Seth Borenstein, Associated Press
Updated 9:56 pm, Saturday, May 19, 2018
Photo: Patrick Sison, AP
WASHINGTON (AP) — Running late for work or just miss that bus? You could have a good excuse: Your electric clock might be running a bit cuckoo.
Because of a change in federal energy regulations, some scientists say your trusty, older plug-in clock may be losing or gaining a few ticks over time.
Electric clocks keep time based on the usually stable and precise pulses of the electric current that powers them. In the U.S., that’s 60 hertz (cycles per second). In the past, regulators required power companies to immediately correct the rate if it slipped off the mark. But that precision is expensive to maintain, so last year, the correction part was quietly eliminated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Energy officials insist other standards will keep the time in check, and so far the problem has not amounted to more than a few seconds here and there. But some scientists looked at what could happen without the time correction rule and concluded clocks could gradually go off-kilter if the grid’s power was delivered consistently at higher or lower rates than 60 hertz. That can happen when power demand surges or slows because of weather and the grid can’t adjust right away.
Workers across the world are increasingly aware of what many consider an existential threat to a wide array of jobs. Safe and efficient autonomous vehicles, for example, may make truck drivers obsolete in the not too distant future. At the same time, advocates of technology argue, people around the planet are finding new and often better opportunities thanks to continuing industrial innovation. The world of work is changing, from Silicon Valley to the Nile Valley, where Spotlight visited to discover how developments in agri-technology are revolutionising crop cultivation. Once part of the desert, a camomile field near Faiyum southwest of Cairo, now provides a seasonal income opportunity for local women. Faiyum is one of Egypt’s poorest provinces, with particularly high female unemployment. Hundreds of women are employed here, and business is growing, thanks to new technologies. “These women come from nearby villages,” says Om Said, a local entrepreneur. “There are always people there in need of work. For them, it’s means for living. With new technologies, we can deliver more product in shorter time. The drying process now only takes two days. This greatly speeds up the production.” At harvest time, around 200 workers process up to 300 tons of camomile. The plants are dried in a fast and hygienic way using a solar heat collector. The technology was developed by local researchers a few years ago and since greatly enhanced, spinning off a business creating high- and low-level jobs across Egypt, according to Prof. Wael Abdelmoez, and environment and energy expert and founder of R&D Tech. “High level, which covers the engineers and PhD holders who are already working on the design and supervision of the manufacturing of solar driers; the labourers, who are working running the facility itself; and the females, who are working in the field itself, whose numbers have increased dramatically”. Shrinking subsidies on fossil fuels in MENA countries make solar power more competitive, leading to innovation and job creation. In Egypt, I talked to Prof. Wael Abdelmoez, founder of R&D Tech that develops solar driers for camomile and other agricultural products pic.twitter.com/2yVQwmh4MF— Denis Loctier (@Loctier) December 29, 2017 The Future is Green Green jobs are on the rise in a region that long relied on cheap fossil fuels. Amid climate change and shrinking oil subsidies, greener alternatives appear to stimulate local economies. “It means more traction: we can export more, so we can buy more from the locals, we employ more people to do this post-harvesting processing, sieving and packaging, so it’s a lot of economic activity going on,” says Heba Labib, whose company Nile’s Gift exports medicinal herbs and spices. Experts say Egypt’s move to a greener economy will create jobs, generate technologies and draw greater investment. But what of concerns that advances in technology will have the opposite effect on jobs? Nothing to worry about, according to Boston start-up Harvest Automation. At its site a little robot scurries around, using a set of sensors to move potted plants, arranging them in a pattern that optimises growth. Until now, this was always done by humans. “This job of moving the plants around on the ground is the worst job on the whole farm,” says Harvest Automation CEO, Charlie Grinnell. Dozens of his clients of have passed this task on to robots: “Nobody was losing their jobs in this industry when the robots came along.” The manufacturers say their robots aren’t killing jobs. Quite the opposite: they help growers hire more workers who want to do something more valuable than just moving plants around. “Everyone would rather do other jobs, whether it’s tending to the plants as they are growing, or driving a tractor, or other things,” maintains Grinnell. “My customers have a challenge just finding workers to do this kind of work.” Artificial Intelligence Developers expect artificial intelligence to quickly move beyond moving pots around. Another Boston company, Neurala, is
This would affect clocks that get their power from a wall socket, such as alarm clocks and those on microwaves and coffeemakers. Cellphones, newer clocks with GPS, those connected to cable TV and modern ones that don’t rely on the grid to keep time aren’t affected, experts said.
The changes could be just matters of seconds and all but unnoticeable, but the time could drift by as much as seven and a half minutes between time changes in March and November, when people reset their clocks, according to a study conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Naval Observatory.
In some extreme cases, Americans might miss their bus, parts of television shows and even be slightly late or, shudder, early for work, said Demetrios Matsakis, co-author of the study and chief time scientist at the Naval Observatory.
“They’ll think something is wrong with their clock but they won’t know what,” said Matsakis, co-author of the study.
The request to retire the long-standing time correction rule came from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which coordinates the grid. NERC standards director Howard Gugel says newer standards prevent veering from 60 hertz so the rule isn’t needed. NERC has guidelines for what to do if time corrections are necessary, he said in an email.
Without the rule, the fixes will still be made but maybe not right away, said Terry Bilke, who works on time coordination for the Indiana-based Midcontinent Independent System Operator, which provides power to 15 states and Manitoba.
Earlier this year, in the eastern half of the country, a time error of 10 seconds too fast went uncorrected for a week or more. It was during a bitter cold snap and utilities didn’t think it was wise to tinker with power levels, said Bill Henson of the system operator for New England. Generally, time errors are fixed every three to five days in the eastern U.S., he said.
An advocate for the rule change said worries about time slips are unwarranted. Don Badley, a recently retired systems operations manager for the Northwest Power Pool Corporation, said any lingering errors will be corrected when people reset their clocks twice a year.
This story has been corrected to show the last name of the New England system operator is Henson.
Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears . His work can be found here .
The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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