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I think we all know now that there is a significant change occurring in how we will be looking at energy in years to come, what I have previously called the Energy Revolution. So, who are the players, the leaders, and how will this revolution impact existing markets and businesses?
The most relevant meaning of “revolution” from the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is “a sudden, radical, or complete change”. So in a revolution, things change significantly. The root of the word is revolve, so it’s clear that we’re talking about a 180-degree change; it’s worth keeping this in mind for the Energy Revolution we are witnessing right now.
The Energy Revolution follows on a number of industrial revolutions that we have seen over the past few centuries.
First came the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th century. This was a major turning point in society and was driven by the creation of machines and non-human or animal sources of energy. This revolution actually took quite some time to occur, lasting into the end of the 19th century that saw the invention of the internal combustion engine and the use of fossil fuels (some call this the second Industrial Revolution). The key point of this revolution is energy and communication; for the first time in human history, we were able to do things beyond the limits of our strength and communicate (meaning transportation, books, etc.) beyond our immediate vicinity.
The next relevant revolution was in the 20th century and involved information. This started in the middle of the century with the invention of computers and continued to the end of the century with the dot-com boom. Many people call this the Information Revolution as it created all a rich array of technologies and altered the way we look at information. The impact of this revolution is the digital society that we now live in, impacting how we live, work and play. It’s also important to note that this period of time saw our energy appetite increase as we refined our ability to consume vast amounts of fossil-based energy.
The common factors with the above are energy, communications and social change.
Today, climate change and energy scarcity is driving change, and mature information technology will be the enabling factor to get beyond the fossil-based energy. And, as in previous revolutions, social change will be significant, impacting everything from our daily lives to commerce and politics.
The changes in commerce and industry will be dramatic. Here are some of the areas of change.
Electricity has been the driver for world economic and social growth in the 20th century; electricity has been called the greatest invention of the 20th century. The problem today is that the electricity system in the U.S. and the rest of the world is principally the same as it was at the beginning of the 20th century! And because of increased demand and concerns about climate change, the electricity industry is about to change very significantly.
Only a few years back, electricity was a convenience. Today, with the amount of digital equipment we rely on, electricity is a necessity, without which our lives and society at large would not be able to continue for very long. Just look at the blackouts that happen with relative regularity.
The move from fossil to renewable is much more significant than just a change of the energy source. The move will also change the structure of the electric system from central generation to a distributed generation as wind and solar generation will occur in homes, neighborhoods and other venues. The business and commerce structure of this distribution model will change, the utilities will be less in control, or will become a new type of player yet unknown.
The role of information technology to facilitate this change is key; this is the focus of Smart Grid. The GridWise Expo in Santa Clara will bring the best view to date on how Smart Grid will unfold.
We know the buzz today is Green Buildings, and with LEED we now have a way to measure and rate how green a building is. Now, we know that LEED is not perfect and does not address many of the contributions that building automation and IT can provide to make a building truly green, but the USGBC has done a great job of promoting LEED to create a real demand for a new type of building.
With the availability of IT today, many know the potential contribution it can make to buildings—from an increased number of connected devices such as sensors, to smarter systems that can automate energy-related usage, to links to enterprise and business systems that address the real needs of owners. We are also seeing how the Internet is changing how we look at buildings, from how we design, build and operate them.
As a significant consumer of energy, buildings play a key role in the Energy Revolution, and all players involved with buildings will somehow be affected by this change. Buildings tomorrow will not look much like the buildings of yesterday, and IT will become part of this transition. The 6th annual BuilConn will present a view of how buildings will unfold in the Energy Revolution.
The dream of home automation has been around for years, though the reality falls far short. Most of the discussions and solutions to date have been around home entertainment systems; there simply has not been any driver for homeowners to install home automation at any mass basis – too expensive and not enough benefits.
While energy still has a relatively small economical impact to homeowners, as the Energy Revolution unfolds, this picture is likely to change significantly. With the availability of renewable generation targeting homes as well as smart communicating thermostats and other energy-consuming appliances and the emergence of plug-in hybrid vehicles, the drivers for consumers to start to think about energy is likely to increase in the coming years.
Along with this, will be an increased awareness of the need for a common network in the home to manage all of the appliances and devices from entertainment, security, energy and lifestyle. The new term for this is HAN (Home Area Network). HAN is very different from other networks as it is likely to be a combination of multiple media from wireless, Powerline carrier, and dedicated media, and HAN will need to deal with command and control applications as well as rich media.
HomeConn, a new event focused at the emergence of energy as a driving subject in home automation will be an exciting venue where players in the Energy Revolution will discuss this opportunity.
The picture of industrial and manufacturing today is a far cry from the original machines of the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago; this is one area that has embraced technology significantly, integrating manufacturing with enterprise systems, supply chain, and to some degree, facilities. We have a lot to learn from this industry.
The move toward a green sustainable world is, however, not well embraced yet in the industrial sector. Energy is clearly key for manufacturing but the type of energy (fossil vs. renewable) is not yet a major issue. Integration of industrial applications with the energy supply grid is only an nascent subject that will be increasingly important as companies demand green as part of their corporate profile and social responsibility message.
The newly organized IndConn in Santa Clara will be a gathering place for industrial automation players to meet and discuss these issues with Smart Grid players at the I2G Summit and at a track dedicated to exploring the interaction of industrial automation and IT.
M2M has been an interesting topic, the notion that smart devices should be connected with each other to promote broader increased benefits and business value. M2M has also been in the forefront of turning many business models upside down, a move from product-based businesses to a service-oriented model.
The M2M Conference and Expo at ConnectivityWeek in Santa Clara will provide the glue to make the Energy Revolution unfold. M2M will stand back from specific applications and suggest ways that we can link the various needs and paint a picture of how the Energy Revolution will start to shape the various industries gathered at ConnectivityWeek.
A key objective of ConnectivityWeek 2008 in Santa Clara this year is to bring together the above subjects as we start to chart the Revolution that is taking shape today. As was the case with previous revolutions, the impact of the Energy Revolution will be seen and felt in many different areas of commerce and industry.
A common misconception is that this revolution will not impact these industries, that players can hold on to the status quo, and that this is merely a passing trend with the world returning to some form of normality. Such a view would be very shortsighted. Pick up any business magazine, or in fact any magazine today and see the very strong trend toward green energy, and the increasing understanding on how climate change is going to impact our world.
For more information on ConnectivityWeek and associated events, visit www.ConnectivityWeek.com.
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