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TECH

Berlin tech show facing up to era of energy scarcity

From portable solar panels to smart thermostats and "intelligent" radiators, exhibitors at the IFA tech show in Berlin are touting smart solutions for an energy-starved world.

Visitors look at TVs at the stand of the LG brand at the electronics show IFA in Berlin.
Visitors look at TVs at the stand of the LG brand at the electronics show IFA in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

But the clever gadgets sometimes belie their hefty carbon footprint.

The motto for the 2022 edition of the German fair for cutting-edge technology – the first since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic — is
“energy efficiency”, a timely mission with prices for electricity soaring.

One such exhibitor which believes it has the answer is Busch-Jaeger, whose stand is carpeted in switches and small blank screens.

The German company, owned by the Swiss group ABB, has become a specialist in “smart home” technologies.

Their idea: to regulate energy consumption at home on the basis of a stream of data, including the current ambient temperature, the light in the room and the quality of the air.

Such devices are “more and more sought after” as the cost of energy skyrockets in Europe, says Ulf Ehling, who is tasked with presenting the company’s technology at IFA.

Visitors walk through the Siemens grounds at the IFA electronics trade show.

Visitors walk through the Siemens grounds at the IFA show. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

‘Crazy’

A few hundred metres away, the Norwegian company Mill is offering black and white “intelligent” radiators.

Thanks to a smartphone app, users can control the temperature in their homes over the course of the day.

According to Bashir Naimy, Mill’s technical director, the device can help save “37 percent of a household’s energy”.

IFA also boasts regular displays of eccentric gadgets, among them a fridge that cools a drink in “two minutes” or an odour generator for buying perfume online.

The French company Y-Brush has descended on IFA to tout a “sonic” toothbrush that looks like dentures, which is “capable of brushing all teeth
at once in 5, 10, or 15 seconds”.

Visitors to the fair, which closes on Tuesday, are, however, preoccupied by the question of energy usage.

“When you see how much all these devices consume it is crazy,” says Justin, 23, a tech enthusiast, who came to Berlin specifically for the show.

“We’re always thinking about that,” says Christoph Boettger, 39, who has come with his partner.

European energy prices have soared over recent months in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent throttling of gas supplies to Germany from Moscow.

The German government has launched an energy-saving campaign and tried to lead by example by reducing the temperature in public buildings, among other moves.

The energy conundrum worsened last week, as Russian energy giant Gazprom said it would not restart gas deliveries via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline after a planned three-day maintenance, pinning the blame on Western sanctions.

‘Internet of things’

“Smart home technologies can help save energy,” Sara Warneke, the director of IFA’s organisers, said Friday.

But what is the real toll of these new energy technologies?

According to a 2020 report by the French Senate the “growth in greenhouse gas emissions” from digital technologies is driven by “the internet of things” – household electronics connected to the web – and the “storage of data”.

The two together could lead to a 60 percent leap “in the carbon impact of digital technologies by 2040”.

Despite the individual energy saving potential, the total impact of these technologies may be bigger than they first appear.

The Chinese company Ecoflow, which has offices across Europe, hopes to resolve the contradiction with mini solar panels.

The long, foldable rectangles that are carried around in a special case can be used to charge a lithium battery.

Their portability means users “do not need administrative authorisation to install them”, says Franko Fischer, Ecoflow’s spokesman.

The panels can generate 2,700 Wh, enough to charge a computer, a mobile phone or a hairdryer.

“We expect consumers in Europe to have high demand for solutions like ours, because people want to be independent, especially in a crisis,” says Fischer.

In Germany, the cost of electricity has risen on average by 31 percent in the year to August, according to price comparison site Check24.

By Florian CAZERES

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ENERGY

Norway and Germany seek Nato-led cooperation for key undersea structures

Germany and Norway want to start a NATO-led alliance to protect critical underwater infrastructure, their leaders said on Wednesday, weeks after explosions hit two key gas pipelines in the fallout from the war in Ukraine.

Norway and Germany seek Nato-led cooperation for key undersea structures

 “We are in the process of asking the NATO Secretary General to set up a coordination office for the protection of underwater infrastructure,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told a press conference in Berlin.

“We take the protection of our critical infrastructure very seriously and nobody should believe that attacks will remain without consequences,” he said.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said the alliance would be “an informal initiative to exchange between civilian and also military actors” with NATO providing “a centre, a coordination point”.

Underwater cables and pipelines were “arteries of the modern economy” and it was necessary to create “a coordinated joint effort to ensure security for this infrastructure”, he said.

Scholz said he and Store would propose the plan to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who is due in Berlin for a security conference. The Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines off the Danish island of Bornholm were targeted by two huge explosions at the end of September.

The pipelines, which connect Russia to Germany, had been at the centre of geopolitical tensions as Moscow cut gas supplies to Europe in suspected
retaliation to Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

Although they were not in operation when the leaks occurred, they both still contained gas which spewed up through the water and into the atmosphere.

Russia and Western countries, particularly the United States, have traded bitter barbs over who is responsible for the blasts.

Several European countries have since taken steps to increase security around critical infrastructure. 

The G7 interior ministers warned earlier this month at a meeting in Germany that the Nord Stream explosions had highlighted “the need to better protect our critical infrastructure”.

Norway has become Europe’s main gas supplier in the wake of the war in Ukraine, taking the place of Russia.

The Scandinavian country has a vast network of pipelines, stretching for almost 9,000 kilometres, linking it to the continent, which experts have said are at risk of sabotage.

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