Ed's Note

Inter the fourth revolution

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Welcome to another edition of South Africa's favourite energy quarterly, it has been a busy time since we last touched base. The Internet of Things and the Fourth Industrial Revolution have undoubtedly been the talk of town in energy circles.

The energy efficiency sector (EE) has embraced cutting edge technologies for many years: most large companies have complex computer systems to help manage energy costs, and different sensors and software to communicate with to each other.

You could argue that the EE sector was a pioneer in developing and maximising new technologies. And with utility costs hitting the ceiling every company needs to keep a close eye on usage. You really need a plan to save as much as possible, and generate you own electricity through rooftop solar in an urban environment.

We are seeing more EE technologies in domestic use too with, for example, new upmarket housing developments installing the latest gadgets that operate autonomously to manage temperatures and security. Climate control has never been easier to obtain, at a price of course.

Greater automisation is clearly evident in the automotive sector with the first driverless cars and trucks completing tests in Europe and North America, and there have been very few incidents to speak of. The problem with autonomous vehicles does not lie with the vehicle per se but other human road users.

When reviewing a high-end car the other day with active cruise control, which follows the car in front of you all the way to traffic lights, the the taxi in front of me decided to jump the red light and the car just followed. Autonomous cars have a child-like mind and assume that all road users obey the law. The only way that self-driving cars will work is if humans are banned from driving!

And then we get on to technical failure. What happens if your car's computer crashes at 120 km, what then? A pilot does very little flying in modern planes, which were the first autonomous forms of transportation. But the pilot has the ability to take over in risky conditions. Therefore, I don't think we'll ever see a 100% autonomous car which does not have a steering wheel and pedals as a backup.

The future is coming sooner that we may expect, and on many levels, it is adapt or die.

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