Yesterday I went to this GigaOm event to find out where Green and Networks meet...Actually, it is still a stretch to make that tagline comprehensible because it is deliberately ambiguous whether networks refers to internet nets, social nets, or both, or neither. It was a confluence of people with diverse interests, agendas, and knowledge, together because of their admiration for the reputation of GigaOm.
San Francisco's charming Mayor Newsom opened the conference with a rousing talk about San Francisco's greenness. He expressed his optimism based on the green milestones the City has already reached: in one case, he said, "It took only a pen, a paper, and a signature", explaining that a lot of existing regulation, not lack of technology or money, that stood in the way of solving problems. I believe he said that San Francisco has roled back its carbon usage to 6% below its 1990 levels while still adding 100,000 more residents. "San Francisco is a lab for innovation", he summarized, and welcomed entrepreneurs' and investors' ideas.
He was followed by Gavin Sparks of AMEE, the world's energy meter!He asked an interesting question of the audience: Where do we draw the boundaries of ownership and responsibility for CO2? if you can answer that, you can standardize easily. A similar observation was made by Saul Griffith when he said that every person in the USA has an average number of USA infrastructure CO2 tucked into his personal CO2 emissions quota, for roads, highways, airport runways, etc., averaged across all of us. Gavin Sparks said that a new laptop weighs roughly 25kg but to manufacture it required 460kg of C02. Amazing, isn't it? The average American uses 11,200 kg of CO2 per annum, so when you acquire a new laptop, you use up the equivalent of 25% of your annual allotment - or you run over that year...
Bob Metcalf showed a slide that indicated the energy use of data centers worldwide is roughly the same size of all of Mexico's electricity requirements. And it doubled between 2000 and 2005 - and may double faster than every five years going forward...
Jon Koomey gave an excellent overview of IT's role in reducing carbon footprints for all of us around the world. He talked quite a bit about de-materialization, a concept I enjoy discussing without using that word because I don't like new words made from adding prefixes such as pre or de. (pre-owned, instead of used, when talking about cars, for example). Specifically, Koomey gave the example of mailing a PDF cross the USA by the postal system takes 300,000x more energy than sending it by email via electrons. An excellent example of how we can save energy using the web.
Participants also heard an excellent panel onf the PowerGrid2.0. The moderator, Jesse Berst, started out by saying that the Smart Grid has three elements: metering and listening for commands, two way communications, and advanced control systems. The value to re-creating the power grid across the USA is in the applications you build on top of the new grid. Unfortunately, it is akin to fixing a moving train. If you were to compare the power grid with the mobile telephone grid, you woul dsee that the cellular network is more secure, more reliable and 1/10 the cost. However, reliability needs an asterisk next to it, because we all experience frequent outages on our cellphones, and we are intolerant of similar service from our utility companies. I think it was also at that panel that someone remarked, "It is easier to teach entrepreneurs about utilities than to teach utility executives entrepreneurship."
About 15% of the audience left the room after lunch when the presentations turned to IT - many of the cleantech students, entrepreneurs, and practitioners think it is too technical for them, or else, to esoteric. They don't yet understand something that both Koomey and Ken Brill, another panelist have been saying for years: IT is the 2% that affects the other 98% of your business. It cannot be ignored. It has to be strategic, and it has to be energy efficient.
Rob Bernard of Microsoft was another highlighter, and gave an excellent presentation similar to one that I covered in an earlier blog last month.
The end of day was punctuated by a gong show, a pseudo competition among 11 companies for the best product, based on a 4 minute presentation by a founder. The winner was FarmsReach: the web hub for local grub. congratulations to my colleague Lana Holmes for expressing her vision in such a way that it resonated with the audience.
It was great to come to a conference in the Presidio park, on a sunny, clear day with gorgeous views of the Golden Gate bridge, and bask in the intellectual framework of Silicon Valley discussing how to save the earth when it looks like an impossible task. Back to work now doing itsy bitsy tasks that might be considered problem resolution. Have a green day!