The Current Flow March 2017

The Current Flow February 2017

La Plata Electric Supports Fort Lewis’ New Cutting Edge GPE Building

Durango-based Fort Lewis College celebrated the opening of the new Geosciences, Physics and Engineering (GPE) building. La Plata Electric Association and its members helped fund this building through an educational and special projects grant of $200,000 from Unclaimed Capital Credits.

LPEA staff engineer, Rachel Schur-Wagner says that Fort Lewis is cutting-edge and the opening of the GPE “Is providing incredible opportunities in engineering and the sciences.” Labs in the GPE are filled with the latest in high-tech equipment and spaces for students to be creative. Instead of listening to mass lectures, students work in small collaborative groups.

Dan Harms, LPEA manager of rates, technology and energy management says that Fort Lewis is a “great value to local companies” now that they can “home-grow” their own future employees in Durango.

Not only is the GPE building cutting edge, but with the new three-story building, Fort Lewis is able to expand its student base for their geosciences, physics, and engineering programs.

LPEA takes pride in the fact that they and their members had a hand in helping make this a reality for their local Durango community.

Two EnergyWise Awards Presented at the Colorado Science Fair

Projects focused on electricity were honored at the Colorado Science and Engineering Fair thanks to CREA and the financial support of CoBank. The 62nd annual statewide science fair at Colorado State University in Fort Collins included more than 300 projects created by students in grades 6 through 12 from across the state. As a sponsor of the EnergyWise Award, the Colorado Rural Electric Association was represented by Stuart Travis, a member of the CREA board from Y-W Electric in Akron. Travis served as the judge for the special EnergyWise Award, and as a former state science fair exhibitor himself, he enjoyed quizzing the students exhibiting at this year’s fair and learning about their projects.

Winners this year are middle schooler Tate Schrock, a 7th grader at Arickaree School in Anton, and high school students Michelle Ren and Julianna O’Clair, who are 10th graders at Brush High School in Brush. Tate’s project was titled “H2 and O2 Generator Fabrication & PEM Fuel Cell Efficiency,” and it documented a successfully-built H2 and O2 generator that split water molecules to be used in a fuel cell as another way to create renewable energy.

Michelle and Julianna titled their project “Energy Production of Microbial Fuel Cells,” studying how microbes from the soil or wastewater can generate electricity and showed how adding a salt or sugar solution to the process increases output.

Both of these projects were awarded a special certificate and a $250 prize. The students will also be invited to exhibit their projects at the CREA Energy Innovations Summit in October.

Take Control of Your Smart Devices and Make Them Work for You

By Paul Wesslund

If you ever want to see one of the biggest changes going on in the world today, look around your home. Your smartphone, video gaming system, security camera, fitness bracelet, thermostat and even your television could be part of a vast, interconnected group of devices that goes by the clunky name of the “internet of things.”

The term refers to anything connected to the internet, which covers a lot of gadgets and will soon cover even more. Today, you can purchase lightbulbs that dim with the sound of your voice or from the press of a button on your smartphone. A 2014 report by the investment firm Goldman Sachs predicted the number of internet-connected devices could grow 10 times by 2020, to as many as 28 billion “things.”

While this growth may seem like the latest trend, it was recognized more than 30 years ago. Credit for naming it goes to Peter T. Lewis, co-founder of Cellular One. In a 1985 speech he said, “The internet of things, or IoT, is the integration of people, processes and technology with connectable devices and sensors to enable remote monitoring status, manipulation and evaluation of trends of such devices.”

Low prices versus security
In other words, the rapid rise in the number of internet-connected devices has been building for decades, says Tim Heidel, deputy chief scientist with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “The ‘internet of things’ is the latest buzzword that reflects a long-term trend,” Heidel says. “Ten years ago, you may have had six or eight or 10 devices on the wireless router in your home. Now, that number can go as high as 25 or 30 devices.”

Heidel credits lower costs for ramping up this high-tech revolution, which can make life more convenient and fun, and even increase energy efficiency with new ways to control heating, cooling, lighting and other electricity users.

“The cost of including communications in the devices has come down dramatically. Twenty years ago, you could only afford an ethernet port or Wi-Fi in a computer,” Heidel says. “Now, we’re getting to the point where it costs literally only pennies to include that capability in any device imaginable.

“So what’s changing here is the number of devices. Once you have a critical mass of all the places that are capable of communicating, they can then start communicating with each other.

All of this promises convenience and services, but in the pursuit of extremely low costs, sometimes there’s the opportunity to cut corners on security,” Heidel adds.

A stunning example of security problems with the “internet of things” happened last October when hackers crashed dozens of websites in the United States for most of a day, including well-known names like Netflix and Twitter. Incredible as it seems, that attack may have been aided by a device in your own home.

Here’s what happened Friday, October 21: Hackers already scanned the world for devices vulnerable to infection by malicious software that allowed them to take control of hundreds of thousands of home routers, baby monitors, printers and network-enabled cameras. Using that “botnet,” the hackers flooded websites with so many messages the sites shut down for several hours in what is called a “denial of service” attack.

Cyber safety tips
There are ways you can reduce your risk from hackers hijacking your internet-connected devices, says Cynthia Hsu, cyber security program manager with NRECA.

“Understand what you’re buying,” Hsu says. “If you have a choice between two vendors who are producing a product and one takes security seriously and the other doesn’t, use your money to buy a product that takes security seriously. If consumers are not willing to pay for security, the manufacturers have no incentive to build it.

“The criminal element is rapidly escalating the innovation of new ways of attack.” If you have a router for wireless internet in your home, Hsu says, “make sure you patch your router’s software whenever security updates are available so it’s protected as new vulnerabilities are discovered.”

Other security steps Hsu recommends:
• Install firewalls in your home network.
• Change the default passwords regularly in devices you purchase.
• Disconnect gadgets when they’re not being used. “Not everything needs to be plugged into the internet all the time,” she says.

Keep in mind that the electronics in your home can not be accessed from outside without you allowing it. For example, your electric utility cannot access your refrigerator’s energy usage unless it is a smart refrigerator that you allow access to and it is connected to one or more online applications.

The folks at your local electric co-op can offer expertise in managing the promise and the problems of what is called the “internet of things,” and they can answer questions about efficient energy usage. NRECA, your co-op’s national association, is researching some of the newest devices to understand how they can be used for energy efficiency.

“NRECA does a lot of research to help guide, deploy and test these devices,” says Venkat Banunarayanan, NRECA’s senior product development manager. “These projects are looking at how to use these devices in the ‘internet of things’ to bring value to the co-op and its members.”

Paul Wesslund writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.