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April 07, 2010

News Review on This Week in Energy



Today I was an invited guest on a U.K.-based Internet radio program called This Week in Energy. The show is hosted by Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield and Bob Tregilus, and they do a weekly roundtable of current news items and industry developments. They've been doing this a while, and cover a broad gamut of energy, technology and smart grid topics. Each Wednesday at 1pm EST, they do a live broadcast that has both an audio and video feed.

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With this being my first TWiE segment, I chose to not promote the broadcast in advance, but seeing that it went quite well, I'll certainly let you know next time around in case you wanted to listen in real time and participate in the ongoing chat room dialog.

It's a fun format where I was part of a roundtable that discussed several items from a variety of perspectives. I found it very enjoyable, especially since I bring a broad perspective from telecom/IT that those in the utility/energy sector don't typically have. We started off talking about various issues around the iPad launch, especially how Greenpeace is politicizing Apple (News - Alert)for encouraging the proliferation of cloud services, which are evil in their view. I don't buy their tactics or logic, but big-news items like the iPad are prime opportunities to get their message across.

In principle, Greenpeace has a point in that the data centers which enable cloud computing are energy hogs, but Apple is hardly alone in driving this trend. It's all black and white for them, and while data centers have not been energy efficient to date, there's no doubt that's changing a lot now. I would argue the Google (News - Alert)is very much at the forefront of how to make data centers more energy efficient and eco-friendly and you'll just have to listen to the program to get the full story!

This thread took a few twists along the way, and included discussions about the politics of water and hydro - especially Mead Lake/Hoover Dam - which in my view have all kinds of smart grid implications. From there we talked about another side of Google and the value of smart home technologies. My main ideas were around the importance of consumer-friendly companies like Google and Microsoft (News - Alert)to help educate the market about the role the home has to play in making smart grid successful, as well as how much of the innovation we're seeing in this market is coming from outside the energy sector - just like it did with telecom.

Another related item we touched on was the April Fools prank with Excel Energy. Basically, a fake website was set up announcing that the utility would be fully moving away from coal by next year, and replacing fossil fuels with wind energy. It's a pipedream for any utility, and the motivation was to draw attention to how dependent they are on carbon fuel for everyday energy. It turns out that Excel is already making extensive use of wind, so I don't think the intended results were achieved. However, it's a good example about how the renewable energy is rising on the public agenda.

We covered a few other interesting topics, and will just mention one more. There was a recent item about an impending shortfall of engineers in the utility and nuclear sectors. Much of this is generational, with a large segment of those workforces approaching retirement. However, a bigger concern is the lack of properly trained engineers coming into these markets. We talked about the various reasons behind that, and I focused on how much of the new blood for utilities will likely come from the telecom/communication sector. We saw evidence of that at our last Smart Grid Summit, and as we bring these worlds closer together, I have no doubt that trend will only accelerate.

The Wednesday broadcast of TWiE runs about 90 minutes, so it's a pretty long show. However, if you enjoy listening to this kind of spontaneous dialog, you can download the replay from their website. Our segment should be posted within a day, and while you're there, you can certainly download earlier archived broadcasts.  If you give today's segment a listen, I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Jon Arnold (News - Alert) (News - Alert)is co-founder of Intelligent Communications Partners (News - Alert) (ICP), a strategic advisory consultancy focused on the emerging Smart Grid opportunity. To read more of his Smart Grid articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Kelly McGuire

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