The role of sensors and controls in transforming the energy landscape
The U.S. Department of Energy funds a large portfolio of fossil energy R&D projects aimed at transformational improvements in the cost and environmental performance of coal-based power generation while maintaining high reliability standards. The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) manages DOE's Crosscutting Research Program, which leverages on-going trends in disruptive technology to achieve breakthroughs in sensors and controls. Examples include: advanced manufacturing of embedded sensors with energy harvesting capability; wireless signal transmission and blockchain infrastructure; and the application of data analytics and machine learning to processing distributed sensor signals to create actionable control interfaces. The fossil energy application space requires the development of sensors capable of monitoring key operational parameters (temperature, pressure, and gas compositions) while operating in harsh environments; analytical sensors capable of on-line, real-time evaluation and measurement to support condition-based monitoring. Controls development centers around self-organizing information networks, algorithms for component lifetime assessment and plant-level economics, and distributed intelligence for process control and decision making. All of this must be accomplished while hardening fossil energy assets.