Thursday, July 17, 2008

Open Coffee BBQ

Lots of people turned up to the BBQ at Lough Derg from all over the country, from wedding planners to deep techies to hot poster sellers (more later).

I did a talk on the opportunities for the IT sector caused by energy problems. (I belive in calling a problem a problem and not an issue!). Here is an abbreviated version:

The industry most used to change, who welcome change as an opportunity for innovation and who expect to get new businesses and new products to market at short notice is, in my opinion, the IT sector. So maybe IT people are the ones to embrace the changes caused by a changing energy landscape and to benefit by it.

A bit about me.

The problem is the gap between increasing demand and declining supply of fossil-fuels.

Our 20th century economy was built on the assumption of cheap and available energy, in particular oil and globalisation has been possible because of cheap transport costs. If energy prices continue to increase then what changes will that mean for the way we live and work?

Current thinking is around how to increase supply to meet demand, but doing something about demand is actually much easier and cheaper. Demand is made up of the energy we need plus the energy we want plus the energy we waste. I have been saying for some time that we waste at least 50% of the energy we use but am open to challenge! Wasted energy is any energy used that does not give us a direct benefit, so it includes burning petrol at traffic lights as well as leaving the lights on in an empty room

So what kind of changes lie ahead as demand pushes against supply?
Smart grids, smart meters and demand response will mean the price of electricity will vary with the cost of supply. On windy days the price is cheaper than when all the electricty is supplied by gas and peat. Electricity suppliers will use price to manage demand and reduce peaks and fill troughs. This will make more efficient use of generation plant.

I don't believe in the hydrogen economy (see previous blog posts). Electricity seems a much better carrier of energy for which we already have the basic infrastructure. We are already replacing oil with electricity when we purchase ground source heat pumps and electric cars are already to be seen on the roads.

In the forseeable, future energy efficiency will be a given. This is not to say that we will be constantly trying to save energy. If we have our own wind turbine or solar panel, then that energy is effectively free to use, when it is available. On windy summer nights, the grid will be tring to offload excess wind so it will be very cheap.

As transport prices increase, some aspects of globalisation will be unsustainable. Deglobalisation is already happening in the US where it is cheaper to carry out some work in the US than move goods round the world. At the same time, work that does not involve 'stuff' can be increasingly by done anywhere.

Just in time is ubiquitous so we rarely consider alternatives. Chemist shops in Dublin have two deliveries a day and people shop for food every 2 to 3 days because of the short shelf life of food and lack of storage space in the kitchen. As the price of transport goes up, it will become more economical is some cases, to store more and have fewer, larger deliveries, which in turn effects the transport fleet...

And while we have never had a world recession, doesn't mean we can't.

So what are the opportunities?

Moving stuff and people around the place has been very cheap for a long time. Imagine that before travelling up to the BBQ we could checkout and find that by picking up a package in Dunmanway and dropping it off in Mallow I could save €8 on my journey. For a few extra minutes, I'd do that.

How about a taxi/bus type service where you tell a system where you need to be and when, and each day the system does a timetable that devises the most efficient routes and sends an appropriate sized vehicle to cover that route. A job no human could do, but perfect for a computer.

FabLabs put small fabrication into the hands of everyone. We can all become inventors and fixers. I want one! More here.

Demand response allows the grid controllers to not only manage supply to manage demand. They have two controls. One is to increase price when they want to decrease demand, the other is to have control of equipment, which by prior agreement, they can shut down at time of high demand. Here is more about how the US have implemented Demand Response and Jerry Sweeney who wants to make it happen here.
Publish Post
Those are only a few ideas - Think about all the things that can be done under the heading "Taking the Hassle out of Energy Efficiency".

The Hot Posters? Stand next to an ordinary poster only you realise it is giving off heat! They do this by giving off infra-red light. Handy for the winter when you want to watch TV in a cold room - sit by a pic of your favorite politician (hot air). In the bus shelter, everyone is huddled around the poster for whisky. Build into the jackets for farmers and horsey people out in the wind, rain and mud all winter. In my wellies and gloves. Under my feet when sitting at the computer in the winter......


Anonymous said...

Hi Phoebe,

I find your musings on energy conservation/better use amazing.

In ancient Greece, it was said that when you died, the Gods asked you only one question.

"Were you passionate?"

Keep up the good work, I once started a theory on Aids and slowly it built up by sticking to it like you do in a format that is indelible and accumulative. Soon enough, I had the cure for Aids! At least, in my mind!

Best wishes,
Adrian Fourie

Phoebe Bright said...

Thanks for your support.