A worker at the IBM semiconductor plant in Burlington, Vermont. Recently, IBM installed 60,000 sensors there, and power and fuel use both dropped by a fifth.© http://ixbtlabs.com
One of the interactive exhibits that best connects with kids at the Connecticut Science Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, is the one displaying how sensors work. By touching certain metal parts with your thumb, making sounds, and shining a small light, gears turn, parts grow and metal pieces flip and turn. Now it turns out that sensors will be a key ingredient in a reduced-emissions future, as an essential part of new smart-grid technologies. Tiny sensors made by companies like IBM, Intel and Hewlett-Packard are set to play a role in how we use and produce energy. For instance, HP’s sensors can tell an individual appliance—like a refrigerator—to shut down for a few minutes, allowing a utility company to balance energy needs in real time on a very minute level, without the homeowner’s food ever being affected.
Sensors are also a major component of in-home smart meters, which connect homes and utilities, provide real-time information on where power is going and how much it’s costing and allow the homeowner to make minor adjustments from anywhere. IBM brought the same technology to its semiconductor plant in Burlington, Vermont, installing 60,000 sensors that, as ClimateWire reported, "synchronized its water, power, heating and lighting use." Since the plant operates 24 hours a day, the results were impressive. Both power and fuel use dropped by a fifth.
Sensors will be able to help detect water contaminants and other toxins, and will someday be able to operate without the use of batteries. Several company spokespeople indicated that as the technology continues to advance, sensors may represent the "Internet of Things," a new era of tiny revolutionary devices and a new job market to go with it.