The 1970s was bookended by two major energy crises relating to geopolitical conflicts in the Middle East. Consumers suffered high prices, fuel shortages, and even rationing. But as we grumbled, auto manufacturers and engineers were heads-down on developing and rolling out more energy-efficient vehicles. Eventually, the momentum that the auto industry created for energy-efficiency would motivate other innovators that led to now mainstream adoption of hybrid cars (e.g., the Toyota Prius introduced in 1997) and, of course, the Tesla, which is quickly nearing its two-millionth production model.

More than four decades after the last major energy crisis, we need the brilliance of engineers and technologists more than ever. I recently returned from the UK where I was shocked to see fuel (petrol) prices are approaching $9 a gallon. Even those who have smartly purchased electric vehicles are not immune as UK consumers can expect electricity bills to skyrocket almost 60 percent in 2022 compared to 2021 prices.

And the UK isn’t even in the frontlines of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, a major factor behind this latest energy crisis. Consumers “on the continent” are bracing for even steeper price hikes. The cost of electricity in Germany just reached its all-time high, a record no country ever wants to achieve. It’s even worse in Poland (neighbor of Ukraine) where households are facing 180 percent price hikes for electricity.

It is clear that we will need long-term and sustainable energy-efficiency solutions that can help withstand fluctuations in oil & gas supply and prices. In my last blog, I wrote about the hundreds of billions being invested into Smart Building technologies including those used to retrofit older buildings such as Cisco’s Penn1 showcase.

22 Bishopsgate, a model for sustainable workspaces

I had the pleasure of touring a couple of other Cisco technology-enabled Smart Buildings during my UK trip, including 22 Bishopsgate, an ultra-modern and sustainable facility tailored-made for hybrid work. Smart is an understatement for the capabilities of 22 Bishopsgate, which features advanced levels of automation and artificial intelligence. And this isn’t technology for technology’s sake. The facility operators told me that just the use of automated, motorized window blinds throughout the building have slashed energy usage at Bishopsgate by half. That kind of energy savings is even more critical during an energy crisis, meaning that most companies could have used this kind of technology yesterday.

Views from inside 22 Bishopsgate

And these companies are certainly not standing by idly. I also met with many of our customers with brand names that would be familiar to just about anyone. These multinational giants are actively looking at Smart Building and other energy-efficiency options in order to accelerate their journeys to Net Zero. There were three common takeaways in how these customers were approaching this issue:

  1. Data center power optimization is a critical requirement, especially for energy-hungry data centers powering the banks and financial services (e.g., for high-frequency trading floors).
  2. As-a-service technologies — including hardware — is seen as a key enabler for sustainability.
  3. Methodologies to benchmark, measure, and report power consumption on a regular basis is important to customers, which presents a real business opportunity for innovators like Cisco to deliver those tools.

Racing towards sustainability

In time, I think we can all agree that the ultimate solution for preventing future energy crises is a ready-and-steady supply of renewable energy. Till then, engineers at Cisco and many more around the world will be hard at work in developing ways to make the systems we have today more energy efficient.

But, this doesn’t all have to be serious business stuff. In my next blog, I’ll relate my experiences at my very first Formula E race that is quickly modernizing auto racing to 21st-century sensibilities.



Denise Lee

Vice President

Engineering Sustainability Office