Green Energy, the Internet of Things, & Sugar - the Direct Energy Buzz for October 2016 | Direct Energy Blog

Green Energy, the Internet of Things, & Sugar – the Direct Energy Buzz for October 2016

It’s the October installment of The Direct Energy Buzz! This month, we’re seeing who’s rolling the dice on green energy, how botnets can take over your Internet of Things (IoT) gadgets (and how to protect yourself), and why sugar and fungus could lead to more energy efficiency and cheaper beer.

Betting Big on Green Energy

Green Energy, the Internet of Things, & Sugar - the Direct Energy Buzz for October 2016 | Direct Energy Blog
What happens in Vegas might actually need to leave Vegas this time as a model for further exploring the viability of renewable energy generation.

What do you do when you own 26,000 solar panels covering about 28 acres of rooftop space under a gleaming desert sun? Dump your electric company, of course.

Well, maybe not completely, but pretty close to it. MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts year-long negotiation to stop buying their electricity from NV Energy ended on September 30. Now, the two Las Vegas casino giants will buy electricity from private providers who get their supply on the wholesale market. However, since the two companies represent 6% of NV Energy’s sales, they must pay an impact fee that together amounts to $100 million to prevent costs being passed on to other rate-payers. NV Energy will still provide transmission and distribution as well as meet reliability obligations.

Why? Both companies feel they can save money buying from a private provider as well as support renewable energy — especially since they are required to meet Nevada’s renewable portfolio standard. That’s why MGM and Wynn are betting this $100 million exit fee will be recouped in the long-term.

Energy innovation and conservation in businesses aren’t just reserved for high rollers in Vegas or big corporate campuses. Recently, fast food restaurant chain Wendy’s Company announced it received two environmental awards from the 2016 Lighting Energy Efficiency in Parking (LEEP). In addition, the company has implemented more than 1,100 individual energy upgrade projects at more than 550 restaurants, saving the equivalent of the energy needed to run 1,200 average US homes for a year.

IOT Botnets Exploit Factory Default Passwords

Green Energy, the Internet of Things, & Sugar - the Direct Energy Buzz for October 2016 | Direct Energy Blog
Seriously, folks – always change your passwords from the factory default!

If you own a smart DVR, network printer, IP camera, router, or other IOT gadgets set up with the manufacturer’s default password, then it’s just possible they might have participated in the largest distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack ever. A DDoS attack floods a targeted computer server with requests, making it unavailable for legitimate users. Such an attack is used to shut down access to news, government, hospital, or business websites.

On September 20, KrebsOnSecurity.com was hit with a DDoS attack of 600 to 700 gigabits per second, forcing it to shut down.

While that doesn’t sound fun, how could this affect me?

Green Energy, the Internet of Things, & Sugar - the Direct Energy Buzz for October 2016 | Direct Energy Blog
Sure, this is a slightly creepy graphic, but it’s still better than unscrupulous hacker-types taking over your devices.

Say you’ve got an IP camera and for some reason, you left the user:password set to the factory default of admin:admin.

  • The botnet master uses a program called “Mirai” to continuously scan the internet for IOT devices —especially those with particular chipsets that allows telnet connection.
  • When it finds yours, it uses a list of 62 factory default passwords, including admin:admin, to establish a brute force telnet connection to your IOT device.
  • Once the botnet master connects, it blocks and kills any connections running on ports 22, 23, and 80.
  • You now have lost control over your camera. It’s now part of the botnet half a million strong and ready to be part of the next DDoS attack.

How do I know if my device(s) has been taken over?

Simple – you don’t. If you never changed the factory default security settings, there’s a good chance it may have already been press-ganged into botnet service. However, Krebs Security advises that unplugging an IoT device from power will wipe the device’s memory.

That might not be enough, though, since reconnecting it to the internet could get it reinfected in minutes if the user and password settings are not changed to something stronger and easy to remember. The trouble is, however, that telnet is a system-level log-in and the password for that level might not be able to be changed unless there’s a firmware update —assuming the device’s firmware can be updated.

If you have never changed your password on your IoT device, we recommend checking with the manufacturer on how you can protect your device.

Waste Not, Want Not

Green Energy, the Internet of Things, & Sugar - the Direct Energy Buzz for October 2016 | Direct Energy Blog
Sugar! Now with more uses than just sweetening beverages and food.

People eat a variety of stuff, but not everything that goes into making food is used. Food production waste contains lots of the same sugars (such as maltose, glucose, fructose, and sucrose) and sugar alcohols (such as erythritol and xylitol) used in the foods produced. These sugars don’t have many biological uses for feeding organisms, but their molecular organization makes some of them very useful as phase change materials.

Phase change materials (PCM) are used for thermal storage because they stay cold or stay warm for long periods of time. If you’re shipping thermally-sensitive materials around, such as medical samples, experimental biologic proteins, or artisan cupcakes cross-country, then you’ll want something to maintain a stable temperature during transportation. It would also be extra-nice if it was non-toxic, didn’t explode, or was nonflammable.

Another everyday application could be in heating water where the PCM absorbs heat from the sun and is then used to heat a water tank. The problem is you need a LOT of PCM to work because of low heat transfer rates.

Well, this sounds cool, but what are the practical, everyday benefits of this technology?

Green Energy, the Internet of Things, & Sugar - the Direct Energy Buzz for October 2016 | Direct Energy Blog
And no, this is not how this sugar-derived energy will be stored.

Sugar Alcohol based Materials for Seasonal Storage Applications (SAM.SSA) is an European Union project looking to create a way to effectively store waste heat for later use. Researchers there discovered that, by adding carbon nanotubes to the sugar alcohol erythritol, they could improve the amount of heat transfer so it would absorb and pass on more heat than other substances. Plus, since it’s an industrial waste product, it’s cheap.

One application idea being floated is that waste heat could be absorbed by sugar alcohol from solar installations and industries and then piped for storage at a centralized tank farm. In winter, the sugar alcohol could then be pumped into homes and businesses to supply heat.

Of course, if you’re looking for something sweet to help run your smart phone, then you’ll need to look at a fast-growing fungus called Neurospora crassa. Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder discovered that, by feeding the fungus sugar-rich wastewater from a brewery, they could control its chemical and physical processes as it grew. They wound up making “one of the most efficient naturally-derived lithium-ion battery electrodes known to date…”

The upside for breweries is not only does this allow them to explore the lithium ion battery component as a side business, but the fungi also cleans their wastewater and alleviates the need for treatment by their water utility. That could lower the brewer’s costs…and hopefully the price of their beer.

Is there a particular news item you’d like to see us discuss in future installments of the Direct Energy Buzz? Talk to us in the comments!

About 

Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.