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Quantum computing promises to usher in an exponential growth in computer processing power by replacing the binary digits (bits) used in classical electronic computing with quantum bits (qubits). While the technology is not there yet, once quantum supremacy (the theoretical state in which quantum computers can be shown to perform any task faster than classical computers) is reached then computers will be able to enhance and speed up any function that can be programmed or, through machine learning, self-programmed into machines.
This drastic improvement in computing power will undoubtedly help to solve one of humanity’s greatest problems right now – climate change. Climate change is being tackled by the clean technology industry by reducing the use of natural resources (or making their use more and more efficient) and minimizing the negative impact on the environment caused by ever-growing human populations. The set of technologies that are defined by the term clean technology – or cleantech – can all be aided in terms of performance and efficiency by faster, more powerful quantum computers of the future.
Quantum Computing in Energy Harnessing
Harnessing clean, renewable energy from solar panels, wind turbines, and hydroelectric stations requires manual or computer-aided optimization to ensure the power generated is greater than any energy used to operate the machines and systems that gather it. This involves aligning solar panels to gain the maximum possible sunlight, correctly gearing wind and water turbines so that they are spinning as quickly as possible, and linking up often thousands of solar panels or wind turbines in solar or wind farms (which are most effective when they are remote or offshore) in complex circuits.
Quantum computing could effectively automate these processes and more like them to gain as much energy as possible from these clean, renewable energy sources. In addition to this, the greater speed and reliability of machine learning that quantum computing can enable could aid renewable energy harvesting by optimizing these processes better or faster than human learning could.
Quantum Computing in Smart Electric Grids and Cities
National and transnational electric grids are vast networks of power generating stations, substations which step up voltage for transmission or down for distribution, high voltage transmission lines which transport the electricity, distribution lines connecting to consumers, and electricity output. They are the arterial system of civilization, spanning entire continents, and modern life is impossible without them. As such, they are incredibly complicated and – because they must supply voltage at relatively constant amplitudes while balancing varying amounts of supply and demand – incredibly delicate relative to their size.
With the advent of internet technology and the development of distributed networks, grids have become smarter. In this way, the various nodes in the network are equipped with their own computing power which can receive inputs from other parts of the grid (connecting supply and demand) and react accordingly, keeping the grid more stable and efficient.
Quantum computing would enable these cleaner, smart electric grids to become increasingly automated and therefore more efficient. This would result in fewer power shortages, less energy lost in transmission, and more efficient distribution of electricity throughout the grid.
Similarly, quantum computing could enable a fully automated smart city of the future. With human populations still increasing, it is predicted that the majority of humans will live in large cities which will need to have pollution and waste treated and disposed of, energy demands met, and road and air traffic managed. Quantum computing-based control systems will be able to automate these processes efficiently and maximize the quality of life in densely populated cities.
Quantum Computing in Advanced Forecasting
One of the theoretical benefits of quantum computing will be its ability to more accurately forecast by taking in more input data than is possible for any electric computer. This will enable better planning of energy generation and supply, as well as aiding meteorologists and environmental scientists to make accurate climate models and therefore understand how clean changes to behavior and technology can most effectively protect the planet and its ecosystems.
Quantum Computing in Technology Development
Quantum computing promises to usher in a new era of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). With its more powerful computing power, quantum will be able to automate the technology development process, providing ever more efficient technology and technological solutions that will be able to maintain (and improve) current human lifestyles while minimizing our impact on the environment. In the quantum computing future, cleantech could be a vastly different industry to the one we know today.
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