Environmental technology software?
July 17, 2016 8:13 AM   Subscribe

I'm doing some career exploration and pontificating. Are there software companies that produce products for use in environmental/green energy fields? Is this a thing?

I'm not very familiar with the environmental sector, but it is very interesting to me. What are the industry trends around green/sustainable/alternative energy? Are there software companies that sell products to leaders in this field? I would be especially interested in learning about data mining or machine learning used to, for example, detect inefficiencies in a power grid, and especially if there are companies using cloud/distributed computing.

posted by deathpanels to Technology (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Software like Sefaira helps integrate advanced modeling using cloud based resources to put powerful tools in the hands of Architects and Engineers to refine their designs early on to be more energy efficient. There is a great deal of machine learning involved in taking 3D models and environmental information and tying that into advanced energy modeling software, while providing a clear understandable interface so people can make well informed decisions.

Disclaimer: I work on fellow Trimble software.
posted by nickggully at 8:38 AM on July 17, 2016

If you're looking for socially-valuable products that have a lot of software in them, a better place to look is in aids for the handicapped. Things like smart prosthetics for amputees, or fancy glasses to aid those who cannot see well. There can be a lot of software in things like that.

I've seen film of glasses for blind people that scan the area ahead using ultrasound and create binaural sounds indicating the presence of obstacles. Using such glasses, a blind person can walk down a crowded street without using a cane or a guide dog. Those glasses have a lot of software in them.

Another thing is powered exoskeletons for paraplegics which respond to nerve signals, to permit them to walk. There is a lot of exciting stuff going on.

Stephen Hawking is profoundly crippled by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ("Lou Gehrig's Disease") and he uses what little mobility he has left to communicate to the world through a special computer that was designed for him. He's been doing that for 30 years.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:34 AM on July 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: First, a lot of this work is done in academia, likely because it's not very profitable yet, so the most direct route to get involved might be to go to grad school.

In green energy, NREL is the main clearinghouse and organizing body in the US. Most utility companies have their own green energy departments as well.

I have a friend who does data science work at RTI. It's one of the few socially conscious non-profits (non-academic) doing data science for the public good.

If you're interested in software in general, another huge thing in environmental science is data loggers. Companies like YSI, Li-COR, and Onset are constantly updating the software that goes along with their loggers and creating new types of loggers that need new software.

And then there's the whole world of GIS and remote sensing, where ESRI is the big corporate player and NASA is certainly among the biggest non-corporate agencies in the world. GIS/remote sensing is used for energy planning as well as in just about every other aspect of environmental research.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:09 AM on July 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: There are loads. I teach on a renewable energy UG programme and examples of RE specific softwares we look at include: RETscreen, a kind of financial modeling software for RE projects. PVsyst for solar projects. Windfarm and Windfarmer for windfarm planning. Bladed for wind turbine design. SWAN for wave energy progression for wave energy planning. There'll be loads more that are relevant even if not written specifically for RE applications. The coming thing is apps for smart grid related activity, of which there will undoubtedly be lots more in the coming years.
posted by biffa at 12:02 PM on July 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

GIS, Internet of Things, and passive solar are areas to investigate.

I don't know if they ever solved it or how long ago I read about it, but one of the major issues in RE is that wind farms have to be taken offline to a large degree during storms because the grid as a whole cannot handle the enormous surge in energy production. The lines cannot carry it without going on the fritz and there is no means to store it.

Passive solar design is enormously more efficient and provides a better quality of life than the standard American cardboard box residential design that we then try like hell to heat and cool, which is a constant uphill battle. Passive Solar is less "sexy" than wind and PV solar but would dramatically reduce our energy needs, thereby increasing our quality of life in a way that produces minimal pollution and environmental impact.

There is no reason you cannot be for wind and PV solar and also for passive solar. The combination of the three is fantastic and a great way to go off grid for individual buildings. Wind tends to produce when solar does not, such as during storms, and getting the total consumption of electricity down makes it vastly easier to cover the energy needs of the location.

Internet of Things is involved in Smart City design. Getting utilities down is one aspect of that. So, in addition to researching IoT, look at Smart City design. You are likely to find intriguing software use cases in that area.

posted by Michele in California at 1:05 PM on July 17, 2016

There are lots of things that renewables still have to do. Many countries have barely made any progress so there is lots of resource assessment to do. Once new capacity stats to emerge then there are issues of integration of both electrical generation as well as heat (and maybe cooling, depending on where) generation and this also had to be matched with consumption. The nature of this balance is shifting from being demand led to who knows what. This means less of potential for new solutions, some technical, some behavioural but many requiring capable programming. There is a stack of opportunities: smart grid, smart systems, internet of things, demand side management and more.
posted by biffa at 2:11 PM on July 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Everybody uses software for everything these days. I would think the easiest way to approach this is to decide what company/industry you want to work in, and go there to get a programming job. A lot of the things that appeal to me would require some background in applied math. I'm thinking of academic research, computerized control systems, etc. But almost anything could be green from a computer game to CNC control of a process to manufacture a green product.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:55 PM on July 17, 2016

Energy storage planning is a big user of data mining. Almost every renewable energy technology has some spatial requirement, so GIS technology is a must
posted by scruss at 3:56 PM on July 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Try "greentech" and "cleantech" as search terms.
posted by orangejenny at 5:13 PM on July 17, 2016

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