Next Generation Energy

I recently attended a fascinating seminar on emerging technology in energy. Here are some of my notes and thoughts on the next generation of energy:

Energy Harvesting

My favorite new term. It refers to using existing energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal, thermo) and turning them into electricity to feed the grid. Pretty much covers all the new energy sources. Excludes coal, nuclear, etc.

Smart Grid

Apparently, its just a dream.

Obama is pushing it and so is Energy Secretary, Steven Chu. All reasonable folk expect this is to be the foundation of our energy future. Without a modern grid we have no hope of utilizing the latest innovations. It would be like giving jet fuel to a horse drawn carriage.

Future, hah!, says the wizened gentleman behind me. He begins to explain his reaction after telling me he left the business and is only attending this seminar for nostalgia purposes. Suspect. He relates that the grid is already smart on a macro level. Utilities know how to share power, monitor, and get it to needed locations. What we are talking about is the micro level and involves pushing that technology to every city, home, and building. An expensive feat that will probably never result from government or utility spending.

More to be explained on that in following section.

What is a big deal then? Energy storage on the grid. If we are over-producing solar power in hot deserts and wind power at night, where will at all go. Our current infrastructure does not have an ability to use/transport/store this energy supply. If we can figure out a way to get the energy to high population areas then our grid will be smart.

Smart Metering

This is where the real change is happening. Power outlets with remote controls. Home appliances with timers. Motion sensors. Sleep modes for computers.

All of these involve the new energy monitoring lifestyle. They give us an opportunity to take control of our energy use.  A lot of us want more and this where smart metering comes into play. Hook up all those devices to a software package and you get data heaven. Charts, graphs, recommendations. This seems to be where the juice is (pardon the pun).

Google is offering a software package, called Power Meter, and partnering with Energy, Inc. Their product, the TED5000, has been flying off the shelves for over a year now. It appears that this version of the smart grid, one that is decentralized and at the individual level will be driving the market for years to come.

PV – Photo Voltaic

The process of converting solar energy into electricity. We all know about this and see it on many roofs. For many years the market has been stuck growing at a snails pace. New investments were needed to make this energy type economical. Now we are starting to see that and many seem to be surprised that the former ceiling of 20% (solar energy to electrical energy conversion) is being broken. Wikipedia tells us (with sourcing) that:

Photovoltaic production has been doubling every 2 years, increasing by an average of 48 percent each year since 2002, making it the world’s fastest-growing energy technology. At the end of 2008, the cumulative global PV installations reached 15,200 megawatts.

Second Generation PV

As the investments ramp up the technological innovation is booming. Folks with pent up projects are finally getting dollars (or more likely Yuan) to operationalize their theories. A big group of these innovations are centered around ultra-thin, low cost solar arrays. Instead of the bulky flat panels we will get complex micro solar panels with interesting features like: solar tracking (panels follow the sun), economies of scale (driving down cost), and mirrors (increasing efficiency through reflecting). Our presenter mentioned that these second generation panels have the capability to drive down costs to match that of nuclear and coal power.

Third Generation PV

This one feels more like a laboratory study than a real consumer product. Still their are companies releasing this on the market and our presenter even said that it is in calculators now. This grouping of PV focuses on the materials used to create solar panels. Searching for organic, nano, and molecular replacements for the raw materials (silicon, cadmium, lithium) that we use now. Definitely a major need since many of the raw materials used for solar panels are rare and sometimes for rogue states.

20% Problem

Touched on this a bit before. It boils down to a maximum reached by first generation solar panels. For many years their maximum solar to electrical conversion was 20%, with 80% lost/wasted. In comparison to coal and nuclear, which are 60-70%, this makes solar 3x as expensive and require 3x as many panels/turbines/etc.

The 2/3rd generation technologies mentioned above easily breach the 20% ceiling. One already at 35% through stacking panels, utilizing off band (UV) rays, and mirrors. I expect it wont be long until that number is doubled.

NIMBY

Not in my backyard. This is representing a real problem. In the coming years we will ‘plant’ thousands of solar panels and wind turbines. Few are happy to have them muddy up their roof or beautiful view.

Even worse this backlash is fostering more support for nuclear power plants. They don’t have to go in your backyard!

I just wish somebody would think long term on this. Nuclear Waste. Nuclear Countries. Nuclear Weapon. Not sure we need more nuclear in our lives, especially if the alternative is just a solar panel.

ARPA-E

Maybe you have heard of DARPA, an uber-advanced military research group that created the internet, builds robots, and many other amazing innovations. the Department of Energy has created ARPA-E which stands for Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. A place to conceptualize and test the advanced energy projects of the future.

Wireless Sensors

Wireless sensors presents a massive new industry of tiny sensors that require little energy. They serve a simple function which is to turn on, send data, and shut down. They only turn on when activated and gather a specific amount of data to transmit. After transmission they shut back down.

This allows them to be placed nearly anywhere and even form a mesh network. Activate one sensor that passes data and/or activation signal to the next one. In a few minutes you can have data from thousands of sensors. My brother wrote a dissertation on this using planes as an example. Place a sensor on all critical plane equipment. When the plane lands activate the sensors and get a status report on the plane.

Wireless Electricity

Wireless charging is coming. At the recent CES it was the rage. Consumer products are on the market. An MIT startup, Witricity, has several patents and deals with government, industry, and consumables. Hooray for the day when we are free from our cable jungles.

Graphene

A new material created in the lab with amazingly sophisticated microscopes that can be manipulated into a ridiculous array of uses. The presenter showed it as rope, tires, and even circuits. He passed around prints, stickers, rope, and cardboard made out of graphene. It appears to be the next gore-tex, or material than can be turned into anything. Cheap and moldable. It will be fun to see how this material is used.

Green IT Proposal for Gov 2.0 Expo

Oddly enough I did it. I found a way that Green IT relates to Gov 2.0.

The bond too seems pretty strong on both sides. Almost as if one would be inherently weaker without the other. Read on…

—-

My proposal to speak at Gov 2.0 Expo in May:

5-minute rapid fire presentation

Title:

Green IT for Gov 2.0

Description (400 chars):

Green IT is building momentum as our new Executive Order 13514 from President Obama calls for increased sustainability at every Federal Agency. This presentation provides an overview of the impact of this sustainability initiative, how it supports and builds upon Gov 2.0, and the best practices being employed in the government and commercial sectors.

Abstract:

On October 5, 2009 President Obama signed into action a broad forward leaning Executive Order focused on the environment, energy, and economic performance. The driving force behind this is not only climate change but a need to lower costs.

Strangely, this push is leading us directly into the cloud and on virtualized machines. These changes represent the latest in industry standards and extremely cost effective options for Federal agencies. Add in that it meets the requirements of the Executive Order and protects the environment, and it may just be an unstoppable force.

Parallel to these efforts, the Gov 2.0 movement is gaining momentum and is a surprising ally. The drive towards citizen engagement, transparency, and web applications rely deeply on this technology. It also presents a unique sandwich for success with IT driving the push towards cost savings and users/public clamoring for more openness.

Join me as I briefly touch on the major topics of this intersection of two fields presenting a broad overview, touchpoints between the two, and best practices to keep us going forward.

**If requested, I can pull together a panel discussion with relevant members of the commercial and federal sectors.

Thoughts on a VTC

Many of you know that I am now deeply involved in Federal Green IT. Add that in with my personal nonprofit work on Food/Obesity/Recycling and I’m all ears for video conferencing.

Which is why I’m a bit wry in these thoughts scrambled on sheets during my first VTC:

Sitting in two separate rooms. Two different groups. A Turing test – feeding voice info through the mic to the other group. Like Turing would think, if the message is delivered and a smart reply ensues, we have an intelligent VTC.

The atmoshpherics of the VTC are such that any delay in transmission can fail the whole operation. The faces on the screen are cold, flat, and the size of a penny on a screen far away on the wall. Wait! There is a third interloper, a single person, in a dark room. Is that big brother? Did he see me writing these notes and now going to take me to secret prison number 72?

Papers are everywhere. We have video screens of each other and a million printouts. Separate notes being taken on each. Lots of writing. Redundant. Scattered. Back to their individual desk and then…lost.

Why not a single note taker – entering notes digitally – on the scene = available instantly back at my desk for free!

Is the whole point of a video conference saving time and money, with lowered stress? Appears to work but still seem so awkward. How to improve? Does the new meeting format ask corporate servants to learn new meeting skills – like muting the box, waiting for the delay to pass, squinting at the screen to see their faces?

Maybe its just me and Im now old. Used to my physical “warm” meetings…or maybe im not using the top of the line technology…what is that like?

Can I just sit at my desk and play/enter Second Life and sit at virtual desk?

What do you hope to do?

**this is cross-posted from the Navstar blog, announcing my new position**

It’s the beginning of my new life at Navstar and I am asked, “What do you hope to do?”

A simple question but it completely floors me. I’m so used to the opposite and its stifling restrictions and requirements. I just can’t fathom the answer.

Then day two rolls around and I’m still floored. I decide to ask our VP, Corinne Combeau, what do you think? She proceeds to paint a beautiful picture for me. Complete with flowing creativity, ambitious goals, and even a prop. A sheet of paper that she turns into a metaphor with one side representing the Navstar way with a sky is the limit, blank slate approach and the other side representing ‘others’ with a job description that forces you into a box.

Again, I’m floored.

I keep thinking to myself…is this what it mean to be working for a top 25 technology company in DC (pdf)?

——–

This all means that I am officially an employee of Navstar. They have offered me an incredible opportunity to join their team where I will be helping their Green IT and Enterprise 2.0 programs.

Our broad vision for Green IT is to help turn our Federal government in a mean green machine. Transform it one of the most sustainable and efficient operations in the world. Over the coming weeks we will be putting out more details of our program and services. The main focus of which will be providing sound solutions to federal agencies that reflect the modern environmental movement, where going green means cost savings, increased capabilities, improved efficiency, and much more.

In Enterprise 2.0, Navstar is already a leader in the space having caught the wave very early. Now, over 4 years later, the program is a defined leader in the space thanks to the work of Andrea Baker, the Director of Enterprise 2.0 for Navstar. I am excited to join her team and help grow the program (and this blog!). More details on my involvement to come.

This is an exciting time for me since I have a deep passion in both areas. In the field of green I am a passionate change advocate for food and waste. I created the non-profit, A Clean Life, to allow for greater impact and change. I spend my days and weeks helping DC turn into a zero waste city and its citizens discover the joys and health benefits of real food.

In the online world I am non-stop. Since my earliest days I have developed an alter-ego, starting as a Senior Game Master at Blizzard. In that role I learned the new language of the nets as our success on World of Warcraft went through the roof, defining a whole new genre in gaming (massive multiplayer). With that new language I quickly progressed to teaching others about it in the Intelligence Community, helping scores of Intelligence Officers understand what a wiki is and soon blogs, tags, and more. After that I joined the World Intelligence Review helping spearhead their Agile Product Development and Project Management programs, watching as it became the most successful online enterprise in Intelligence.

Now, I am poised for success again as I join forces with Navstar to grow their Green IT program and contribute mightily to their Enterprise 2.0 work.

Still…I am left pondering the question…”what do you hope to do?”

I want to do it all :)

Government 2.0: The State of the Meme

Meme – An idea or pattern of thought that “replicates” like a virus by being passed along from one thinker to another

As an idea or pattern of thought government 2.0 (gov 2.0) is still being defined and debated. To some it is merely an extension of Web 2.0, to others it is the serious work of transparency and greater citizen involvement through open data.

Let’s dig into this meme…

Gov 2.0 Summit and Expo

Wow, what an event this was. Tim O’Reilly and his leadership team put on quite a show. I was in attendance on a press badge and was fortunate enough to view the events in the crowd and on the inside.

The event signaled a shock to the Washington DC government crowd. For a long time these beltway folks had been toiling away under the radar before an unsupportive administration. Now, they are in position to make some major moves in the federal sphere.

On the same level of shock, Silicon Valley and the O’Reilly team faced some hard facts about the beltway. Their can-do attitude and forceful energy stepped on one too many toes. And, I think it safe to say turned many off because of the government inefficiencies and roadblocks in the way of innovation and reform.

I saw a little east coast, west coast rivalry pop-up. Fortunately, the show went on and many from around the country attended the event, had a blast, and completely missed out on the kerfuffles.

For an interesting review on the event check out Amy Senger’s ‘The Gov 2.0 Showdown

Celebrity Status

Gov 2.0 has yet to make it big. A google news search shows that only 222 articles mention the term. Few large media outlets are talking about the movement. It has yet to penetrate the consciousness of the average person and more importantly the middle manager.

A google blog search reveals over 40,000 hits. Apparently there is some viral conversations taking place with many thinkers opining on the topic.

The Definition

Is it about personal brands, twitter, and facebook. Or, as Tim O’Reilly says its about government as a platform. Maybe, its about Enterprise 2.0 as Professor Andy McAfee and Andrea Baker have been talking about.

We have yet to come to a solid agreement about the definition. In fact, much of the discussion revolves around each blogger stating their own definition or throwing stones at another’s.

It does appear that gov 2.0 is infiltrating every level of government. With each office incorporating social media, cloud computing, and open API’s into their job buckets. Which leaves some remaining tough questions about openness, transparency, and the role of government in all of this.

Leadership

In an age of personal brands it appears that everyone is a leader in the space of government 2.0. Everyone has done everything and is an expert in all. Just a few years of experience and a blog post published on a prominent website, make you a star.

Sarcasm aside government 2.0 is hard work. It takes community building, relationships, coding, networking, promotion, and more. The most striking leaders in this space are those performing nearly all of those roles. Which means they are often hidden from popular view but deeply influential in their spheres of work.

This hidden work combined with the lack of celebrity status has left a clear opening for profiteers. Many are hoping to be the first to break the story and claim success. A challenge to ethical underpinnings of this new community.

Community

In my opinion the single largest effect of Tim O’Reilly’s move into the gov 2.0 world is to bring all of this hard work to a broader audience. Personally, I feel like I am now connected to every state government, city government, regional federal office, all in addition to the existing Washington DC offices, which are legion.

Beyond that are hundreds of NGO’s on both sides of the aisle and in the middle are pushing agendas, uncovering scandals, and playing with data.

The community encompasses so many folks that it is going to be tough to wrangle all of them together.

The Future

Is very bright. We appear to have at least three more years of enlightened tech policy coming out of the white house. Which filters down to every level of public and private work. Big contracts and big corporations are starting to take notice and follow the money.

The recession too is providing an opportunity for gov 2.0. The realization of improved efficiency and cost savings are helping to overcome transient cultural barriers. I’ve even seen stimulus dollars used for gov 2.0 work (blackberries for Baltimore PD).

Behind the scenes the back channels and ego battles are just as interesting. Players are being challenged, camps are forming, and feelings are being hurt. The traditional way of doing business is being challenged with women asserting their rights in tech. Average folks who normally have no voice are able to trumpet their issues across new communication mediums to make their voice heard and responded too.

I look forward to more rapid growth, another gov 2.0 event, and ever more kerfuffles. I hope the progress and reform continues. I hope the west coast can help break the stranglehold the major defense companies have on government work. I hope that our community overcomes its own ego and looks to the common good.

This piece comes as a follow on to Andrew McAfee’s, Enterprise 2.0: The State of the Meme, written over 3 years ago in June 2006

I’m Rejoining Gov 2.0

I am very excited about this week. The new fall weather is heralding my return to the government world. I had been on exodus exploring personal interests in environmentalism. I loved the time away and even used it to create A Clean Life, find utlimate personal health, and become an evangelist for a better world.

As I ease back into this I am excited to re-join the ranks of Gov 2.0. The Gov 2.0 Expo and Summit are the perfect events to jumpstart all of this. They provide the perfect opportunity to network, reconnect with old friends, and catch up on the latest in government tech innovation.

The event is reaffirming my zeal for innovation. I really did miss the technology and rapidly changing environment. It has made me look back into my past and reassess my experiences. Their are so many fond memories on my resume and a lot of years starting to build:

5 yrs – community manager
6.5 years – trainer/teacher
7 years – customer service
1.5 years – project management
8 years – social media
15 years – computer software/hardware/online
3 years – post-baccalaureate
  • 5 yrs – community manager
  • 6.5 years – trainer/teacher
  • 8 years – social media
  • 7 years – customer service
  • 1.5 years – project management
  • 15 years – computer software/hardware/online
  • 3 years – post-baccalaureate

As you can see I have a wide range of experience with a strong focus in computers, community management, and teaching. I hope to see my new focus move into more social media and project management. Two areas that I am already deeply involved in and would like to explore more.

Now, off to chat up some old friends in Gov 2.0 :)