One of the great efficiency opportunities for the next century is based on the convergence of information and energy flows. The notion of a 'smart grid' is a more reliable and efficient energy web based on the integration of software, sensors and energy storage.
And for those homes with 'Smart Meters' or Smart Devices, solutions are coming online quickly. Google has now thrown its hat into the ring around the basic idea: 'if you can measure it, you can improve it'. The Google Power Meter is a software tool integrated into smart meters that helps consumers better understand how they use energy in order to reduce their costs and consumption. Google is a big name, in an expanding space of 'smart energy' startups, like Sentilla and REGEN, who are trying to build demand in the residential market.
Related Smart Grid posts on The Energy Roadmap.com
Yesterday at the VoiceCon conference currently being
held in Orlando, IBM released
predictions for five future trends that will increase demand for
the fast-growing unified communications market and reshape the way
businesses and workers communicate and collaborate worldwide.
The predictions, made in a keynote address by Mike Rhodin,
General Manager of IBM Lotus software,
1) The Virtual Workplace will become the rule. No need to leave
the office. Just bring it along. Desk phones and desktop computers
will gradually disappear, replaced by mobile devices, including
laptops, that take on traditional office capabilities. Social
networking tools and virtual world meeting experiences will
simulate the feeling on being there in-person. Work models will be
changed by expanded globalization and green business initiatives
that reduce travel and encourage work at home.
2) Instant Messaging and other real-time collaboration tools
will become the norm, bypassing e-mail. Just as e-mail became a
business necessity, a new generation of workers has a new
expectation for instant messaging (IM) as the preferred method of
business interaction. This will fuel more rapid adoption of unified
communications as traditional IM becomes the core extension point
for multi-modal communications.
3) Beyond Phone Calls to Collaborative Business Processes.
Companies will go beyond the initial capabilities of IM, like
click-to-call and online presence, to deep integration with
business processes and line-of-business applications, where they
can realize the greatest benefit.
You’re chatting with a person whose name you can’t remember. Agonizing minutes pass as you try and figure out not only what they do, but also where the heck you met them before. Your last hope is that some good Samaritan will introduce themselves, but everyone you try to make eye contact with just ignores you. You secretly wish you had that character in the movies who walks around with foreign dignitaries telling them the names of important people.
According to this video by IBM, these awkward situations may soon be a thing of the past.
The most amazing thing about this software isn’t that it can take photos of business cards and put the data directly into your address book, but that it can aid your memory where memories sometimes bottom out.
Faces are probably the easiest thing to remember about a person, but putting a name or even a history behind it can be downright difficult. The idea that you can enter into your PDA where you may have met this person, when it might have been, and then get a list of names and pictures of anyone who matches it is startling. And yet, it’s not entirely unthinkable or outlandish.
So what does the future hold? By 2010 you’ll probably be stalling for time to bring up information on the guy walking towards you (a popular stall might be ‘Just a sec, I’ll be right back.’) instead of winging your way through ten minutes of conversation with a total stranger. Perhaps by 2015 facial recognition will get so good that you’ll be able to “remember” anyone, even complete strangers who for some reason remember you.
What IBM is promising is an end to slowly typing contact information into your cell phone, an end to familiar faces but forgotten names, and an end to lost business cards from people you actually did want to keep in touch with. It won’t be just a cultural exchange miracle – it’ll be a social saving grace.
With the steadily worsening economic climate taking a toll on most large technology companies, IBM is a rare exception to the rule. Just yesterday the industry stalwart announced an impressive (especially under the circumstances) 12% rise in net Q4 profits, the bulk of which can be attributed to CEO Sam Palmisano's strategic transition to cloud computing and software-as-a-service (SaaS), both of which were initiated years before these sectors grew hot.
The New York Times attributes this to IBM's "global reach and its mix of businesses", reporting that "about 40 percent of its revenue and 60 percent of its profit come from products and services sold on a subscription basis as licenses or contracts that are renewed every year or so." This means that IBM can charge higher prices for its work while former head-to-head competitors like Intel, Sun and Seagate are caught up in hardware price wars that drive down prices - no surprise as chips and components are commoditized.
This belief is further reinforced by IBM's intelligent use of web communications (blogs & easy to follow videos, an expertise that Google shares), its vision of planetary technology and information development (see the video below)...
Decades ago IBM earned the nickname 'Big Blue' for the color of its corporate logo and mainframes (*), but maybe it was really a sneak peak at its role in digitizing Planet Earth?
There is tremendous growth ahead around 'instrumenting' ecosystems and built environments with sensors, and creating the software systems to make sense of what's actually happening on the planet.
How long before the mainstream world catches onto the idea of a 'Digital Gaia'? How long before companies like IBM, Cisco, Johnson Controls and Honeywell can fully instrument the world and create massive computer simulations that give birth to a mirror world Digital Earth image that suddenly seems alive because we humans can measure it and visualize the changes? I imagine we'll see changes within a decade or two.
This week IBM unveiled its new Strategic Water Management Solutions to help governments, water utilities, and companies monitor and manage water more effectively. IBM also released its Global Innovations Outlook devoted to Water [PDF]. Below is a video clip higlighting Big Blue's SmartBay sensor system, which monitors wave conditions, marine life and pollution levels in and around Galway Bay, Ireland
Announcement #2 Novel Water Desalination Membrane [Including Video]
IBM held its Third Annual "Five in Five" which looks at emerging trends as well as what IBM itself is developing in their own labs around the world. Here's the vid.
While previous predictions given by these "Five in Five" releases can be somewhat fanciful (like mind-reading cellphones for instance), this latest list has the refreshing feel of being very near and very possible.
Solar technology will be built into everything
IBM states that within five years we could be seeing thin-film solar technology built into everything around us. This includes sidewalks, driveways, paint, windows and even clothing. Their belief is that thin-film solar will get so cheap that it can be applied everywhere in our lives. It's ability to be flexible also makes it easy to wrap around our daily devices which could benefit from a little extra power boost. It's interesting to think that while some people are clamoring for white asphalt and roofing tiles to reflect the Suns energy and save on lighting, another faction will emerge that will want solar film instead. Of course the question remains: are you going to want to hook a battery up to your clothing?
Your health can be pre-determined
Mapping DNA keeps getting faster and cheaper as the years go along. It only makes sense that very soon people will begin to use that genetic information to look for hereditary traits that could impact your health. In finding out you have a high chance of becoming diabetic, you may try and change your diet to avoid or delay its effects. Basically, it's the movie GATTACA without being able to actually alter the DNA before birth. I wonder how you'll take the news when they tell you that the junk food you so love is literally killing your body and taking years off your life.
One of the biggest business opportunities of the next few decades will be enabling the convergence of Energy and Information systems to lower costs and improve efficiencies.
Companies such as Johnson Controls and IBM have been very vocal about their vision of a 'smart infrastructure' future. And there are a number of 'Smart Grid' startups offering utility-scale and building/home energy management solutions.
Cisco: 'Smarter' Energy Networks Cisco Systems is widely associated with the hardware 'backbone' (e.g. routers) of the Internet, but the company is expanding into new web-based services like video collaboration and energy management.
Cisco has a very simple vision of the future of energy efficiency: If it is on the 'network', then we can make it more efficient. Why is this important? Because within a decade or two most everything that produces and consumes power will be integrated into an information (web) network.
The company has announced its new Cisco EnergyWise [PDF] technology platform that will help its customers reduce energy consumption of Internet Protocol (IP) devices such as phones, computers, and digital access points. The next step for Cisco will be offering software solutions to help manage building systems (lighting, air conditioning and heating).
The offering puts Cisco in a strong position to compete in a fully 'embedded' world where all objects and devices are on the web and energy is never wasted.
My respect for IBM CEO Sam Palmisano continues to rise. As myriad unimaginative lemming financial pundits continue to explain away the present economic crisis as solely a failure of consumer confidence, Palmisano is making the rounds, advocating the construction of more intelligent infrastructure. His latest audience? None other than newly elected Barack Obama.
During a rountable discussion between Obama and various corporate CEOs (including Google CEO Eric Schmidt), Palmisano presented a summary of his thoughts on the United States' economic stimulus strategy. (video here)
Palmisano: There is clearly no reason we believe to undertake projects just for the sake of activity. We need to undertake projects that actually create jobs that will make infrastructure, make our country much more competitive for the long term.
[W]e need to invest and to build a more modern and more competitive infrastructure for the future.
It may be obvious, but it's also VERY refreshing to see that such messages are piercing the static and reaching the brains that need to hear them.
MIT Technology Review has a great post on the use of (bee) 'swarm' inspired algorithms to reduce energy consumption of networked appliances like air conditioners, computers and heating systems. Toronto-based startup REGEN ENERGY is building smart energy platforms using new technology standards like Zigbee and micro-controllers to 'maximize collective efficiency'. Their trick is to enable 'bottom up' self organized smart grids for appliances without having to actively manage their energy consumption with a 'single order'.
There are two major convergences to watch in the world of electricity. The first relates to the convergence of the auto industry and 'big grid' utility providers to service next generation electric vehicles powered by batteries and H2 fuel cells. The second deals with the convergence of software and energy flows. We expect major enterprise software providers to jump into 'smart grid' efforts in the years ahead. And IBM is leading the charge!
IBM's Smart Planet In early November IBM's CEO Sam Palmisano delivered a speech on Big Blue's vision of a Smart Planet based on intelligent infrastructure for flows of energy, transportation and information. Now the company is now starting to go public with its formal strategic partnerships.
IBM has announced a pilot project with Michigan-based utility Consumers Energy, 'to help plan, deploy and test an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and smart grid field pilot network.'
But the most singificant project to date is with utility giant American Electric Power (AEP). IBM will serve as the overall systems integrator for AEP's gridSMART(SM) suite of customer programs and systems that create change the nature of energy delivery systems.
IBM will help to expand gridSMART initiatives for new production, delivering and local storage systems that make utility grids more reslient and profitable.
Smart Grid: Software, Sensors & Storage After years of conceptual planning, 'Smart Grids' appear to be closer to reality. The ingrediants for disruption will be software and sensors to anticipate grid strains, and local storage to lower the cost of meeting peak demand.
A new Ceres report on company supply chain and operation efficiencies that support climate change strategies, has named IBM the #1 company for its internal practices and green innovation strategies. The RiskMetrics Group authored report analyzes climate change governance practices at 63 of the world's largest retail, pharmaceutical, technology, apparel and other consumer-facing companies.
Using a 100-point scale, the three highest scoring companies were IBM, UK-based grocery retailer Tesco and Dell, with 79, 78 and 77 points, respectively. More than half of the 63 companies scored under 50 points, with a median score of 38 points.
Beyond 'green' recognition, what does IBM see in a a Smart Planet? The big story is not the 'green' award recognition for IBM, Tesco and Dell - it's the brand association IBM is trying to build between its core practice as a hardware-software service provider and the transformation of global industries that deal with infrastructure and the transmission of information, goods, energy and water.
Consumers can change light builts, but companies like IBM and Johnson Controls can transform industry level supply chains, built environments, and national infrastructure systems. This is where we are likely to find the greatest ROI.
IBM (and others) sees an opportunity to improve industrial scale efficiencies in a near term future shaped by software, sensors and micro controllers. The vision? A Smart Planet.
For IBM the world is quickly becoming, instrumented, interconnected and intelligent. This is the driving force behind 'Big Blue' trying to enable a 'Big Green'world. Sensors and Software can lead to a greener world.
Is IBM gearing up to compete with Wolfram Alpha in the computational search game? Maybe. Is IBM gearing to take on the top minds on popular TV game show Jeopardy? Definitely. Check out this video from Big Blue:
Developments such as this have got me thinking about not just the computational search just over the horizon, but also the rise of qualitative search that futurist Paul Saffo mysteriously alluded to in this MemeBox interview.