Today is Earth Day, and that has me thinking green. As I discussed this afternoon at GigaOm’s Green: Net conference, the world is changing around us in many ways, including becoming more urbanized. Over the next five years, some 500 million people will be added to the world’s cities. As we think about how to manage the energy and environmental challenges that will accompany these trends, what role will the network play in helping us be more efficient and more sustainable? And what benefits will that bring to utilities and to consumers, to governments and communities at large?
Cities consume 75 percent of the world’s energy and are responsible for 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Utilities and the energy infrastructure are at the heart of city planning. If we are to better manage this impact, we must transform our electrical grid into a modern and more sustainable platform for the 21st century. Technology is the only way we can achieve balanced and sustainable growth.
Lessons in how to make our electric grids more reliable, more secure and more scalable can be gleaned from our experience in vastly revamping the telecommunications infrastructure in the ‘90s. Here too we had somewhat proprietary, siloed networks that didn’t talk to one another. Here too we had an industry that was highly regulated and needed to cautiously implement change. And here too we had an emerging field of companies chomping at the bit to capitalize on making the new telecomm infrastructure everything it could be.
The lessons we learned from this transition are important: architect the infrastructure on open, standards-based technology; build in security from the beginning; and establish public- private partnerships to align policy with infrastructure investment needs.
This transformation will rely on new technologies but also on leveraging existing technologies such as routing and switching for a utility environment. Data centers, cloud computing and security have a role to play in managing and protecting the vast influx of usage data so that we can make better educated decisions about energy consumption. Energy management of businesses and homes will leverage the existing networks extend their reach and impact. And given that the entire grid is the world’s largest infrastructure, integrating energy infrastructure with information technology will require a disciplined, architectural approach that we can only begin to foresee.
This transition has great implications, especially in our largest cities, where the need is most apparent. Examples are cropping up around the world of this vision in action. The Envision Charlotte initiative has set a goal of reducing energy use by up to 20 percent within its perimeter through greater education of citizens and use of information technology. BC Hydro in Vancouver just announced that it will roll out 1.8 million smart meters based on Itron’s OpenWay technology, powered by Cisco, to enable a more efficient grid and foster the use of renewable energy. And the city of Incheon, Korea is building in sustainability from the ground up.
These are but a few of the examples of how cities are changing, based on their energy and environmental goals. As I look around today, I see a smarter, more connected world emerging with a more intelligent and efficient energy infrastructure, supporting millions of customers, and billions of watts, with one network at the core