..I love it when I come across a well written, thought provoking blog.
I was great then to read Kate Mackenzie's excellent piece on the Financial Times - Energysource blog - 'Why the tech revolution isn’t a template for an energy revolution'. There are some great comments on there too so it's obviously struck a chord with others aside from myself.
The essence of Kate's piece is that despite the massive leaps and bounds of the IT industry both in hardware and software design, the same advances in technology can't be brought to bear and expected to achieve the same results in the world of energy. She quote various eminent sources, among them Shell chief exec Peter Voser who stated:
Our industry is very different from, say, the consumer electronics industry.
A mobile phone company may have 18 months to develop and market a new mobile phone, if it wants to beat the competition.
In the energy sector, the scale of investments and new projects is massive, and “18 months” feels more like “18 minutes”.
We’ve researched all of the current energy types and found that in the twentieth century, it took 30 years for new energy types to capture 1% of the market.
For instance, biofuels are reaching their 1% share of the oil market around now, which is equivalent to 0.5% of total energy. Wind could do so by the middle of this decade, . . . roughly three decades after the first large wind parks were built in Denmark and the United States, and thanks also to the huge effort made here in China to deploy wind capacity.
Now although I do broadly agree with the bones of the article, and it's well worth a read, I can't help feeling that it's a little unbalanced. In simple terms, perhaps the statement that I disagree with the most is the following - 'the idea that the great leaps made by IT and networking technologies in the past decade can be easily transferred to the looming energy challenge is shallow and misleading’
The point that I think is being missed here (and it's quite a big point) is the role that technology has to play in making efficient use of existing energy sources while new ones are developed. I think it would be naive and somewhat arrogant of humankind to expect to be able to simply throw enough money and/or technology at the looming energy crisis in order to fix it. What is overlooked in the article, while being vital to the bigger picture here, is that technology can (and is) being used in thousands of ways to reduce existing energy use. In the short term, I think that this is the correct place to focus the efforts of the multitude of tech companies like 1E who have focussed on reducing energy use. Think of how efficient our cars are now compared to just 20 years ago, and look at how technology in computer monitors is reducing power usage with each generation.
We can't wean ourselves off oil, gas an coal overnight, nor can we expect another magic energy source to come along and make that possible overnight, or even in the next 20 years perhaps. What we can, and are doing in so many ways is attempting to mitigate the effects of our oil-driven lives, and use IT as an enabler of a low carbon economy for the immediate future. As an example, here at 1E, which is a relatively small player in the great cheme of things, we have helped some of the largest companies in the world to reduce their energy dependance by millions of Megawatts, and saved millions of tons of carbon emissions in the process. Of course we also need to change our habits drastically. In the US for example, 70% of oil consumption is used in transporting stuff - that is ourselves, and the things we eat and buy.
So while I do recognise that the massive advances in technology can't be magically reproduced in the search for solutions to the energy problems that we face, I think that we need to recognise the enormous challenge and role that technology has to play in making sure that the planet is still in reasonable shape when we are ready to transition to a cleaner future.