How High Performance Computing Supercharges Energy Sector Innovation in Texas

It’s hard to find a better place to investigate the ways high performance computing (HPC) is transforming energy production and distribution than Texas—a state that sits at the epicenter of the energy industry.

In fact, SC18 (the premier International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage, and Analysis) will be hosted in Dallas on November 11–16, 2018.

Texas Gold

Texas has a “black gold” reputation, for obvious reasons, but it has an increasingly bright green horizon for renewables and alternative energy sources. Energy is just one of the many big reasons SC18 is coming to Dallas.

According to projections by the DOE Energy Information Administration (EIA), global energy use will climb by 28% between 2015 and 2040.

SC18 Communications Chair Ian MacConnell from Ohio.

Power generated from renewable sources will be the fastest growing category; petroleum, natural gas, and nuclear power consumption will also grow; while coal use is projected to hold steady, the EIA estimates.

No matter how closely future realities adhere to these projections, one thing is certain: the energy sector is undergoing noisy, exciting transformations and HPC is a critical tool fueling fundamental industry changes.

Texas understands the game—not only does it rank number one in total power production, biodiesel production capacity, and solar energy potential, according to the Office of the Texas Governor, but it is an emerging leader in wind energy production and a contender with enormous potential in solar power.

Some of the fastest maturing clean energy sources are benefitting most from the precision simulation capabilities of our fastest supercomputers.

Why It Matters

Engineers and computer and data scientists are partnering in new ways using these high-performance machines to achieve unheard-of innovation in deployment of oil, gas, and coal; as well as development and adaptation of renewable and alternative energy sources.

Examples of these include solar, wind, hydroelectric, and nuclear; as well as exploration and invention related to alternative energy sources such as geothermal, biomass, biogas, and tidal power.

Energy production challenges may seem overwhelming, but opportunity abounds. There are the big overarching questions: How do we draw down our dependence on finite supplies of fossil fuels? How do we speed up development and maturation of nascent alternative energies and make them cost-effective enough to compete for investment dollars and wider adaptation?

And then there are specific project-based questions: How do we manage the supply and demand of an energy source that disappears for 8–12 hours every day? Or build a quieter, more efficient wind turbine?

The good news is that large-scale industrial energy production is exactly the kind of enterprise that can benefit most from our computing capabilities.

Increasingly powerful supercomputers are capable of detailed data modeling and computational case studies, making them invaluable and transformative as invention and problem-solving tools.

Important References

For example, researchers might be looking for new types of coatings for a solar panel to minimize dust accumulation that will degrade the performance of the panel over time, or a new surface for wind turbines that would resist weathering that degrades performance.

A supercomputer could mock up hundreds of thousands of types of compounds that might work to create a surface that is impervious or resistant to dust buildup, a few of which could be created and tested in a lab and eventually deployed.

Furthermore, supercomputers continue to get faster and increasingly important. For instance, in Houston, BP recently announced that it has more than doubled the total computing power of its Center for High Performance Computing.

According to the article, the upgrade will reduce the time needed to analyze seismic data to support exploration, appraisal, and development plans as well as to make operations safer. Click here to read the full article.

Honestly, these are the big questions; the ones we hope we can tell our kids and grandkids we helped solve. The stakes are high, and with the tools we have, we can make real progress on energy development.

Editor’s note: Special thanks to the Texas Advanced Computing Center for their contributions to this article.


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