Tag: renewables

Three Industries Where Technology Is Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

 

The science is in. We need to significantly reduce our carbon emissions to limit the amount of warming our planet undergoes as a consequence of climate change.

The good news is, technology is rising up to meet this challenge. The bad news is it needs to do far more, and do it faster. How is technology helping? Well, if we check out some of the industries with the highest carbon footprint (energy, transportation, and agriculture), we can see some of the massive disruptions that are happening there, and how they are impacting emissions.

1 Energy

The energy sector is undergoing a massive transition globally from a system powered by centralised, thermal generation based often on fossil fuel combustion, to one increasingly powered by decentralised renewable sources. And while it would be great if this was happening for reasons of climate concern, it is, in fact, happening for reasons of economics, which is better because it means it is sustainable in the long term.

Why do I say it is because of economics? Because the cost of wind, solar, and lithium-ion battery storage are falling. Falling fast (due primarily to the experience curve). Since 2012 the cost of wind power has fallen 50%, solar power has fallen 80%, and battery storage has fallen 87%. It is now at the point where unsubsidised, combinations of wind and battery storage, or solar and battery storage are able to beat natural gas on price.

Don’t take my word for it. At the Wolfe Research 2019 Power & Gas Leader’s conference last month (October 2nd, 2019) Jim Robo, Chairman, and CEO of NextEra Energy the biggest and most successful utility in the US said

“We see renewables plus battery storage without incentives being cheaper than natural gas, and cheaper than existing coal and existing nuclear… And that is game-changing”

Then, when you consider the amount of time it takes to deploy a power plant, renewables win again.

IMG_0029

And consequently, the share of new power generation being deployed globally that is renewable is rising rapidly, while the share of new fossil fuel generation is falling fast.

IMG_0030

And it is not just the supply side of the equation that is changing. The demand side is changing rapidly as well.

More and more organisations are demanding that their energy provider only supply clean, renewably sourced electricity. In fact, RE100, “a global corporate leadership initiative bringing together influential businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity” counts at time of writing (November 2019) 212 of the world’s largest companies (including my own employer SAP) as members. All 212 companies are either sourcing all their electricity from renewable sources or have committed to doing so in the near future. Companies do this because it is good for business. Consumers feel better about purchasing goods if they know they were produced using renewable energy, and employees feel better about working for organisations committed to renewable energy.

 

2 Transportation

So the carbon intensity of electricity, one of the main carbon polluters is falling worldwide on a gCO2/kWh basis. What about one of the other big polluters I mentioned at the start, Transportation. Well, fortunately, electric grids the world over are embracing renewable energy, because transportation is now starting to use electricity as a fuel, instead of dino-juice!

Why is transportation going electric? Three main reasons:

  1. Increasing environmental awareness among consumers
  2. Regulations from regions, countries and local governments and
  3. Economics – the costs to operate an electric vehicle (EV) are significantly less than a fossil fuel one
Nissan Leaf charging
Photo credit Tom Raftery

Greta Thunberg has done an amazing job of raising awareness in younger generations particularly about the dangers of climate change, but even before she burst on the scene, the 2019 regulations governing NEVs (New Energy Vehicles) in China and the 2020 emissions regulations for vehicle manufacturers in the EU (as well as local ordinances by cities restricting access to older, more polluting vehicles and countries on the phase-out date for the sale of Internal Combustion Engined vehicles) meant that vehicle manufacturers have had no option but to get on board with the electrification of cars and increasingly other modes of transport as well.

At a time when global vehicle sales are falling, sales of EVs are taking off.

statistic_id270603_battery-electric-vehicles-in-use---worldwide-2012-2018

Volkswagen, who have had some *ahem* reputational issues recently, have decided to embrace the Winston Churchill mantra of never letting a crisis go to waste, and are going all-in on EVs. They plan to spend €60bn (yes billion with a “b”) by 2024 to switch to electric, hybrid and connected vehicles. They will introduce up to 75 all-electric models, around 60 hybrid vehicles and plan to sell 26 million all-electric vehicles as well as around 6 million hybrid vehicles by 2029.

Perhaps even more tellingly, Daimler recently announced that they are stopping their internal combustion engine development initiatives and focussing instead on electric vehicles. The reason this announcement is so game-changing is that Daimler owns Mercedes Benz and Karl Benz, the founder of Mercedes Benz received the patent for the world’s first production internal combustion engine vehicle in 1886. Now 133 years later Daimler has decided that the era of the internal combustion engine is over, and EVs are the future.

And it is not just cars, motorbikes are also going electric with announcements of electric bikes from all the major manufacturers including Vespa, Yamaha, Honda, all the way up to Harley Davidson.

Buses, trucks (from the large class 8 all the way down to delivery trucks), and refuse collection vehicles are also going electric. This is important not just for reducing their carbon emissions, but also because these vehicles often work primarily in urban centres so converting them from diesel to electric will improve air quality, reduce noise pollution, and significantly reduce the cost of operation for these machines.

FuelUseVehicleCategory

Also, when you take into account the fuel use by categories of vehicle, you can see from the chart above that class 8 trucks, buses, and refuse collection vehicles consume far more fuel than other vehicle categories. Fuel use is of course, not just a good proxy for their potential to pollute, but also for their running costs so the economic case to shift these to electric is very strong. In the case of buses, battery-electric buses cost 20c per mile to operate over their lifetime, whereas diesel buses cost 75c and so, battery-electric buses will dominate the market by the late 2020s.

And it doesn’t stop there. Construction equipment is going electric. Ships are going electric. Even planes are going electric. Global consultancy firm Roland Berger is currently tracking 170 different electric plane initiatives (about 50% are in the urban air taxi space). While the Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet has said that:

easyJet is collaborating with US company Wright Electric to support their goal for short-haul flights to be operated by all-electric planes within 10 years

It is hard to think of a mode of transportation that is not moving towards electric drivetrains. And as we saw above in the section on energy, as our grids are getting cleaner daily, shifting transportation to electricity quickly drops transportation’s carbon footprint too (as well as reducing noise pollution, and cleaning up our air quality).

3 Food Production

Food production is the third industry where technology is about to play a huge part in reducing our carbon footprint. Agriculture globally accounts for about 13 percent of total global emissions. That makes the agricultural sector the world’s second-largest emitter, after the energy sector. And this doesn’t include emissions associated with deforestation to clear land for more agriculture.

However, shifting away from our current practices of food production to one where our plant food is grown in massive indoor vertical farms has the potential to significantly clean up agriculture’s environmental toll.

Indoor vertical farms use 95% less water and 99% less land than conventional farming practices. They use no soil, require no herbicides or pesticides and they can produce food in the middle of cities, thereby reducing drastically the crop’s food miles. When you are producing food so close to the point of consumption, you no longer need to optimise your produce for shelf-life, and you can instead choose to optimise for taste, and/or nutrition.

Then there is the clean meat movement. Clean meat is meat that is produced from either cultivating animal cells (without having to slaughter the animal), or by converting plant protein to take on the taste and consistency of animal protein as companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are doing so successfully.

Our current means of producing plant food and meats are vastly inefficient and have a huge carbon footprint. This won’t scale to feed the population of 9-10 billion inhabitants that we are projected to reach in the coming decades, especially as the middle classes grow in the developing world and their meat consumption expectations grow too.

Converting to a system where we produce plants in massive vertical farms, and then using that plant food to create clean meat solves a lot of the problems associated with agriculture today such as the unconscionable cruelty we visit on the animals we breed for slaughter, the vast amounts of antibiotics that are used in agriculture leading to the development of multi-drug resistant superbugs, and agriculture’s massive carbon footprint.

Zebra
Zebra in Pilansberg reserve – photo credit Tom Raftery

If we return the land we have stolen from nature for agriculture back to the wild we can restore the enormous losses we have seen in recent decades in biodiversity, create a huge new ecotourism industry, and through reforestation sequester from the atmosphere much of the carbon we have emitted in the last century, mitigating the or possibly turning back the worst effects of climate change.

As the United Nations COP25 Climate Change Conference kicks off in Madrid, it is important to remember that although the situation with the climate is indeed dire, there are solutions. We just need to embrace them. Quickly.

This piece was originally posted on my Forbes blog

Internet of Things, renewables and storage – a perfect storm for utilities’ digital transformation

Without doubt it is a time of great turbulence in the electric utilities space.

In most regions globally, wind and solar are now our cheapest sources of electricity generation, even without subsidies.

As a consequence of this, wind has overtaken nuclear, hydro and coal to become the second largest source of electricity generation in EU in 2016 [PDF]. And at the same time in the US, the solar market is smashing records and grew 95% in 2016 alone.

Then there is storage. Costs here have been tumbling too. So much so that Morgan Stanley predicts the storage market to grow from the roughly $400m in 2016, to a market size of $2-4bn by 2020. This will have big implications for utilities’ ability to add more variable generators (renewables) to their mix without destabilising the grid.

Speaking of grid stabilisation, the refrain up until now has been that for every MW of renewables built, a MW of gas had to also be built as a backstop (for days with no wind, or overcast days, or nights). However, this too has changed. Last August First Solar ran a tests with CAISO (the California grid operator) to test a solar farm’s ability to smooth out grid fluctuations. The results of the test demonstrated that solar farms are able to meet, and sometimes exceed, the frequency regulation response usually provided by natural-gas-fired peaker plants.

Things are changing on the consumption side of the house too.

solarinstall2016

Source: GTM Research / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight report

As can be seen from the chart above, installations of residential PV are rising, as is home storage, and another form of potential consumption and storage (v2g), the electric car, saw sales rise by 37% in the US in 2016.

Then there is the whole digitisation of the grid. Now all new equipment is being built with inbuilt ‘smarts’ and connectivity, and even older infrastructure can be retrofitted, so with the advent of the smart grid, we will finally have the possibility of the Electricity 2.0 vision I was talking up back in 2008/09. This is a smart grid where appliances in the commercial or residential worlds can ‘listen’ for pricing signals from the grid, and adjust their behaviour accordingly, taking in electricity when it is plentiful, and switching to alternative sources/lowering consumption when electricity is in high demand.

With the cost of generation dropping, with no end in sight, the cost of storage similarly falling, as I have posited previously, there is a strong possibility that utilities will have to switch to broadband-like ‘all-you-can-eat’ business models with the utilities differentiating, and making their revenue on added services.

Everything is changing for the electric utility industry – and so, against that backdrop, and the fact that I will be presenting on IoT and Utilities at the upcoming International SAP for Utilities Conference in Lisbon, I decided to have a chat with IDC Research Director Marcus Torchia, about the implications for utilities of these huge changes.

We had a great discussion, and many of the themes we touched on, I will be talking about at the Utilities event in Lisbon.

You can check out our chat in the video above, play it in the audio below, or listen to it on the IoT Heroes podcast site.

Will the price of oil ever increase again?

What is going on in the oil industry?

Graph of oil price from 2012 to 2016The price of oil has cratered. In 2012 it was over $120 a barrel. Today, 2016, it is at $42 a barrel, and this is an improvement from January and February of this year when it went under $30 a barrel.

Previously, when the price of oil fell, OPEC would meet, they’d agree to cut the output, and the constrained supply would ensure the price would rise once more. Why isn’t that happening now?

Most commentators are putting it down to the fact that Iran, who were under sanctions until very recently, understandably don’t want to cut production, and with Iran not cutting back, Saudi Arabia won’t either.

However, there’s another thesis which I think is more likely, and if true, oil prices will remain low for the foreseeable future. That thesis states that Saudi Arabia has realised that we are at the end of the Oil Age, and that a large percentage of the world’s fossil fuel resources will have to remain in the ground. With this in mind, it makes sense for Saudi Arabia to make sure they can extract, and monetise as much of their fossil fuel resources, as possible, while they still can.

What is the evidence for this?

First off, consider that last Friday 170+ countries signed the Paris Climate Accord whose aim to to limit global warming to 1.5-2C. Now that we have an upper limit on the temperature increase we are willing to accept, we also know how much CO2 we need to put into the atmosphere to achieve this amount of warming. It comes in at 1,100Gt CO2 [PDF] (1Gt = 1 gigaton = 1 billion tons).

On the other hand, the total proven reserves of the fossil fuel companies, and countries comes to 3,300Gt CO2. Notice the problem? 70-80% of the world’s proven reserves of fossil fuels will have to stay in the ground if we are to keep global warming below 2C.

Now Saudi Arabia has known about this issue for quite some time. As far back as the year 2000, Sheikh Yamani famously predicted that

Thirty years from now there will be a huge amount of oil – and no buyers. Oil will be left in the ground. The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil.

In fairness Sheikh Yamani’s reasoning didn’t have to do with climate change, but better drilling and exploration technologies, but still it has come to pass, and in this scenario Saudi Arabia has to race to produce as much oil as it can, no matter what the price, so as little Saudi oil as possible is left in the ground. Consequently Saudi Arabia is now producing somewhere between 10.3m-11m barrels per day – an historic high.

And then at last week’s OPEC meeting in Doha to try to stabilise oil production, Saudi Arabia scuppered the talks, ensuring no freezing of oil outputs. This has the added advantage of squeezing the other producers, few of whom can produce oil at the same low cost as Saudi Arabia.

total-cost-of-producing-oil

On the demand side, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has admitted that for 2016 global demand trends are not as positive as they were. The IEA is counting on demand from developing countries where India recently announced that it is going to install 100GW of solar by 2022 (in large part because solar is now cheaper in India than coal), while China is aiming to increase its installed solar by over 100GW by 2020.

And if news of the 400,000 orders for the Tesla Model 3 are anything to go by, there is no love amongst consumers for fossil fuel spewing vehicles.

Then yesterday comes the announcement that the Saudi cabinet approved a set of reforms aimed at moving the country away from its dependence on oil profits. They have seen the writing on the wall, and so while on the one hand they are going all out to maximise the amount of oil they can extract and sell, they are at the same time setting up a sovereign wealth fund of $2tn to ensure they, in the words of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

can live without oil by 2020

So, with Saudi Arabia diversifying away from oil revenues, and unlikely to reduce output any time soon, there is no obvious reason why oil prices will ever rise again. And Sheikh Yamani’s prediction about a huge amount of oil being left in the ground will come to pass.

IBM to increase the amount of renewable electricity it procures

IBM branded battery

After returning from IBM’s InterConnect conference recently we chided IBM for their aping of Amazon’s radical opaqueness concerning their cloud emissions, and their lack of innovation concerning renewables.

However, some better news emerged in the last few days.

The Whitehouse last week hosted a roundtable of some of the largest Federal suppliers to discuss their GHG reduction targets, or if they didn’t have any, to create and disclose them.

Coming out of that roundtable, IBM announced its committment to procure electricity from renewable sources for 20% of its annual electricity consumption by 2020. To do this, IBM will contract over 800 gigawatt-hours (GWh) per year of renewable electricity.

And IBM further committed to:

Reduce CO2 emissions associated with IBM’s energy consumption 35% by year-end 2020 against base year 2005 adjusted for acquisitions and divestitures.

To put this in context, in the energy conservation section of IBM’s 2013 corporate report, IBM reports that it sourced 17% of its electricity from renewable sources in 2013.

It is now committing to increase that from the 2013 figure of 17% to 20% by 2020. Hmmm.

IBM committed to purchasing 800 GWh’s of renewable electricity per year by 2020. How does that compare to some of its peers?

In 2014, the EPA reported that Intel purchased 3,102 GWh’s, of renewable electricity, and Microsoft purchased 2,488 GWh’s which, in both cases amounted to 100% of their total US electricity use.

In light of this, 800 GWh’s amounting to 20% of total electricity use looks a little under-ambitious.

On the other hand, at least IBM are doing something.

Amazon, as noted earlier, have steadfastly refused to do any reporting of their energy consumption, and their emissions. This may well be, at least in part, because Amazon doesn’t sell enough to the government to appear on the US Federal government’s Greenhouse Gas Management Scorecard for significant suppliers.

With the news this week that 2015 will likely be the hottest year on record, and that the Antarctic ice sheets are melting at unprecedented rates, it is time for organisations that can make a significant difference, to do so.

Google, purchased 32% of their total US energy from renewables in 2014. But more than that, this week it emerged that Google are considering moving climate denying sites down the list of Google search results.

And just yesterday, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff cancelled all his company’s events in the state of Indiana, after its governor signed a law making discrimination on the grounds of sexuality legal.

These are the kinds of measures that can make a difference.

Come on IBM. If this were your Spring Break report card, it’d read “IBM – could work harder”.

Apple, cloud computing, and enterprise supply chain management

Solar power

Apple’s recent announcements around renewables and supply chain transparency, put the major cloud providers to shame.

Apple had a couple of interesting announcements last week. The first was that they were investing $848m in a 130MW solar farm being built by First Solar in California. With this investment, Apple enters into a 25 year power purchase agreement with the solar farm, guaranteeing income for the solar farm, and securing Apple’s energy bills for the next 25 years in California. According to First Solar this is the largest agreement in the industry to provide clean energy to a commercial end user, and it will provide enough energy for Apple to fully power its headquarters, operations and retail stores in California, with renewable energy.

For it’s data centers, which hosts Apple’s iCloud, App Store, and iTunes content, Apple uses 100% locally generated, renewable energy. It’s Maiden, North Carolina data centre, for example, uses a combination of biogas fuel cells and two 20‑megawatt solar arrays — the largest privately owned renewable energy installation in the US, according to Apple. And it is now investing another $55 million in a third, 100-acre 17.5MW plant for the facility. You can find details of Apple’s other data centre facilities, and how they are powered by renewables, here.

Apple's Maiden Data Center Solar Array

The second announcement from Apple was the publication of its 2015 Supplier Responsibility Progress Report (highlights here, full PDF here). Apple has been criticised in the past for workers rights violations in its supply chain, so it is good to see Apple taking very real steps, positive, to address this. The amout of detail, the steps taken, and the levels of transparency in the report are impressive.

On underage labour, for instance, Apple’s policy requires that

any supplier found hiring underage workers fund the worker’s safe return home. Suppliers also have to fully finance the worker’s education at a school chosen by the worker and his or her family, continue to pay the worker’s wages, and offer the worker a job when he or she reaches the legal age. Of more than 1.6 million workers covered in 633 audits in 2014, 16 cases of underage labor were discovered at six facilities — and all were successfully remediated.

Apple also has strict policies around work week hours, health and safety, sourcing of conflict minerals, and the environment. In order to increase its transparency, Apple publishes its Supplier Code of Conduct, its Supplier Responsibility Standards, its Conflict Minerals Standard, as well as a list of its smelter suppliers and its top 200 suppliers amongst other documents. And Apple’s comprehensive list of environmental reports are published here.

What does this have to do with cloud computing and the enterprise supply chain management?

Well, Apple recently partnered with IBM in order to expand its userbase into the enterprise space. And it has opened its iWork office suite to anyone with an Apple ID, no Apple device required – though this was long overdue.

Comparing Apple’s cloud offerings to actual enterprise cloud players (or any cloud players, for that matter), you see there’s a yawning chasm in terms of transparency, reporting, and commitment to renewables.

Of the main enterprise cloud players:

  • Microsoft publish their Citizenship Report here [PDF]. And while it is a decent enough report, it doesn’t go into anything like the level of detail that Apple does. On page 53 of this report Microsoft mention that 47% of the energy it purchases is renewable. It does purchase renewable energy certificates for the other 53% so it can report that it is carbon neutral.
  • Google doesn’t produce a corporate sustainability report. Instead it has this page which outlines some of the work it does in the community. Information on Google’s energy breakdown is sparse. What is published is found on the Google Green site, where we find that although Google has many investments in renewable energy, and Google has been carbon neutral since 2007, Google’s actual percentage of renewables is only 35%.
  • IBM has a good history of producing corporate reports (though it still hasn’t published its report for 2014). However on the energy conservation section of IBM’s corporate report, IBM reports that sources 17% of its electricity came from renewable sources in 2013. However, they go on to note that this does not include the energy data of Softlayer – IBM’s cloud platform.

Cloud Providers Energy and Transparency

  • And finally, Amazon, who have arguably the largest cloud computing footprint of any of the providers, is the worst performer in terms of reporting, and likely in terms of emissions. The only page where Amazon mentions emissions, claims that it has three carbon neutral regions, but fails to say how they have achieved this status (or whether they are third party audited as such). The same page also claims that “AWS has a long-term commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy usage for our global infrastructure footprint” but it fails to give any time frame for this commitment, or any other details on how it plans to get there.

Taking into account last November’s historic deal between the US and China on carbon reductions, and the upcoming Paris Climate Change Conference in December this year (2015), where there are very likely to be binding international agreements on carbon reductions. This will lead inevitably to increased requirements for CO2 reporting from the supply chain.

With that in mind, including the % renewable energy as one of the factors when choosing a cloud provider, would be a very wise move.

UPDATE:
As pointed out to me on Twitter:

In that case, you could always go with GreenQloud. GreenQloud bill themselves as a drop-in AWS replacement and being based in Iceland their electricity is 100% renewable.

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

The coming together of the Internet of Things and Smart Grids

I was asked to speak at the recent SAP TechEd && d-code (yes, two ampersands, that’s the branding, not a typo) on the topic of the Internet of Things and Energy.

This is a curious space, because, while the Internet of Things is all the rage now in the consumer space, the New Black, as it were; this is relatively old hat in the utilities sector. Because utilities have expensive, critical infrastructure in the field (think large wind turbines, for example), they need to be able to monitor them remotely. These devices use Internet of Things technologies to report back to base. this is quite common on the high voltage part of the electrical grid.

On the medium voltage section, Internet of Things technologies aren’t as commonly deployed currently (no pun), but mv equipment suppliers are more and more adding sensors to their equipment so that they too can report back. In a recent meeting at Schneider Electric’s North American headquarters, CTO Pascal Brosset announced that Schneider were able to produce a System on a Chip (SoC) for $2, and as a consequence, Schneider were going to add one to all their equipment.

And then on the low voltage network, there are lots of innovations happening behind the smart meter. Nest thermostats, Smappee energy meters, and SmartThings energy apps are just a few of the many new IoT things being released recently.

Now if only we could connect them all up, then we could have a really smart grid.

The slides for this talk are available on SlideShare.

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

GE publishes Grid Resiliency survey

GE Grid Survey Infographic

GE’s Digital Energy business produced this infographic recently, based on the results of its Grid Resiliency Survey measuring the U.S. public’s current perception of the power grid. The survey was conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of GE from May 02-06, 2014 among 2,049 adults ages 18 and older and from June 3-5, 2014 among 2,028 adults ages 18 and older.

Given the fact that hurricane Sandy was still reasonably fresh in people’s minds, and that polar vortices meant that early 2014 saw particularly harsh weather, it is perhaps not surprising that 41% of the respondents East of the Mississippi were more willing to pay $10 extra a month to ensure the grid is more reliable. A further 34% of those leaving West of the Mississippi would be willing to pay more for a more reliable grid.

What is most surprising is that the numbers are so low, to be honest. Especially the 41% figure, given that energy consumers East of the Mississippi had three times as many power outages as those living West of the Mississippi.

What’s the alternative to paying more? Home generation? Solar power is dropping in price, but it is still a very long term investment. And the cost of a decent generator can be $800 or more. And that’s just to buy it. Then there’s fuel and maintenance on top of that. As well as the inconvenience an outage brings.

Here in Europe, because most of the lines are underground, outages are very rare. The last electricity outage I remember was Dec 24th 1997, after a particularly severe storm in Ireland, for example.

The really heartening number to take away from this survey is that 81% of utility customers expect their energy company to use higher levels of renewables in the generation mix. If that expectation can be turned into reality, we’ll all be a lot better off.

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

Technology for Good – episode thirty two with SAP’s Sameer Patel

Welcome to episode thirty two of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had SAP‘s Sameer Patel as the guest on our show. Sameer and I are members of the Enterprise Irregulars group – a loose group of analysts and vendors with an interest in enterprise software. Previous Enterprise Irregulars who have guested on the show include David Terrar, Craig Cmehil, and Jon Reed.

There was a problem which wasn’t apparent to us during the show and that was that the video from my side never showed up in the recording. I suspect that’s because I was using a beta version of Chrome, but anyway, the audio, and Sameer’s video feed was recorded, so all’s well.

This week we didn’t get through all the stories we had lined up, ‘cos we had such a good discussion around the ones we did manage to fit in!

Some of the more fascinating stories we looked at on the show, included the growing number of technology companies who are abandoning ALEC, IBM’s new concentrating solar array which can create clean water, as well as solar power, and a new smartphone app which will help visually challenged users to read.

Here is the full list of stories that we covered in this week’s show:

 

Climate

Renewables

Lighting

Transportation

Data Centres

Connectivity

Drones

Hardware

Apps

Education

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

SAP to power its cloud computing infrastructure from 100% renewable energy

Wind turbine

Cloud computing is often incorrectly touted as being a green, more environmentally-friendly, computing option. This confusion occurs because people forget that while cloud computing may be more energy efficient (may be), the environmental friendliness is determined by how much carbon is produced in the generation of that energy. If a data centre is primarily powered by coal, it doesn’t matter how energy efficient it it, it will never be green.

We have mentioned that very often here on GreenMonk, as well as regularly bringing it up with cloud providers when talking to them.

One such cloud provider is SAP. Like most other cloud vendors, they’re constantly increasing their portfolio of cloud products. This has presented them with some challenges when they have to consider their carbon footprint. In its recently released 2013 Annual Report SAP admits

Energy usage in our data centers contributed to 6% of our total emissions in 2013, compared with 5% in 2012

This is going the wrong direction for a company whose stated aim is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from their operations to levels of the year 2000 by 2020.

To counter this SAP have just announced

that it will power all its data centers and facilities globally with 100 percent renewable electricity starting in 2014

This is good for SAP, obviously, as they will be reducing their environmental footprint, and also good for customers of SAP’s cloud solutions who will also get the benefit of SAP’s green investments. How are SAP achieving this goal of 100 per cent renewable energy for its data centers and facilities? A combination of generating its own electricity using solar panels in Germany and Palo Alto (<1%), purchasing renewable energy and high quality renewable energy certificates, and a €3m investment in the Livlihoods Fund.

So, how does SAP’s green credentials stack up against some of its rivals in the cloud computing space?

Well, since yesterday’s pricing announcements from Google they definitely have to be considered a contender in this space. And what are their green credentials like? Well, Google have been carbon neutral since 2007, and they have invested over $1bn in renewable energy projects. So Google are definitely out in front on this one.

Who else is there?

Well, Microsoft with its recently branded Microsoft Azure cloud offerings are also a contender, so how do they fare? Quite well actually. In May 2012, Microsoft made a commitment

to make our operations carbon neutral: to achieve net zero emissions for our data centers, software development labs, offices, and employee business air travel in over 100 countries around the world.

So by doing this 2 years ahead of SAP and by including employee air travel, as well as facilities, you’d have to say that Microsoft come out ahead of SAP.

However, SAP does come in well ahead of other cloud companies such as IBM, who reported that renewable electricity made up a mere 15% of its consumption in 2012. IBM reported emissions of 2.2m tons of CO2 in 2012.

But, at least that’s better than Oracle. In Oracle’s 2012 report (reporting on the year 2011 – the most recent report available on their site), Oracle state that they don’t even account for their scope 3 emissions:

Scope 3 GHG emissions are typically defined as indirect emissions from operations outside the direct control of the company, such as employee commutes, business travel, and supply chain operations. Oracle does not report on Scope 3 emissions

And then there’s Amazon. Amazon doesn’t release any kind of information about the carbon footprint of its facilities. None.

So kudos to SAP for taking this step to green its cloud computing fleet. Looking at the competition I’d have to say SAP comes in around middle-of-the road in terms of its green cloud credentials. If it wants to improve its ranking, it may be time to revisit that 2020 goal.

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

Here comes the sun… IBM and solar forecasting


Concentrating solar power array

For decades now electricity grids have been architected in the same way with large centralised generation facilities pumping out electricity to large numbers of distributed consumers. Generation has been controlled, and predictable. This model is breaking down fast.

In the last decade we have seen a massive upsurge in the amount of renewable generation making its way onto the grid. Most of this new renewable generation is coming from wind and solar. Just last year (2013), almost a third of all newly added electricity generation in the US came from solar. That’s an unprecedented number which points to a rapid move away from the old order.

This raises big challenges for the grid operators and utilities. Now they are moving to a situation where generation is variable and not very predictable. And demand is also variable and only somewhat predictable. In a situation where supply and demand are both variable, grid stability can be an issue.

To counter this, a number of strategies are being looked at including demand response (managing the demand so it more closely mirrors the supply), storage (where excess generation is stored as heat, or potential energy, and released once generation drops and/or demand increases), and better forecasting of the generation from variable suppliers.

Some of the more successful work being done on forecasting generation from renewables is being undertaken by Dr Hendrik Hamann at IBM’s TJ Watson Research Center, in New York. Specifically Dr Hamann is looking at improving the accuracy of forecasting solar power generation. Solar is extremely complex to forecast because factors such as cloud cover, cloud opacity and wind have to be taken into account.
IBM Solar Forecaster
Dr Hamann uses a deep machine learning approach to tackle the many petabytes of big data generated by satellite images, ground observations, and solar databases. The results have been enviable apparently. According to Dr. Hamann, solar forecast accuracy using this approach is 50% more accurate than the next best forecasting model. And the same approach can be used to predict rainfall, surface temperature, and wind. In the case of wind, the forecast accuracy is 35% better than the next best model.

This is still very much a research project so there is no timeline yet on when (or even if) this will become a product, but if it does, I can see it being an extremely valuable tool for solar farm operators (to avoid fines for over-production, for example), for utilities to plan power purchases, and for grid management companies for grid stability purposes.

The fact that it is a cloud delivered (pun intended, sorry) solution would mean that if IBM brings it to market it will have a reduced cost and time to delivery, bringing it potentially within reach of smaller operators. And with the increase in the number of solar operators (140,000 individual solar installations in the U.S. in 2013) on the grid, highly accurate forecasting is becoming more important by the day.

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)