Greenpeace has published a report on renewable energy in Europe, with the title of Renewables 24/7 – Infrastructure needed to save the climate. It’s a vision of how mini-grids and smart-grids could be connected intelligently with a super grid to provide reliable around-the-clock supply without the need for coal fired or nuclear power plants. The full report is here. It’s part of Greenpeace’s Energy [R]evolution scenario, a vision for a climate friendly global energy supply.
The report compares 30 years of weather data with European annual demand curves and concluded that with the existing grid there is only a 0.4% - or 12 hours a year - chance that high demand correlates with low solar and wind generation. The proposed grid reinforcement would remove this small uncertainty and guarantee reliable power.
What caught my eye was Greenpeace’s emphasis on IT’s role. "With smart grids we basically merge the internet with the electricity grid", Greenpeace International senior energy expert, Sven Teske said at the launch of the report. "Building up smart grids is a huge business opportunity, especially for IT companies”.
The report points out that power in a smart grid comes from a diverse range of sources so it relies on an IT infrastructure to deliver, analyse and respond to supplier data. It cites a number of companies that could potentially be involved with smart grids, from telecommunications companies, such as Deutsche Telecom or AT&T; software providers such as Cisco or Google, and hardware providers such as Fujitsu and IBM.
In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, the list of potential suppliers is long and comes from a variety of sectors; IT infrastructure, specialist solutions providers, fixed and mobile telecoms, utility equipment manufacturers, etc. It’s the mix of expertise required across the smart grid/smart meter spectrum that makes the market interesting. Lots of partnerships will be forming, particularly around specific opportunities, with large infrastructure companies joining up with much smaller, specialist companies with particular smart grid expertise.
Greenpeace also highlights the the requirement for smart metering and information systems on the consumer side of the equation. It includes energy management information to monitor local resource, such as a private solar arrays, and also to ensure any excess power is accurately measured and sold to the grid.
A bigger opportunity (in my view) is the need to provide energy users with real-time information on their energy consumption patterns and the power use of appliances, so they can improve their own energy efficiency and use power more cost-effectively.
Perhaps the biggest IT opportunity of all will be when the communications infrastructure between grid and meter are in place and open up lots of other application opportunities in businesses and homes.
As the report points out, there are many IT companies offering products and services to manage and monitor energy – a whole new IT market application sector is springing up. As with all new markets it has been led by small, innovative start-ups but the large IT players are also now moving strongly into the market. The report highlights a few companies in this sector, including IBM and Fujitsu, with hardware solutions, Google and Microsoft with smart meter applications software and Cisco, looking to duplicate its role in the development of smart grids as it did in building the internet. But it seems unfair to single out a few in a wide open sector with many small, innovative start-ups that will challenge existing players.
To conclude, I hope Greenpeace will not mind me quoting one paragraph of the report in full:
“Technology companies need to be pushing for the development of decentralised smart grids. These companies should be leading the way to a clean technology revolution over vested interests of some energy utilities that use smart grids to refer only to improving the efficiency of centralised fossil fuel based generation. Smart grids have the potential to transform the way that people use energy, and drive the massive global shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy that is required to prevent the worst ravages of climate change. The onus is on leading technology companies to take the bold steps needed to realise this potential”.
Nicely put and it fits with my own views on the value of smart grids, the ICT opportunities they represent and also the need for ICT companies to be actively involved in lobbying for environmental initiatives. In this case they’ve nothing to lose and a lot to gain.