A good deal of opinionating on Cloud Computing is slowly transformed to real substance: standardized services over the net. They range from Google search to salesforce.com to EMC's Mozy offering of on-line backup.
During a customer forum last week, one gray-haired IT director asserted that these ideas were nothing new but just a new twist on Mainframe time sharing.
Perhaps. I never argue with a Mainframe guy.
But the twist is that we can accomplish this now in ways that were not available before. What was lumbering and expensive can be fast, elegant and cost-effective.
That's where new technologies, or new application of old technologies become the innovation drivers.
So, apply the same principles to energy. Think of it as the energy cloud. Solar, and wind and wave energy generation are not new, but the refinement of the means and the changes in economics and the consciousness of environment, make them much more appealing and realistic.
Of course there is also the profit motive.
T. Boone Pickens, the US billionaire oilman, testified before Congress last week about his campaign to create a wind-energy grid in the Midwestern US. He wants to replace gas-fired power plants with windmills.
Pickens expects to spend tens of millions of his own money promoting the idea in television and Internet advertising. In ten years he sees it as feasible to replace as much as 38% of US oil imports by using wind energy.
This is not an altruistic initiative.
Pickens is a billionaire. He says he's in the energy business, not the oil business. And economically and technically the opportunities are there to ramp wind while oil is dialed back.
In his testimony he cited national security as a primary motivation. But he's also a businessman and is investing huge amounts of money to build a windfarm in West Texas that will produce 4000 megawatts, the equivalent of two and a half Nuclear power plants.
Pickens noted that a number of other nations..."such as Germany, are ahead of the United States when it comes to using wind power for electricity."And Germany doesn't even have good wind. We have fabulous wind"
The U.S. wind industry has been seeing phenomenal growth in the last few years - 45% in 2007, and more than half of that is already in Texas where there are already 5,300 installed megawatts. That's enough for more than a million Texas homes. And I thought they only did coal.
Of course there are lots of other places where wind is already a well developed energy source. In Ireland, for example, there is nationwide program for wind and solar power.
And an enterprise called Airtricity is developing a "European Offshore Supergrid, bringing together the latest technology in wind generation and electricity transmission to provide a secure, sustainable and uninterrupted supply of electricity to EU member states."
I was in Britain last week and saw an Ad for "npower" promoting a program called "Juice" that produces energy from solar, tidal and wind; mostly wind. They promote it to customers, giving them the choice of fossil or renewable at the same price:
"Juice is generated from a number of renewable energy sources, primarily at North Hoyle Offshore Wind Farm. As a Juice customer, npower matches every unit of normal electricity that you use and feeds the same amount, generated from renewable sources, into the electricity network*.
It's as simple as that."
Waves and Tides
Off the Cornish coast they are also developing the world's first wave farm which is expected to come on line within three years.
Talk about a refresh of old technology concepts; some of the principles involved here can be traced back to Archimedes. Older than Mainframes!
There are also a number of practical applications already on line to harness wave power.
Tidal energy generators are large underwater turbines placed that capture energy from high tidal movements in order to produce electricity.
Already operational on the coast of Wales, tidal power has terrific potential for future power and electricity generation.
Germany is already the worlds leading power producer from the Sun. About 55% of the world's solar energy is harnessed in Germany. Spurred on by a renewable energy law passed in 2000, about 3 percent of Germany's electricity now comes from the sun. By 2020 the government wants 27% to come from all renewables, up from 13%.
In large part the solar farms are modest compared to the heavy investments aimed at becoming the leading producer of advanced solar energy technology. The industry has created tens of thousands of jobs and is "posting growth rates that surpassed the optimistic forecasts made by the fathers of a pioneering 2000 renewable energy law."
They may too far from the equator, and too overcast and rainy to be the best solar location, but they intend to profit from supplying those who are.
Solar from Space
Here is one that may sound like science fiction: solar power from space.
Collect solar energy in space and beam it back to earth for an endless supply of relatively cheap and secure power.
How cool is that?
Apparently this concept is also not new and according to an article in the International Herald Tribune last week there is quite a lot of serious investigation and development already underway to test feasibility.
The idea is to build large solar energy collectors that will orbit the Earth. Unlike land-based stations they are not hampered by weather, angle of the sun or darkness.
The collected solar energy is beamed to Earth using wireless radio transmission to receiving stations near cities and points of primary use. There it's converted to conventional electric power. Cost per kilowatt-hour is projected to be about the same as today's common consumer rate.
Now they still need to get efficient collectors up there. NASA is working on a public-private launch service initiative that may get the job done. And you can expect that future thinking businesses will be looking at this as a new way to turn a profit.
How about Exxon Space Energy? Wouldn't be surprised to see Pickens in on this after the windmills are all spinning.
Wind. Wave. Water. Solar. Renewable and feasible.
So back to the Cloud analogy. All of these can feed power to the grid. You may have excess power from your own sources that you can feed into the grid. Like Utility or Cloud computing, we have choices and potential that we didn't have before.
It's all progress. It's an environmental improvement opportunity. It's an economic opportunity too. Just ask T. Boone.