Energy & supercomputers: a data relationship

 By Michelle Leslie

Environmental and economic concerns continue to mount globally over the sustainable use and management of natural resources…

The United Nations stressed the importance of sustainable use and management of resources as critical to meeting global targets for sustainable development and preventing biodiversity loss.
But what if big data thanks to high-performance computers could provide sustainable solutions through better management of renewable resources?
Enter exascale computing. A robotic genius, these supercomputers can perform a quintillion (1018) calculations per second. They can simulate a wide array of processes from energy and water use to converting plants to biofuels and even regional climate variabilities.
In late January, the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) hosted a high-performance computing workshop on energy, and China is investing hundreds of millions of dollars on their next generation of super computers. Getting the crunch on data, these new machines could be deployed within a year. Three supercomputers will collect data to better understand the impacts of climate change on the world’s oceans which cover more than two-thirds of our planet.
As reported by HPC wire, “It will help, for instance, the simulation of the oceans on our planet with unprecedented resolution. The higher the resolution, the more reliable the forecast on important issues such as El Nino and climate change,” Feng Liqiang, operational director of the Marine Science Data Centre in Qingdao, Shandong, told the South China Morning Post. “It will give China a bigger say in international affairs.”

HPC for Energy

Using exascale computing to sustainably manage energy projects is the goal of the HPC For Energy Project (HPC4E). Big data and 3D modeling have many roles in the energy world. Supercomputers can provide developers with a better understanding of atmospheric dynamics, which can help make wind farms more competitive. In the world of biogas, combustion modeling can optimize fuel design and supercomputers can help to map the Earth’s interior, including seismic activity, providing essential data to aid the oil and gas industry in drilling operations. Computers can also help to combat climate change through energy efficiency.
Energy efficiency will be critical to helping nations stay on path to meet their Paris Accord commitments. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), our global demand for energy will increase by a whopping 30 percent by 2040. A growing global economy, industrialization and population expansion will all press added strain on energy resources. In the World Energy Outlook 2017, “compared with the past twenty-five years, the way that the world meets its growing energy needs changes dramatically in the New Policies Scenario, with the lead now taken by natural gas, by the rapid rise of renewables and by energy efficiency.”
Eni recently launched the most powerful computer that industry has ever seen with the introduction of the HPC4. With a peak performance of 18.6 Petaflops, this powerful supercomputer will digitize the company’s entire operating structure. With quadruple the computing power, the HPC4 is one of only ten supermachines on the planet. Part of a digital transformation, this latest technology will enhance efficiencies and sustainable use of resources.
According to Eni chief executive officer, Claudio Descalzi, the HPC4 holds the potential to change the energy industry all together. “With HPC4 we are tracing the path for the use of exascale supercomputers in the energy sector that could revolutionise the way in which oil and gas activities are managed. In line with Eni’s sustainability policy, Eni’s Green Data Center as well as the new HPC4 have been engineered to ensure the maximum level of energy efficiency in order to minimize CO2 emissions and operating costs”.
British Petroleum (BP) also announced an investment in its latest supercomputer. The world’s most powerful supercomputer will be used to advance research opportunities such as rock physics (a rock’s physical properties and how they are impacted by seismic activity).
Exascale computing could also help to combat cyber threats to critical infrastructure.

In a world that is increasingly reliant on computers to manage nearly every facet of our daily lives, from banking to delivering energy to online shopping; the complexity and frequency of cyberattacks is on the rise.
In a report released by the Idaho National Laboratory on this subject, researchers found that, the development of smart grids has made energy companies more exposed to a cyberattack. The report pointed out that “there is no mitigating effort that can be 100 percent effective. A defense mechanism that works today may not be effective tomorrow – the ways and means of cyberattacks constantly change. It is critical all energy sector participants remain aware of changes in cyber security and continue to work to prevent potential vulnerabilities in the systems they manage.”
Supercomputers combined with Artificial Intelligence allow for improved machine learning. Through faster and more efficient learning cyber patterns and threats can be detected and prevented more accurately, providing more security for the energy industry and its critical infrastructure.
Wanting to get in on the data, Europe recently committed 1 billion dollars to improve its supercomputing abilities. The United States is hoping to have a full exascale system in place within the next three years, by 2021.

about the author
Michelle Leslie
Alberta, Toronto and now Ottawa. Meteorologist, Journalist & Munk School Of Global Affairs Fellow.