Keeping tabs on emerging technology trends: professional development in the face of emerging trends

In a consulting-specifying engineer’s career, one’s focus typically is directed at pragmatic engineering challenges arising from a client’s specific project, but emerging issues, disruptive trends and new challenges are all reasons to remain well-informed of emerging technological trends.

By Sam Sciacca, Director, IEEE Standards Association October 17, 2014
In a consulting-specifying engineer’s career, one’s focus typically is directed at pragmatic engineering challenges arising from a client’s specific project. Keeping track of the technologies, standards and policies relating to the project in front of you can require your full attention.  
Keep in mind, however, that emerging issues, disruptive trends and new challenges will continue to arise outside your immediate bailiwick and current project load. Because these developments may eventually influence the nature of projects landing on your plate, you’ve got to maintain a forward-looking stance. Remaining well-informed is a perennial challenge.
Of course, this is the stuff of professional development, often attained through reading related publications such as Consulting-Specifying Engineer, attending conferences, getting involved in professional engineering societies such as IEEE and so forth. Maintaining one’s KSA – knowledge, skills and abilities – should be a proactive process. In this case, however, I’m taking a traditional notion one step further: professional development in the face of emerging trends. 
It’s quite possible that a major project could take years to complete and, at the current pace of technological change, that project might have to incorporate technology that’s become available only as the project is completed. Or project-related infrastructure could be expected to last for decades and needs to be designed to incorporate emerging technologies at some future date well within the lifespan of that infrastructure. Such projects might include a large office building, a hospital or a hotel complex. 
The sort of emerging technology that might reach commercialization in the near term – say, five to 10 years out – for instance, might include low-voltage dc circuits. Solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays, as you may know, produce dc power then invert it to ac to accommodate current, ac-based circuits. Much of the lighting and electronic loads within an office building, hospital or hotel, however, is dc based, so those systems have to convert ac back to dc for such loads.
Linking dc-producing solar PV directly to dc-consuming lighting and electronics, without inversions and conversions, could achieve efficiencies reaching as much as 30%. That would substantially reduce the capital costs of both generating and consuming devices, as well as the operational costs of the facility. This is a perfect example of the sort of future-oriented design that CSEs will increasingly need to employ and the foresight you’ll have to cultivate in an era of rapid technology innovation.  
My point here is underscored by the nature of related conferences such as the upcoming 2015 IEEE-IEEMA Intelect Conference & Exposition in Mumbai, India. And one exhibition there will be dubbed “H30,” which stands for hospitals, hotels, homes and offices. 
Another major technology area that’s rapidly evolving is the commercialization and application of power over Ethernet, or PoE, as it’s known. PoE is known for its ability to transmit low-level power over Ethernet connections, which already is being applied to LED lighting and monitoring systems such as video surveillance for security purposes. 
Thus, designing a facility in the “H30” category could well extend to many such emerging innovations, including microgrids that can “island” a facility for self-sufficiency if and when the grid fails, as well as load-control technologies that can prioritize on-site power consumption to balance onsite distributed (but limited) generation (DG) with mission-critical loads. 
One final thought will set up the second half of this two-part blog. These “H30” facilities will not exist in a vacuum. Rather, they are likely to come to fruition as their context evolves. I’m talking about the development of so-called Smart Cities, where critical infrastructure for safety and civil order also will use DG and load-prioritizing software to maintain essential functions such as traffic lights, police and fire departments to boost resiliency in the face of natural disasters as well as anthropogenic catastrophes. 
To learn more about the connection between the CSE and Smart Cities, be sure to catch my next blog.