I had a great chat about Smart Buildings the other day with IBM’s VP Energy and Environment, Rich Lechner.
Why are smart buildings important? Well, as Rich says, in the US buildings are responsible for about 70% of the energy consumption and for about 40% of the greenhouse gases emitted.
When you combine that with the fact that 3.5bn people are living in cities today and that that number is rapidly increasing you start to see why making buildings smarter needs to be a very high priority.
The chat with Rich was great because, as with all my interviews, it was unscripted and Rich talked knowledgeably and compellingly about the kinds of ways we can make buildings smarter, and gave the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas as a case study of what can be achieved.
The interview was so good, I split it in two rather than cutting any of it out – here’s part 2:
[Disclosure] – These videos were sponsored by IBM.
I posted my video interview with IBM’s John Soyring previously as part of a round-up of my impressions of the IBM Connect09 event. I have since had the interview transcribed so I thought I’d post it once more as a stand-alone post, with the transcription – the content is that good.
Transcription: Tom Raftery:
Hi, everyone and welcome to GreenMonkTV. My guest in the show today is John Soyring from IBM. John you are a part of the IBM Software Group and we are at the Connect 09 Conference today and we are talking a lot about the Smarter Planet initiative from IBM. So IBM has traditionally been known as Big Blue. Are you guys now going to rebrand as Big Green?
Well, certainly someone referred to that, but blue is important too because of the color that water appears to many peoples as well and water is part of our projects.
The Blue Marble.
So tell us about some of the stuff you are doing around water, for instance, since you brought that out.
Yeah, I would be happy to. So we have selected water because we know that there is already a shortage, globally, of the amount of potable water available to people and the lack of potable water is a major cause of health problems in parts of the world and has adverse impacts on economy; so right now is a problem already, a pretty severe problem.
Secondly as you look at supply and demand the amount of fresh water on the face of the earth or drinkable water or water that’s easily purified to be drinkable is finite in nature, it hasn’t changed over centuries really and the total amount – it is a very significant amount.
Yet, the demand with population growth and with the growth of certain economies around the world where more and more people are demanding water not only for their own personal use, but also for commercial use – there is an increased stress on the system. So we look at it from a macroeconomic standpoint and say there’s has got to be something we could do to help here.
So this team got together and said how could we apply technology to help all of the world of water, whether it’s managing water resources or helping people to better distribute the water or very importantly how to make more intelligent decisions on how to consume water.
So if I use one example as representative and I won’t give out their specific numbers because they share them on confidence with me of what they are doing, but as an example the country of Malta we were very fortunate to work with them, because of the work they were already doing and recognizing that water is extremely important to the people, the citizens of Malta and the visitors, but very importantly as they continue to grow their economy an increased availability of water is going to be critical to that.
What they told me, 100% of the water comes from rain catchments that’s about 55-60% of the total supply and about 40% or 50%, it varies, I believe, during the year is seawater from the Mediterranean Sea that’s desalinated, purified, and then distributed. Now, as I had the benefit of coming and visiting some of their desalination centers and purification centers, and they were already using state-of-the-art technology.
Now in the future will there be a better technology with nanotechnology and other on filtration systems? Very likely; so it’s great to be able to work with some people who already on the leading edge of pushing the technology to it’s boundaries.
The second is how you would distribute that water, because today water in almost all cities and regions of the world or countries in the world is heavily subsidized by tax payers. Consumers don’t really realize the true cost of water because the price…
Water is free. You just turn the tap and there it is.
It is so inexpensive the monthly bill that people perceive it to be free, but in reality the cost is much higher that what they are being charged. With governments – city, regional, federal governments around the world being stressed because there’s a gap between the taxes they collect and the amount that they are spending is not a sustainable economic model.
So eventually water will have more and more market prices and for decades, now I have been projecting personally. This is my own personal opinion that the price of a barrel of water will far exceed the price of a barrel of oil. And what’s important is we can live without a barrel of oil, we’ve got alternatives to oil. It’s going to take a while to develop those, but we don’t know really have alternatives to water that we have to drink and survive whether it’s animals or human beings in that category.
Because I saw in a statistic recently that it takes 16,000 liters of water to produce one kilo a beef.
It is expensive and the other thing I found recently and it takes quite a few liters of water to produce a one liter of beer.
I’ll give up the beef, I won’t give up with the beer.
I happen to be a real big fan of one of your Irish beverages.
Yes, the Guinness is just absolutely wonderful, but think about this and Malta is pretty representative of many other countries. We create this purified drinkable water very expensively on a per liter basis, we distribute it, our water systems are very old, many times measured in centuries not just decades.
There’s leaks in the system, so there’s loss of water in the distribution system, loss of water when they get in to the buildings – the residential homes or commercial buildings, loss in the building is pretty bad also from a health standpoint because it creates mould which has adverse affect on the living beings that are in that home or that commercial building; but, very importantly when you think about we designed our plumbing systems that assume as you pointed out water is free.
So we use it for all sorts and I was shocked as I talked to the CEOs of different water utility companies around the world that’s a very higher percentage of water that’s just flushed down the toilet; a very significant part and that when you look at the majority of it that’s actually going for irrigation for the grasses and lawns, or for the flowerbeds, for vegetable gardens, for trees, for irrigation, for farms, it’s a very high percentage. None of it really needs the quality of potable water that we have.
So there’s a disconnect there between the amount that’s flushed down the toilet and what could be used for irrigation purposes?
And the interesting thing, as I was in Malta meeting with some of the government leaders and the business leaders in Malta and on my flight back to the United States the airline had copies of the Financial Times and I was reading through a section and it was a Middle East country, I believe it was Qatar back in about April had a paid section that they put in and talked about the different parts the government one of which is water management.
I taught that it was just absolutely visionary what they are doing because the leaders in Qatar were setting goals for the future, they wanted to able to — every time they created a liter of a drinkable water, they want to able to use that liter seven times before they dispose of that.
Now, so that’s a great vision. Now the question is from our system today that use the water once in 95% plus of the cases, how can we get to a case where we are satisfy a vision like Qatar has of using it seven times?
Certainly a new plumping system would do, but another thing is if we have the intelligent sensors of where the water is being used, then we can people aware of their consumption habits are we’ve certainly seen that in hybrid vehicles that when they no what their patrol consumption is they try to optimize that and change behavior.
Now if we can make that information available to the consuming public and also if they know what the real cost of water is and the benefits, we think we can precipitate some of that change.
So that’s what we are doing and for the smart water grid in Malta, we’ve signed several other deals and just issued press release earlier this week, one for the lower Colorado River Authority, which is a watershed in Texas supplying water to central Texas.
One is in Japan with a water utility, one is in Australia, and then there’s a variety of other projects anywhere from working on the Hudson River in New York, which has in its 1960s and 1970s, unfortunately, became very polluted.
To be able to place sensors through the river to identify when various chemicals – whether it’s agricultural runoff, industrial chemicals, personal use chemicals, because people are using medications, but they eventually flow out of you body, usually get flushed down the toilet, but they end up not being separated during the water purification process for sewage, and when they do the sewage processes it mixes in the river.
So if we put sensors in the river, we can identify the source and start to mitigate the pollution problem by hitting it at the source as soon as possible.
You did a project in Galway Bay in Ireland as well.
Yeah, absolutely, and as you know being Irish the Bay in Galway is probably the major source of economic growth for the city of Galway and the surrounding region, whether it’s the fisheries which depend on the quality of the water, they have better catches if the water quality is better; to Galway is one of the major import and export centers, the ports in Ireland so the commerce of the country of Ireland is very dependent upon the success of it.
Vacationers, people like to bathe in Galway Bay, so by putting sensors throughout on buoys throughout the Bay we are able to capture information and help Ireland be the first country to start satisfying a European regulation where this data has to be captured and made available to the public immediately, so they can make decisions. One of the things that we measure is E. coli high concentrations.
If the concentration level is below what the Health Department determines is acceptable or the EPA in Ireland they say bathers feel free to go in. Now people can make that decision rather than waiting for a notice and perhaps missing it in the newspaper, going swimming, and then ending up with some health problems.
John, that’s been great. Thanks, for taking the time to come on the show.
Oh! It’s a pleasure. Thank you for coming here to this event.
Tom Raftery – Global VP, Futurist, and Innovation Evangelist for SAP, inspirational keynote speaker, and global influencer's take on how digitization and innovation are creatively disrupting our world