Tag: energy

Facebook hires Google’s former Green Energy Czar Bill Weihl, and increases its commitment to renewables

Christina Page, Yahoo & Bill Weihl, Google - Green:Net 2011
Google has had an impressive record in renewable energy. They invested over $850m dollars in renewable energy projects to do with geothermal, solar and wind energy. They entered into 20 year power purchase agreements with wind farm producers guaranteeing to buy their energy at an agreed price for twenty years giving the wind farms an income stream with which to approach investors about further investment and giving Google certainty about the price of their energy for the next twenty years – a definite win-win.

Google also set up RE < C – an ambitious research project looking at ways to make renewable energy cheaper than coal (unfortunately this project was shelved recently).

And Google set up a company called Google Energy to trade energy on the wholesale market. Google Energy buys renewable energy from renewable producers and when it has an excess over Google’s requirements, it sells this energy and gets Renewable Energy Certificates for it.

All hugely innovative stuff and all instituted under the stewardship of Google’s Green Energy Czar, Bill Weihl (on the right in the photo above).

However Bill, who left Google in November, is now set to start working for Facebook this coming January.

Facebook’s commitment to renewable energy has not been particularly inspiring to-date. They drew criticism for the placement of their Prineville data center because, although it is highly energy efficient, it sources its electricity from PacificCorp, a utility which mines 9.6 million tons of coal every year! Greenpeace mounted a highly visible campaign calling on Facebook to unfriend coal using Facebook’s own platform.

Carbon Disclosure Project’s emissions reduction claims for cloud computing are flawed

data center
The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is a not-for-profit organisation which takes in greenhouse gas emissions, water use and climate change strategy data from thousands of organisations globally. This data is voluntarily disclosed by these organisations and is CDP’s lifeblood.

Yesterday the CDP launched a new study Cloud Computing – The IT Solution for the 21st Century a very interesting report which

delves into the advantages and potential barriers to cloud computing adoption and gives insights from the multi-national firms that were interviewed

The study, produced by Verdantix, looks great on the surface. They have talked to 11 global firms that have been using cloud computing for over two years and they have lots of data on the financial savings made possible by cloud computing. There is even reference to other advantages of cloud computing – reduced time to market, capex to opex, flexibility, automation, etc.

However, when the report starts to reference the carbon reductions potential of cloud computing it makes a fundamental error. One which is highlighted by CDP Executive Chair Paul Dickinson in the Foreword when he says

allowing companies to maximize performance, drive down costs, reduce inefficiency and minimize energy use – and therefore carbon emissions

[Emphasis added]

The mistake here is presuming a direct relationship between energy and carbon emissions. While this might seem like a logical assumption, it is not necessarily valid.

If I have a company whose energy retailer is selling me power generated primarily by nuclear or renewable sources for example, and I move my applications to a cloud provider whose power comes mostly from coal, then the move to cloud computing will increase, not decrease, my carbon emissions.

The report goes on to make some very aggressive claims about the carbon reduction potential of cloud computing. In the executive summary, it claims:

US businesses with annual revenues of more than $1 billion can cut CO2 emissions by 85.7 million metric tons annually by 2020

and

A typical food & beverage firm transitioning its human resources (HR) application from dedicated IT to a public cloud can reduce CO2 emissions by 30,000 metric tons over five years

But because these are founded on an invalid premise, the report could just as easily have claimed:

SAP announces two new energy management products

I attended the International SAP for Utilities event in Mannheim recently and was surprised when in his opening keynote, Klaus Heimann introduced two new SAP energy management products.

The first is a customer portal for Utility companies which helps utility companies roll out online self-service sites for their customers. This is being made available for utility companies both as a product, and as a service!

And the second is an Enterprise Energy Management application. This is a product to help large organisations better manage their energy – and as Klaus explains in the video above, by energy, SAP is referring to all forms of energy, not just electricity. And water too. SAP hopes to sell this to utility companies, so they can offer it as a service to their larger customers.

I was intrigued by the announcements so I asked Klaus if he’d go on camera to say a few words about them. See the resulting video above and the transcription below…

Tom Raftery: Hi everyone, welcome to GreenMonk TV. We are here at the SAP for Utilities event in Mannheim and with me I have Klaus Heimann. Klaus you brought up in your keynote two new announcements from SAP, two very interesting announcements, can you tell me a bit more about them?

Klaus Heimann: Yes, for sure. The first one was about customer online services. That’s easily explained. 750 million households are currently receiving bills from their utilities that are actually produced by our software. And many of these consumers now are in a deregulated market increasingly getting into the smart grid. And so the number of contacts they have to the utility is increasing and the utilities are getting very concerned about the cost of their call centers, they want to switch to internet. And our offering is here that we want to develop internet self services made-to-order for each utility as they want it, that refers back to the SAP for utilities instance that our customers are running.

Tom Raftery: So this means that the utility companies have an internet portal for their customers?

Friday Green Numbers round-up for Feb 4th 2011

Green Numbers
And here is a round-up of this week’s Green numbers…

  1. Europe’s Energy

    Member States of the European Union have agreed on targets aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by cutting energy consumption by 20% and increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix to 20% by 2020. The ‘Europe’s Energy’ project gives users a set of visual tools to put these targets into context and to understand and compare how progress is being made towards them in different countries.

  2. Survey results: Utilities executives on Energy Efficiency and the Smart Grid

    The survey asked 106 utility executives – the people that arguably know more about the energy supply and demand challenges our nation faces than anyone else – a range of questions on the smart grid, energy efficiency and related topics and issues.

    We issued a press release today with some of the highlights, but to help put this week’s news into context, we also wanted to share a full breakdown of the results. Nothing earth shattering, but worth keeping in mind as the week progresses…

  3. 10 Smart Grid Trends from Distributech

    The annual smart grid event Distributech kicked off in San Diego Tuesday morning and — as expected — unleashed a whole series of news from smart grid-focused firms. From new home energy management products, to plug-in car software, to distribution automation gear, this is a list of trends and news from the show.

  4. US Venture Capital Investment in Cleantech Grows to Nearly $4 Billion in 2010, an 8% Increase From 2009

    US venture capital (VC) investment in cleantech companies increased by 8% to $3.98 billion in 2010 from $3.7 billion in 2009 and deal total increased by 7% to 278, according to an Ernst & Young LLP analysis based on data from Dow Jones VentureSource. VC investment in cleantech in Q4 2010 reached $979 million with 72 financing rounds. VC investment in cleantech in Q4 2010 reached $979 million with 72 financing rounds, flat in terms of deals and down 14% in terms of capital invested compared to Q4 2009…

No, energy is not too cheap!

Dumb Thermostat UI

Is energy too cheap to motivate consumers to change their habits and use less?

In the Smart Grid Technology conference I attended in London last week a number of discussion points came up over and over again. I wrote already about how utility companies are wondering how to engage their customers around smart grid projects. Another topic which raised its head frequently was the question of how to motivate customers to change when energy is so cheap!

The obvious answer is to raise the price of energy, and this will happen over time, but it is the wrong answer – in the short-term at any rate.

The issue is not that energy is too cheap, rather it is that people have lots of demands on their attention. To make it worth people’s time to become involved in energy saving activities, if the return is not very high (because energy is cheap) then the process of reducing energy consumption needs to be made simple!

Look at the thermostat above. This is the thermostat to control the central heating/air conditioning in my home. I like to think I am reasonably technical. I have been a Windows sysadmin for a multi-national company, managing Windows, Exchange, Active Directory, ISA and SQL Servers. I edit php files regularly, I remotely manage my own CentOS server via SSH and I’ve even done quite a bit of regex scripting of .htaccess files!

But this thermostat is beyond me! …

IBM Start – positive outcomes from the fabulous Sustainable Energy day

Waterfall

I have already written about how well the IBM Start event started out – well I wanted to dive a little deeper into one of the days in particular – the Smarter Energy for a Sustainable future day. Why? For me, it was by far the best day of the event.

IBM Start – Building the New Energy System

Why do I say that? A number of reasons –

  1. The speaker list was stellar with senior representation from EDF, BP, E.ON UK, British Gas, Water UK, OFGEM, Carbon Trust, Shell, B&Q, National Grid, Central Networks, WWF, Stagecoach, Power Perfector amongst others, as well as representatives from NGO’s, academia and research organisations.
  2. The delegate list was spectacular as well and consequently the networking on the day was through the roof and
  3. There was far more audience participation solicited than on any of the other days I attended Start

The discussions themselves were fantastic but there were far too many of them happening in parallel – I mean how do you decide between:

  • Building the new Energy System
  • Driven by Demand – Managing the New Infrastructure or
  • New Business Models for Energy in New Economies

I wanted to attend all of them!

A real surprise for me was the speech by Charles Hendry

IBM Summit’s first three days? – a great Start!

The Arch!

I attended the first three days of IBM’s Start summit last week and I’m definitely going back this week for more.

The venue (Lancaster House) is a sumptuous mansion in the centre of London whose opulence, defies description!

The event kicked off with a day dedicated to discussing Smarter Cities. The speaker list included Martin Powell (Boris Johnson’s Advisor on the Environment), Nigel Hugill (Chair of the board, Centre for Cities), Hamish McRae (Associate Editor, The Independent), and Emma Harrison CBE (who seemed a little out-of-place to be honest!).

IBM's Ginni Rometty spaeking at IBM Start

IBM’s Ginni Rometty spaeking at IBM Start

The audience on the day included several chief executives of cities, the talks (especially Martin Powell’s Achieving a Sustainable 21st Century City Environment) were incredibly interesting, and the networking was tremendous.

Day two was Smarter Energy for a Sustainable Future. This was by far the best of the three days I attended, which says a lot considering how good the other days were! Again, the speakers (incl Charles Hendry (UK Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change), Martin Lawrence, (MD, EDF) and Rachel Fletcher, Director Distribution, Ofgem) and the audience were stellar but two things made this day stand out for me: 1) there was far more audience participation encouraged than either of the other two days and 2) most of the discussions were about Smart Grids – a topic I have had a deep interest in for some time now.

Day three was all about Smart Transportation. Once more the delegate and speaker lists were stratospheric…

Symantec’s Sustainability Story: It’s The Power Consumption, Stupid.

symantec commitment

I was lucky enough recently to meet Jose Iglesias, the guy spearheading Symantec’s sustainability efforts. I wrote the interview up over on Monkchips, but much of the content belongs here too. I like Symantec’s clear focus on energy. While others are broadening their sustainability story, Symantec is doubling down on managing energy more effectively, with a plan to take its expertise in reducing IT power consumption and start applying it to broader Smart Grid demand response.

Symantec’s Green IT story is very much an enterprise play and arguably a solid sustainability product strategy could help to increase visibility for some of Symantec’s enterprise tools. Thus for example – Symantec NetBackup PureDisk for storage deduplication could be used to cut the amount of storage and power. One challenge for Symantec is identifying and serving the new buyers in energy reduction. Most of the firm’s traditional practitioner purchasers are not tasked with reducing the energy footprint of the products they manage….

“We sell to admins, but few get compensated on energy savings”

To which I would say… not yet.

Smart Grid as Game Changer

One major opportunity for Symantec to change the account management game there is to parlay its IT experience directly into related spaces such as Smart Grid security and asset management…

British Gas launch version 2 of their iPhone app – nice but non-inclusive!

British Gas iPhone app

British Gas announced recently that they had updated their iPhone app to version 2.

The original application, which was downloaded over 100,000 times, helped customers monitor energy use and submit meter readings to avoid estimated bills. In June alone over 18,000 meter readings were submitted using the app.

With the new version customers can

  • view their account balance
  • see their last bill amount
  • check when payment is due and
  • view graphs of their personal energy consumption of the past 24 months
British Gas iPhone app - electricity

British Gas iPhone app – electricity

Benjamin Braun, Head of Online Services, at British Gas said:

More customers already contact us over the web than by telephone and with these new features, we expect that our App will quickly become the main way that many of our iPhone customers will manage their British Gas account.

When I read this I wondered why, if more people are contacting British Gas over the web than by phone, they decided to develop an application for the iPhone. Why not a mobile site which works across all devices. I reached out to their spokesperson David Outhwaite and I asked him if there were plans to develop a similar app for competing platforms like Android or better yet a mobile website which would work across all platforms.

David replied that

Our focus has been the iphone as that is the device from which we receive the vast majority of contact to our website. No current plans [to develop for other platforms]

The fact that this application has been so successful for British Gas shows that people have an appetite for interacting with their energy related information. Consequently, I found David’s response very disappointing.

Although I do own an iPhone, and I like what British Gas are doing with this app, I feel they are doing their non-iPhone owning customers a huge disservice by not providing them with similar functionality. Especially when you consider that the iPhone OS only commands 14% of the mobile operating system market share, what about the other 86% of British Gas’ customers?

It wouldn’t be hard to develop a mobile site which served iPhones, Android devices, and other smartphones equally well.

Hopefully British Gas will have a change of heart and produce a more inclusive mobile site soon.

You should follow me on twitter here.

by-sa

Understanding the Smart Grid – my TreeHugger interview

Interview
Photo credit Lee Jordan

Jaymi Heimbuch contacted me recently to ask if I’d agree to be interviewed for a TreeHugger article she was planning to write on Smart Grids. “Love to”, I said.

Jaymi sent on the questions, I replied and today she posted the interview on TreeHugger.

Here are the questions and my answers:

TH: What’s the biggest barrier with smart grids right now? Is it utilities not latching on? Is the technology too new? Is it that not enough people understand what it is?

There are multiple barriers to complete smart grid roll-outs at the moment. The biggest one, as far as I can see is money!

The smart meter roll-out alone costs in the order of $150 per household just for the device. Then there is the installation engineer on top of that. And the software to back it up. In terms of the software, remember that presently utilities take maybe one meter reading a month. When they start taking readings from smart meters they will be taking up to 2880 per 30-day month when they are taking 15 minute readings (or 720 for hourly readings). If they have 1 million customers they go from 1m meter readings a month to 720m per month (or 2,880m). That’s a massive jump in the amount of incoming data which needs to be stored, queried for billing, and held for however long.

A lot of the software to handle this is still being developed and utilities, being very conservative, don’t want to be guinea pigs. And newer technologies tend to have a price premium.

Circling back to the price for the utilities. If they have 1 million customers, they are looking at spending hundreds of millions on the smart grid roll-out (smart meters, communications infrastructure for smart meters, back-end database for data, back-office apps for using the data – customer care, billing, etc.).

One of the big deals about smart grids is that it will help us reduce our consumption – from the utilities perspective, they should invest these large sums of money so we can reduce the amount we purchase from them? You can start to see the difficulties.

TH: What’s the most apparent way a smart grid will change the average person’s daily life? What about the most important way?

You know, the best way a smart grid could change the average person’s life is ‘not a jot’ – apart from reduced utility bills.

Utilities are talking up demand response programs and how they will be able to come into your house or apartment and turn down your air conditioner (for example) at times when supply is short and demand is high. This is a top-down approach destined to piss off customers and will in no way get buy-in from a skeptical public.

Far preferable would be some kind of automated demand response, completely controlled by the consumer, so far example as a homeowner I’d set my dishwasher at 8 PM to come on at 5c per kWh or 5 AM, whichever comes first. As long as the dishes are done by 7 AM, I’m happy. Similarly with other devices. Plenty of loads in the home are movable. You don’t care when your hot water is heated, as long as it is hot when you need it hot. A well lagged (insulated) boiler would mean you could heat it when electricity is cheap, and then use it whenever.

By the way, totally counter-intuitive but cheaper electricity has a higher renewable percentage so actively selecting for cheaper electricity means you are actively selecting for electricity with a higher percentage of renewables in the mix. How does this work?

Well, electricity prices on the wholesale market are very volatile. Consumers are protected from this but electricity prices can fluctuate by orders of magnitude within a 24-hour period. Price is set by good old supply and demand. Demand fluctuates according to day of week, time of day and by season. As the price drops on the wholesale market, it becomes less attractive for more expensive generators (the ones with start-up costs for their generation – the fossil fuel burners, for example) to stay selling in so they drop out. The renewables, on the other hand, are price takers. They don’t have significant start-up costs for generation so they stay in the market no matter what price they get. So, as the price drops, more and more fossil fuel generators drop out and the percentage of renewables in the mix increases!

TH: Other than this change in demand and timing, how will the smart grid help us incorporate renewables into the grid?

Utilities are used to dealing with a situation where their generation (gas coal, oil) is steady and predictable in its output and their customers’ demand is unsteady but generally predictable (demand tomorrow = demand this day last year +1-2%, say).

For various reasons utilities are having to move to a situation where they need to incorporate more renewables into their mix. Renewables generation is not steady and is only slightly predictable (via weather forecasts, for example). Because electricity has to be used as it is generated (can’t be stored, generally), the more unstable the generation, the more unstable the grid.

How can you fix this? Well, one way would be to align the demand with the supply.

How do you do that? …