What is this blockchain thing that people are talking about?

The first few explanations of blockchains that come up when you search for the term seem incredibly complicated.

So, what is it and why should you care? Here are some notes to help.

Blockchain is the technology that makes the virtual currency Bitcoin possible.

It has created the ability for people to create a currency and buy stuff with it without going through a bank, completely bypassing the existing financial system.

For example, if you want to agree a contract with someone, buy a house or just pay for a snack, you are agreeting a transaction with someone else.

To seal the deal, you will have to hand over some money, or sign a piece of paper. That is the evidence the transaction took place.

The records of that transaction are kept in banks, land registries and big paper files. When you want to transfer money or property, you ask the bank to send money or hand over the deed to another person.

The problem starts when record keeping is bad or can be hacked. If you live in a country where land records can’t be found, or can be lost easily, then you could lose your house.

It’s the same with many other transactions: contracts can be faked; bank accounts can be hacked and the amounts modified.

So the key to keeping things safe is recording them in a safe place.

So, if you could take the information that you want to keep safe, create a way of encrypting it so that it can’t be changed, store that in a place where it can’t be deleted and be able to always prove which piece of information is right and which is wrong, then you would have a more secure system.

In essence, this is what Blockchain does. It creates an unbreakable code that is updated with careful rules that mean that information is much safer than before.

Some people think that this will change everything about the way in which we transact with each other, from money to contracts and more.

Others think that this is such a radical change which creates an entirely new way of recording what you own that it could take years to be accepted.

Over 2,000 years ago, people used clay tablets and sticks to record who owned what.

Blockchain pretty much helps do the same thing now.

How is battery storage being used in business and industry?

The launch of the Tesla Powerwall in April 2016 was the start of a rush of interest in battery storage technology.

The Powerwall is a rechargeable lithium ion battery system rated at 6.4 kWh of storage capacity with a 10 year warranty.

It retails at $3,000, with installation costs targeted at $500. A household in the UK uses around 3300 kWh per year or 9 kWh per day.

The Tesla Powerwall should be able to power it at night with its 6.4 kWh of capacity.

Battery storage itself is not new, and Germany has led the way for several years in its renewable energy transition.

As of 2015, 1.5 million photo-voltaic (PV) power plants have been installed in Germany, of which 35,000 are hybrid PV and battery system.

Using a battery increases the amount of electricity used from own-generation from 30% to 60% and 50,000 PV-battery systems could be installed a year by 2020.

Younicos, a Berlin-headquartered, private equity backed energy storage startup built the first commercial battery park in Europe for Wemar AG – the German green utility in 2014. The park has a rated power of 5 MW and a peak capacity of 5 MWh.

It is fully automated, used to stabilize grid frequency and is connected to a 110 kV substation.

The park houses 25,600 lithium-manganese oxide cells guaranteed for 20 years by Samsung SDI.

Younicos’ experience in the chemistry of batteries, the rack systems to store the batteries and on-board Battery Management System (BMS) software at its €15m, multi battery test site helped it become the only system so far to get a 20 year warranty from a major battery producer.

Younicos also has an insurance agreement where a battery will be replaced and 97% of any lost revenue will be protected.

There are 327 projects, making up 869 MW of lithium ion battery storage capacity operating worldwide as of May 2016. In total, there are 921 electro-chemical projects in various stages with a total capacity of 2,708 MW.

The main types of batteries used in energy storage are lead-acid, lithium-ion, sodium sulphur and flow batteries.

Lead-acid batteries are the most widely used rechargeable batteries. They are cheap, respond quickly, don’t lose power while not being used and are efficient.

But they use old technology and perform less well than lithium ion in cold weather. As a result, they are not used much for energy storage applications around the world.

Lithium Ion batteries respond quickly, within milliseconds, are light and efficient.

But they need on-board controls to maximise their lifetime and to operate efficiently. They can be used for grid balancing and frequency response applications.

Sodium-Sulphur batteries hold a lot of energy – they are energy dense, lose virtually no power when standing, non-toxic and recyclable and have a higher capacity than most other technologies.

They run very hot, however, at temperatures of 574 – 624k with molten electrodes which increases their operating and management costs. They can help to match power demand and supply over time.

Vanadium-redox-flow are efficient, can respond quickly, and discharge over more than 24 hours, making them good for long term storage applications.

Control software that can control every generator in a microgrid, from PV to diesel generators will be crucial to optimizing the performance of the system and extending the lifetime of the batteries.

Who is leading the market in grid connected battery solutions?

Clean Technica has a list of 43 battery storage companies to watch. The Energy Storage Association lists members that include names like EdF, Johnson Controls and ABB.

Five companies to watch, according to Chet Lyons, a consultant with over 30 years of experience in commercialising advanced energy solutions and author of Grid-Scale Energy Storage in North America 2013: Applications, Technologies and Suppliers, are:

  • ABB: A global leader in power technology, with a 40MW nickel-cadmium system in operation.
  • AES Energy Storage: Operates 86 MW of energy storage and has the largest fleet of battery storage assets.
  • Convergent Energy Power: Small, but a contender with finance and construction capability
  • EOS: An innovative company getting interest from utilities and a low cost zinc-air energy battery.
  • S&C Electric: Lots pf practical experience for large scale projects and delivering turnkey solutions.
  • SEEO: High energy lithium-ion batteries with backing from VCs like google.org and Khosla Ventures.

The challenge with batteries are storage capacity, cost and how long they take to recharge.

How much do batteries cost?

The cost of battery packs for electric vehicles has fallen from around $1,000 per kWh in 2007 to $410 per kWh by 2014, a reduction of nearly 60%.

The biggest manufacturers can get costs down to $300 per kWh.

Take a look here for a worked model with some of the issues that you might come across.

Examples of proposed and installed battery storage systems

Moosham Community Energy Storage

The “Energy Neighbor” project at Moosham, is a 200 kWh system installed in Spring 2016.

The system has 8 racks, each of which has 13 battery modules with a battery management system and power electronics. Each battery module has 192 battery cells. Each rack has a capacity of 25 kWh, which means the capacity can be increased in 25 kWh steps by adding a rack to the system.

UK Power Network’s Smarter Network Storage

Sheffield University’s demonstrator at Willenhall

How to reduce energy usage in hotels

Cutting energy and carbon use in hotels

This post looks at hotels, how they use energy and what the industry is doing to cut energy use and emissions.

The hospitality industry is big. Globally, it generates revenue of over $500 billion and is a huge employer of permanent and temporary staff. Hotels are often located in areas of natural beauty and have an impact on their local environment.

It takes a lot of energy to run a hotel.

The largest use is normally electricity. Gas is used for cooking and then diesel for backup generators.

The energy intensity of hotels varies around the globe, as different seasonal weather profiles require different cooling needs. In summary, however, a hotel that uses between 200 – 300 kWh/m2 appears to be doing well, while the norm for one that is average or poor is over 500-600 kWh/m2.

Architecturally, hotels bring together three very different types of spaces:

  1. Guest rooms: Guests stay in bedrooms, with attached bathrooms and often large expanses of windows. They can control the temperature and lighting in their rooms and use small appliances provided by the hotel or that they bring with them.
  2. Common areas: These include the reception, lounges, meeting rooms, swimming pools, gyms, saunas and similar areas. They are usually large spaces and lose energy to the environment around them.
  3. Service areas: These areas such as kitchens, laundries and offices where there is equipment, specialist air handling and ventilation equipment and computers and office equipment.

This means that you have more options in each area to reduce energy usage and the challenge is to select a mix of measures that you can implement within the constraints of the hotel.

Energy costs may be insignificant – but still large

In a typical hotel, the costs of energy may be only 4-6% of the operating costs. It might be a much smaller fraction of overall revenue.

But it can still be the second largest operating cost – and a line item where any saving goes straight to the bottom line.

How can you start to understand how your hotel uses energy?

Hotels, like most organisations, focus on energy costs on the bill. The problem is that knowing how much energy you use in total is of little use when trying to work out where you use it in the hotel itself.

This is because there is rarely any metering that is in place apart from the main billing meter.

There are, however, studies that shows how energy typically is used in hotels. For example, lighting can be 12-20% of the total load. Domestic hot water can use up to 15%. If there are chillers that are metered, the cooling energy requirements can be worked out quite accurately.

Let’s say you have all this data – then what?

Research suggests that most hotels are actually quite poor at managing energy efficiency over time. They are most efficient when initially commissioned, and do well after a major retrofit. Over time, however, performance starts to fall, which is inevitable without some kind of management system in place.

The other thing is that the largest driver of hotel energy consumption is something that you have little control over – the weather. Electricity consumption in particular correlates well with outside air temperature.

So, what does that leave you with as an option to control? Well there are the guest rooms and common areas where you could control temperatures. But you have customers there – and keeping them comfortable is much more important than saving a little bit on energy costs.

Where hotels are doing their bit is using labels to try and get their customers to help them save energy, for example by putting labels in bathrooms asking people to reuse towels if they can.

How do you tell how well a hotel is performing?

Enter what seems like a seriously cool online hotel footprinting tool.

The International Tourism Partnership (ITP) and Greenview have released a free online tool based on data from the Cornell Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking study.

The image below is a screenshot of the tool for the UK. It reports metrics based on 6 key measures:

  • HCMI Rooms Footprint Per Occupied Room (kgCO2e)
  • Hotel Carbon Footprint Per Room (kgCO2e)
  • Hotel Energy Usage Per Occupied Room (kWh)
  • Hotel Energy Usage Per Square Meter (kWh)
  • Hotel Energy Usage Per Square Foot (kWh)
  • HCMI Meetings Footprint Per SQM-HR (kgCO2e)

That’s a fair number of metrics.

From a combination of studies over the last 20 years, it seems that energy usage per square meter close to 200 kWh/m2 represents a very efficient hotel.

400 – 500 kWh/m2 is the mid-range performance while 600 kWh/m2 and above is an inefficient hotel or one with very high energy requirements resulting from the kit is has in the building or the climate in the area where it was built.

Measuring the energy used in hotels

The hospitality industry spends over $7billion on energy every year. So it’s worth putting in place systems to measure and manage this cost.

HCMI stands for the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative, developed by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), ITP and KPMG.

The resources for HCMI can be downloaded here http://tourismpartnership.org/resources/.

Another method of measurement is the EarthCheck Certified program, which appears popular in Australia.

In the US, Energy Star have a benchmarking fact sheet. Although the Energy Star programme may be under threat under the current US administration.

Technology in hotels

Energy use could be cut dramatically by introducing new technology into hotels.

For example, Zen Technologies is offering technologies such as smart thermostats, motor controls, LED lighting and ozone water treatments.

Zen claim that there are savings of 30-40% of utility costs based on such technology.

Other technologies include:

  • Laundry units that use less water
  • Low power Organic LED (OLED) TVs
  • Keycard activated lighting
  • Touchpad controls
  • Software to schedule shifts more efficiently

LED lights can deliver savings of between 50 – 80% according to providers.

On the generation side, you have solutions like an industrial fuel cell at the Radisson Blu in Germany. Supported by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure through a programme called the “National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Innovation Program”, the fuel cell will supply 3 GWh of electricity and 2 GWh of heat, removing the need for energy from the power grid for the hotel.

Taking action to cut energy and carbon

The tourism partnership has a useful guide on how hotels can go green.

The main areas to focus on are energy use, water use and waste.

This snapshot from the guide is a useful summary.

The areas where you can look to achieve savings include:

  • Heating
  • Lighting
  • Hot Water
  • Air conditioning
  • Refrigeration
  • Kitchen equipment
  • Laundry equipment
  • Swimming pools
  • Building envelope

Typically the energy required to condition spaces, heating or cooling large areas is the largest energy consuming activity, followed by domestic hot water. A rough breakdown could be as follows:

  • Space conditioning: 70-75%
  • Domestic hot water: 15%
  • Lighting: 12-18% and up to 40%
  • Catering: 15%

Lot cost / no cost tips from providers include turning down temperatures, installing energy efficient appliances, defrosting and cleaning behind fridges and freezers, using low energy lightbulbs, and having occupancy sensors.

It is also important to make sure that building energy management systems are commissioned correctly and are responding in the right way to sensors and settings. It is surprising how often systems are heating and cooling the same space at the same time.

In a best practice guide from Hotel Energy Solutions, the authors suggest an order in which to approach how to integrate energy efficiency in hotels:

  1. Evaluation: assess where you are and benchmark
  2. Organisation and behavioural solutions: involve staff and guests for long term change, with information leaflets and training.
  3. Technical solutions: These include reducing the energy needs through modifying the building, installing more efficient equipment and moving to renewables

These are 18 hotel case studies in this document and they provide useful tips and ideas to anyone looking at the options for energy efficiency measures in a particular hotel.

What can you achieve in practice?

The Ritz-Carlton saved over $11 million in energy costs and reduced energy consumption by 13% over three years. They did this by assessing 32 North American hotels, identifying 790 energy conservation measures (ECMs) and implementing 433.

Hotel Rafayel, a 5 star hotel in Battersea saved over £18,000 by installing LEDs and refrigeration control devices.

In India, the Godrej Bhavan office building invested $99,000 in energy efficiency retrofits, reducing energy use by over 11% the following year.

One aspect of this case study that should be followed by more business case modellers is that the team at Godrej modelled paybacks based on three scenarios:

  • 4.7 years under an actual bill scenario
  • 8.9 years under a fixed tariff scenario
  • 9.6 years under an escalating tariff scenario

This approach gives you a greater insight into possible outcomes and what happens when you spend money on energy efficiency measures – helping you spend money wisely.

In 2011, this building became the first one in Mumbai to achieve LEED gold certification.

In North Carolina, the Proximity hotel spent less than $7,000 on sustainability improvements during construction but saved $2,000 a month just through HVAC system monitoring controls. A detailed case study for this hotel is included here.


The hospitality industry uses a lot of energy but also has a lot of options when it comes to reducing the amount of energy it uses.

Unlike some other businesses, the way in which customers behave has a huge impact on hotel energy use.

You need to do things to Influence and motivate customers to make the right choices, such as reusing towels and turning lights off. You also need to make it easier for them to understand and control temperatures.

The hotel industry is also making efforts to make it easier for hotels to benchmark where they are and what they can do to make a difference.

And, according to the Carbon Trust, hotels could cut costs by 20% quite easily at little cost. So why wouldn’t you look at this if you aren’t doing so already?

Also, you might want to check out the UK’s first hotel energy conference, organised by Vilnis Vesma and the hospitality industry.

Cyber security for commercial firms

Are you being hacked right now? 

Your internet connected devices, including smart energy systems, could be spying on you right now, or be controlled by others carrying out attacks around the globe.

Internet security became headline news in 2016 with reports of Russian involvement in the leaking of emails from the Democratic party during the US Presidential elections.

Just in the last 24 hours (16th March 2017), there are 5 pages of news results on google news for the search term “cyber attack”.

These include:

  • An attack on the Abta travel website affecting 43,000 individuals
  • Stolen pictures of Emma Watson
  • Russian spies charged over a hack on Yahoo affecting at least 500 million users
  • A North Korean hack on Poland’s biggest bank lobbying group ZBP
  • An hack on Licking County’s system where the attackers demanded a ransom of $30,000
  • An attack on Amnesty International and UNICEF’s twitter accounts among others in support of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan

In 2007, an attack on Estonia’s internet system was blamed on Russia as an act of cyberwar.

In Wales, firms have paid ransoms amounting to thousands of pounds to get access to their own data.

In these ransomware attacks, what happens is that an email is sent to employees containing a link to ransomware software. The software then encrypts everything on the company’s network. When it is done, a ransom demand pops up.

Ransomware attackers now have guides in different languages, customer service and support teams to make it easier for you to pay ransoms. The ransoms are typically paid in bitcoins, a virtually untraceable online currency.

The cost of cybercrime in the UK could be as high as £27 billion. In the US, the FBI said that ransomware attacks totalled $209 million in the first three months of 2016, up from $24 million for all of 2015, an increase of over  2,500% for the quarter.

In September 2016, Bruce Schneier, an expert on cyber security, wrote that it was possible that a large nation state like China or Russia was testing how far it could hack into the companies that run critical parts of the internet.

If you want to kill the internet or a part of it, the best way is to launch a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. This method pushes so much data at sites that they are overwhelmed and stop operating.

The attackers typically take over home computers that they have infected and use them to launch the attack.

Again, in September 2016, an attack on Dyn, an internet infrastructure company that supports dozens of major websites was launched.

What made this attack different is that the attackers used internet connected devices such as webcameras and digital video recorders. This was the first use of millions of everyday devices rather than computers to launch such an attack, turning them into an army of “botnets”.

As companies use increasing numbers of internet connected printers, phones, energy meters and control devices in their businesses, the possibility that these devices can be used to gain access to your systems or be used in a DDoS attack increases exponentially.

It is very easy to launch an attack. The software is free to download. The Dyn attack was a system called Mirai, the source code is free to access and more attackers have built the code into their software. Or you can hire groups to carry out the work for you.

If you connect a GSM router to the internet with SSH capability and monitor its traffic logs, it is likely that you will notice probing attacks trying password combinations from servers that are located in China very quickly.

According to the quarterly Verisign DDoS trends report, attacks increased by 63% in Q4 2016 over the same period in 2015.

Verisign DDoS trends report
Verisign DDoS trend report Q4 2016

49% of attacks target IT services, cloud, and SAAS companies. 32% target the public sector and 7% of attacks target financial services companies.

Why is this relevant in the energy industry? Because the feeling is that the makers of consumer devices don’t really care about internet security.

But, when the devices you are connecting to your company turn the lights on and off in a building, or the power to an MRI scanner, or an operating theatre, then making sure they can’t be attacked needs to be one of your top concerns.

In the UK, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) was set up last year to improve the UK’s cyber security and cyber reliance.

This blog post by Ian Levy sets out what the NCSC is planning to do about an Active Cyber Defence (ACD) programme. Ideas include:

  • Make it harder to hijack UK machines
  • Make email harder to spoof
  • Get hosting providers to take down offending sites
  • Figure out how to help people not access bad sites
  • Create better software, better government, encourage innovation
  • Help owners and operators of critical national infrastructure

Finally… and I quote

“We’re still going to do things to demotivate our adversaries in ways that only GCHQ can do”

So… GCHQ is at cyber war…

Cyber-security and the impact for businesses and what they do is not going to go away anytime soon.

%d bloggers like this: