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The Energy Cloud – How Cloud Computing is an essential part of solving the world’s energy problems

November 16, 2011

When you mention cloud computing and energy in one sentence everybody has the energy consumption of huge cloud computing data centers in mind. Even if the consumption there is quite high they are usually well-managed and the unused loss of energy is low compared to a standard consumer household. Starting with the wrong way of ventilating the bedroom through energy wasting while cooking to outdated household appliances that drain the energy budget it could be said that environmental pollution and energy cost are impacted by everybody’s life.

Currently there is a very strong focus on managing the financial crises in the US and Europe and the impact of these crises is not something just up in the news but gets real for many individuals. This can be observed very well in the Unites States of Americas where many people lose their homes over mortgage costs. In a sense this is only the beginning. There is a much bleaker scenario around raising energy costs and people losing their homes over these costs.

With the oil level getting lower / the cost for accessing oil depots rising and the decline of the nuclear power plant (Germany already decided to get rid of them completely) it is obvious that energy costs will rise. Even today the energy costs already eat up a whole lot of the monthly budget of an average family. In the future energy will be the major cost position.

So much for the dark outlook on the future, how can cloud computing help? The future and clever energy generation and consumption consists of two major components.

        • Understanding and managing the demand
        • Generate energy in multiple ways and manage energy generation and storage

Both these components will depend heavily on cloud computing on a global level. Energy is not a local issue any more and therefore the solutions addressing the challenges need to be global as well.

Understanding and Managing the Demand

Standardized formulas and systems to predict demand do not work. The complexity of life that impacts the energy demand is too high. On the other hand there are many predictable dependencies. To discover these dependencies and to creating listening channels will enable energy providers to predict demand much better and as a result improve the energy management.

Just to give you an idea I want to put forward a small and simple example. If the washing machine is started and would notify a cloud system about the load, the program and the duration, the cloud system would be able to predict that by the end of the program in the washing machine the dryer will be started. The dryer could not only be informed wirelessly on the load and the best program to save energy based on the washing machines “experience”, the energy provider also can predict the energy use at a specific given time, in this case the time after the washing machine finished. It enables the energy provider to have the energy readily available for the best price due to knowledge of the upcoming demand.

If you now think about more dimensions of energy consumption in a household you get more and more ideas where this can have an effect. The first step is the improved local management within the house and you can see the first steps being made in that direction. If we want to make a huge leap in preserving our planet through better energy management than we need get the information up on the cloud and start driving improvements based on the information we could gather there.

Two of the sideline effects are a more comfortable management of the house for its inhabitants and an exchange of the majority of the household appliances for more efficient current models. Maybe the latter could also create consumerism that helps with financial crisis as well.

How I am looking forward not to crawl under the roof to turn the heating back on once it is getting colder. Today these household networks are kind of custom and expensive. To really drive towards a better future the prices need to come down and the volumes need to go up. The good thing though is that in the Western world the majority of properties is already connected to the internet one way or the other so the connection to the cloud is the lesser issue.

Another area where you can see cloud computing already at work and which is applying many of the things mentioned above is the managements of electrical powered cars. The challenges are similar. Where and when will energy be needed and how could it be predicted. Daimler, the German car maker, has created a pilot project where they combine electrical powered Smart cars with the power of the cloud. They have created an application in the cloud that not only connects the driver through his smart phone to the car but also allows the application to collect information on energy usage and demand which ultimately will result in a more efficient energy management across a whole fleet of cars. You can find some details on the project on Microsoft’s reference case story as Daimler built this system on Windows Azure.

Generate Energy in Multiple Ways and Manage Energy Generation and Storage

What are the big trends in energy generation and the challenges?  Next to solar, wind and water/wave powered energy generation there is one trend that is not discussed on a global level. That is geothermal energy. I do have the local generation of energy in households in mind where every household has its own geothermal power plant in the basement. That is energy generation in a sense of crowd sourcing. Many small energy companies rather than very few big ones – an energy 2.0 approach.

The challenge with this is the same as with solar, wind and water/wave as energy sources. Generation of energy is not analog the consumption so there is a need for storage of energy. While cloud computing is no solution for the storage itself it can help managing the grid of energy power plants, large and small, and storage locations.

The first topic of managing the energy generating grid through cloud computing with regards to local geothermal power plants is to collect information on immediate local usage and how much energy will be fed at what point in time into the public energy grid. It connects closely to the knowledge of the immediate consumption and demand in the household itself but also regional demand to ensure that energy is used without loss of transportation or will be sent to storage while more expensive energy is being sent to the consumer. This is a question of knowing the local generated amount of energy, the local demand and also of the cleverest ways to manage these.

Secondly it is about managing the wider grid as well as including all kinds of consumptions not only private homes but also electrical powered trains, cars, factories, etc. Cloud Computing is the connection link between all these. Without cloud computing as a way to gather the information but also to interact with power plants, the grid itself as well as the consumption side, we will not be able to optimize our energy consumption on global level.

One huge challenge remains though. We would need certain global standards to let this vision become real as well as a way to make this way of managing energy attractive to growth regions like China. My suggestion would be not to wait for these but to get started. Much like Germany decided not to use nuclear power plants any more without waiting for others around them to agree on this.

It is a huge opportunity for profit as well as the right thing to do for the future of the planet.

One thing in addition you might find interesting is a concept Volkswagen and a company called Lichtblick are driving. They are installing a local gas-powered power plant in your basement and you pay, next to a one-time fee, based on your consumption only. The consumption is not based on gas but on the temperature.  It is very similar to a cloud computing model as it includes the hardware and maintenance for the power plant completely. Volkswagen provides some additional information on the webpage: http://www.volkswagenag.com/content/vwcorp/info_center/en/news/2009/09/volkswagen_energy_partnership.html

 

 

 

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