish. Alarmingly, the trend with EOD is that it occurs earlier with each passing year. With business as usual, including today’s sustainable design practices, by June 28th, 2030 we will need two Earths to satisfy our demand on the the ecosystem.

By 2030 we will need two earths to satisfy humanity's demands on the ecosystem if nothing changes

By 2030 we will need two earths to satisfy humanity’s demands on the ecosystem if nothing changes

Reversing the Trend with Breakthrough Energy Innovation

Reversing this trend won’t be easy. It requires both urgency and ambition. Whether in energy production or in the primary energy consumption sectors of transportation, industrial and residential, products and processes are already finely tuned for their function, with little margin for improvement. Incremental product evolution is therefore no longer sufficient; breakthrough energy innovation is required.

For existing product lines, this innovation is manifesting itself in increasingly complex, software-driven systems. For example, in vehicle engine development, Wayne Eckerle, VP of Research and Technology at Cummins, a global power leader, has spoken about how emissions controls have led to a massive increase in complexity and interaction between the base engine system and the exhaust after treatment.

For new market entrants introducing potentially disruptive energy systems technology,  innovation is less about additional complexity than it is about looking at the sustainable design of their products in a whole new way. Take Nebia as an example. This start-up shower manufacturer designed a shower head that reduces water consumption by 70% and drastically reduces the energy required to heat up the water. It achieves this by using much smaller water droplets than traditional showers to create a mist.

Whether due to increased product complexity or a new way of doing things, the implication is the same — the product design space, or the number of possible design combinations and interactions, is almost imponderable. To put this in perspective, according to RAND it could take hundreds of billions of miles of physical testing of autonomous vehicles to create enough data to demonstrate their safety. This is not a practical solution.

It is clear then, that ambitious and urgent breakthrough energy systems innovation cannot be achieved by a reliance on traditional design and physical testing approaches. By accurately assessing multiple design cases simultaneously, engineering simulation is the key to enabling the low cost, high speed development of better products.

But as those in affected industries know, engineering simulation is already a common part of existing product development processes. What must change is the way simulation is used. To effectively address complexity demands, product designers must break down engineering silos and the coupling of simulations across functions, to instead develop a holistic view that accurately captures the interdependent behavior of these complex, often software-driven energy systems. To do this requires not only highly capable tools in each of the embedded software and primary physics disciplines (mechanical, electromagnetic, fluid and thermodynamics), but a platform to support the development of a complete virtual prototype that is scalable across engineering teams and geographies, and that offers an extensible ecosystem incorporating a broad array of internal and external software tools. And not only that. Simulation must be deployed much earlier in the design cycle to filter out the best candidates from the myriad possibilities that exist and that are beyond the reach of intuition and experience..

As I look at those leading the delivery of urgent and ambitious breakthrough energy innovation across industry sectors, companies are doing just this in five common sustainable design application areas: Aerodynamic Design, Effective Lightweighting, Advanced Electrification, Machine and Fuel Efficiency and Thermal Optimization. The innovation can come from companies focusing on a single application area, like Nebia, or multiple, like Cummins.

sustainable design

Five Simulation Applications Supporting Breakthrough Energy Innovation

In the coming weeks we will be digging into the engineering simulation details on each of these topics. If this is of interest to you or engineers on your team, I encourage you to subscribe to our blog and use the Event Calendar to keep abreast of the latest developments.

You can also explore the resources on our website that includes a whitepaper on the topics discussed, an independent commentary that explains why simulation is important for breakthrough energy systems innovation and an independent e-book that explains what industry leaders are doing with simulation to gain competitive advantage against their peers in the realm of sustainable design.

As consumers we make choices that support sustainability on a daily basis. As product developers we need to do the same by challenging the status quo of our existing design processes so we can effectively address rising product complexity and navigate unchartered design spaces with confidence. What will you change today?

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