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Sunday, November 20 2011

Are We Stressing the Environment?

Two major global concerns are the price of oil and level of carbon emissions. The US DOE makes a conservative estimate that oil will be consistently between $110-120 by the end of the decade. Population is the key driver as evidenced by the chart to the left comparing growth in population from 1900 to the production of oil.  Note in particular that despite conservation efforts in the mid to late 1970s, production has matched population growth over the past 25 years. Supporting the general trend up in demand and hence prices, the UN expects population to continue to expand for the forseeable future as shown in the below figure.  From there we see that population will rise from current 6.5B to between 8-10B by 2040.  That would imply production exceeding 100 million barrels per day.

Additionally, and perhaps more alarming is the increase in CO2 levels and average temperatures from the late 1800s through the present in the figure below.  The critical number for long-term environmental sustainability is 350 ppm of CO2.  As can be seen from the chart, that level was surpassed around 1990 and now exceeds 370; up 110 ppm over the past 130 years. 

Electricity production accounts for 1/3 of all CO2 production.  The 2011 U.S. EIA Energy Outlook Report states that electricity currently accounts for 40% of total residential delivered energy consumption in the U.S., with projections for both residential and commercial consumption expected to increase 1.2% annually from 2010 to 2035 (not including significant electric vehicle penetration). This growth will require over 200gW of additional electrical energy capacity. With 40% of this capacity already under construction and assuming current construction costs for a gas turbine plant with transmission facilities are $700/kW, additional electric generation costs will approach $90 billion in today’s dollars or $750/U.S. household.

This represents both an energy problem and opportunity for utilities, their customers and society as a whole.  Electric utilities and their customers need to focus on conservation and smart grid solutions to offset the rise in prices and take advantage of new technologies making alternative energy and electric vehicles more economic. The incremental costs for power generation of $750/HH can instead be invested in home energy management systems, at the same time reducing the total amount of CO2 that is generated.

Related Reading:

Map of US showing locations of renewable energy production

Map of US showing over 6400 facilities producing most CO2


Posted by: Michael Elling AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, November 13 2011

A humble networking protocol 10 years ago, packet based Ethernet (invented at Xerox in 1973) has now ascended to the top of the carrier networking pyramid over traditional voice circuit (time) protocols due to the growth in data networks (storage and application connectivity) and 3G wireless.  According to AboveNet the top 3 CIO priorities are cloud computing, virtualization and mobile, up from spots 16, 3 and 12, respectively, just 2 years ago!   Ethernet now accounts for 36% of all access, larger than any other single legacy technology, up from nothing 10 years ago when the Metro Ethernet Forum was established.  With Gigabit and Terabit speeds, Ethernet is the only protocol for the future.

The recent Ethernet Expo 2011 in NYC underscored the trends and importance of what is going on in the market.  Just like fiber and high-capacity wireless (MIMO) in the physical layer (aka layer 1), Ethernet has significant price/performance advantages in transport networks (aka layer 2).  This graphic illustrates why it has spread through the landscape so rapidly from LAN to MAN to WAN.   With 75% of US business buildings lacking access to fiber, EoC will be the preferred access solution.  As bandwidth demand increases, Ethernet has a 5-10x price/performance advantage over legacy equipment.

Ethernet is getting smarter via a pejoratively coined term, SPIT (Service Provider Information Technology).  The graphic below shows how the growing horizontalization is supported by vertical integration of information (ie exchanges) that will make Ethernet truly “on-demand”.  This model is critical because of both the variability and dispersion of traffic brought on by both mobility and cloud computing.  Already, the underlying layers are being “re”-developed by companies like AlliedFiber who are building new WAN fiber with interconnection points every 60 miles.  It will all be ethernet.  Ultimately, app providers may centralize intelligence at these points, just like Akamai pushed content storage towards the edge of the network for Web 1.0.  At the core and key boundary points Ethernet Exchanges will begin to develop.  Right now network connections are mostly private and there is significant debate as to whether there will be carrier exchanges.  The reality is that there will be exchanges in the future; and not just horizontal but vertical as well to facilitate new service creation and a far larger range of on-demand bandwidth solutions.

By the way, I found this “old” (circa 2005) chart from the MEF illustrating what and where Ethernet is in the network stack.  It is consistent with my own definition of web 1.0 as a 4 layer stack.  Replace layer 4 with clouds and mobile and you get the sense for how much greater complexity there is today.  When you compare it to the above charts you see how far Ethernet has evolved in a very rapid time and why companies like Telx, Equinix (8.6x cash flow), Neutral Tandem (3.5x cash flow) will be interesting to watch, as well as larger carriers like Megapath and AboveNet (8.2x cash flow).   Certainly the next 3-5 years will see significant growth in ethernet and obsolescence of the PSTN and legacy voice (time-based) technologies.

Related Reading:
CoreSite and other data centers connect directly to Amazon AWS

Equinix and Neutral Tandem provide seamless service


Posted by: Michael Elling AT 12:46 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Sunday, November 06 2011

Would gamification work in the smart grid?  Possibly.  Others have asked the same question.  But some would ask, why do you need to incent people to save money?  Because people’s self-interest might not be aligned with the smart-grid as currently envisioned by vendors and utilities. 

Gamification’s value is to do something against one’s self-interest without realizing it.  At the same time, people play games to accomplish something aspirational.  How can these two, somewhat contradictory, precepts be applied to the smart-grid? 

People resist the smart grid because of its perceived complexity, expense and intrusiveness.  They are acting in their self-interest.  Secondly, the smart-grid is supposedly about giving the end-user controls over their own consumption.  Unfortunately, utilities are scared by this future, since it runs counter to revenue growth.

Enter gamification where everyone might win.  If introduced into the design of smart-grid solutions from the get-go it could have a fundamental impact on penetration, acceptance and ultimately revenue and profit growth for the utility industry.   Why?  Because the demand for electricity is potentially unlimited and the easier and more efficient the industry makes consumption the greater the growth potential.

So what might gamification of the smart grid look like?  It would need to satisfy the following conditions: personal growth, societal improvement and marketing engagement.   Right now solutions I’ve read about focus on individual rewards (see Welectricity and Lowfoot), but there is a growing body of evidence that people respond better when their use is compared to their neighbors.  So why not turn efficiency and production into a contest?  Research is already underway in Hawaii and Chicago.  Small, innovative app-driven solutions are entering the market; even supported by former US Vice Presidents.

To get as much participation and ensure wide-spread rewards smart-grid gamification contests should be held at home, neighborhood, city, county, state, all the way to national levels.  It should provide for both relative and absolute changes to provide ALL users an incentive to win; not just the largest users.  And not just individuals, but groups as well.  Contests could also get down to the appliance level and ultimately should include contribution/cogeneration (here’s another example). 

Utilities have done a poor job of getting customers to look at their info online; less than 10% on average.   Playing games with customers and following recipes like this might be a way to change all that.  Win, win, win.

Related Reading:

Gaming across all industries


Posted by: Michael Elling AT 11:45 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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