In a previous post I relayed some words by IBM's Chairman & CEO Sam Palmisano regarding IBM's new (at that time) focus on "Smarter Planet", and how by investing in upgrading our nation's electric power grid (ie, making it "smarter") we will be well positioned to begin bringing online those long-awaited alternatives to coal and natural gas. Indeed, without a way to establish a true two-way dialog between energy producers & operators, and between utilities and energy consumers, we have little chance of successfully integrating these so-called "non-dispatchable" renewable sources (eg, solar, wind) into our energy picture.
One interesting thought that is making the rounds of the Obama transition team as well as those poised for investment into this emerging 'Smart Grid' sector is the notion of a national "energy web". This energy web, in concept, would be architected and deployed in a similar way to what we built back in the DARPA days, where a relatively large amount of US treasure was allocated to build a robust and resilient data exchange infrastructure, based on a set of open (TCP/IP) standards. Perhaps even more significantly, we all know the "killer app" that subsequently emerged that was built upon the Internet in the mid-90s -- it's something we now refer to almost as if it's a basic natural resource - the Web.
But what if we could build a second killer app to help address, on a large scale, this imperative to provide an intelligent, collaborative network that links energy producers/sources, with operators and utilities, and ultimately with energy consumers both big and small. An energy cloud, if you will, that will link all of the key energy stakeholders, while providing a secure means of knowing where and how much energy is needed at all times. Energy Web would require not only the emergence of standard interfaces, but also the physical infrastructure to support a way of distributing not only power, but information, requiring a broad range of intelligent devices.
Further, what if we could build this energy web as a robust but accessible (programmable) platform that would encourage and catalyze innovation around the idea that we need thousands of entrepreneurs building "apps", applications and services that address these enormous but critically important challenges of moving to renewable energy sources as fast as is feasible, but done smartly and cost-effectively? Think of it as an 'iPhone AppStore for Energy' or something similar...imagine if we could bring even a fraction of the 10,000+ apps built for this popular mobile device to bear on key areas like demand response, modeling & simulation, energy efficiency & conservation, usage monitoring, real-time pricing, etc.
What we need to do as a community of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, in my opinion, is to band together to drive interest and investment into such a project, beginning with some top-down support from the incoming administration, to the definition of a set of architectures and standards that will help us get started down this path.
IBM, through its Smarter Planet initiatives, has begun to define and deploy some of this smart infrastructure. Gridwise Alliance , a utility-sponsored standards group, has done a terrific job in defining some of the standards and semantics for information passing and sharing between intelligent devices and people...let's leverage and scale this excellent work into delivering the most important new platform of our time.
But this is just a start...who else is with me to build this into a true Energy Web?