Could Big Data’s need for better energy technologies translate into global energy solutions?

Could Big Data’s need for better energy technologies translate into global energy solutions?

It would seem that Silicon Valley’s polished visage is being called into question. The slick technology that pervades our lives belies the Cro-Magnon infrastructure that keeps it running. But as high-tech, data-driven businesses seek to find innovative solutions to this problem, can the rest of the world look to industry leaders like Google and Microsoft for solutions to the globe’s growing energy issues? Consider the nature of big data: massive data centers operating around the clock, ready to fulfill your every desire at a moment’s notice. Consequently, the ebb and flow of big data’s considerable electricity requirements are anything but consistent. Daily use fluctuates as consumers queue and execute their digital orders. To keep things running smoothly one might imagine that a data center would have to accommodate all these variations with considerable grace and poise. Practically, this means that sufficient generating capacity must be on standby, ready to power the grid at a moment’s notice. And in a business ecosystem where down time is a four letter word, this often takes the form of dirty, less efficient, on-site generation to bolster capacity. But as it turns out, this problem is nothing new.

No different is the energy infrastructure that powers the more mundane aspects of our lives. To supply electricity for the world’s residential, commercial, and industrial needs, modern grids must be ready to match demand in a short period of time. In the same way that demand for information can rapidly escalate, so too does our electricity consumption vary on a daily, seasonal and annual basis. A grid might see low power requirements at night while we’re sleeping, but come morning that demand will start to rise. During the winter, residents and businesses need additional heating capacity to stay warm. What about less predictable peaks and variations? Any utility or system operator will tell you when that hot summer day rolls around there’s a significant spike in demand as homes and businesses fire up the air conditioning. To meet these peak requirements the grid must bring additional power sources online, and much in the same way a data center might require a noisy diesel generator, so too does our electrical grid bring its dirtiest and least efficient sources of electricity online.

In both these cases maintaining excess capacity in the form of less efficient generation technology imposes additional costs on operators and consumers. These last resort sources of electricity tend to be the most expensive to maintain, and running them for only a small fraction of the day exacerbates that cost. Whether it’s the first world or the developing world, there are significant incentives to address this problem through additional generating capacity, improved electricity infrastructure or novel technologies. The luminaries of high-tech industry have shown themselves to be able innovators in a number of fields; can they add energy to that tally?

About the Author

Alex Day is a Master of Engineering candidate in the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Nuclear Engineering where he’s assessing the feasibility integrating sources of low-carbon, renewable, and advanced nuclear power generation into modern grids. As part of the scope of his work he additionally conducts research on industrial applications of cogeneration technology. He holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from the Johns Hopkins University.

If you would like to learn more and keep these discussions going, attend the AFCEA Smart Tech Symposium. The event link, complete with the agenda and confirmed speakers is listed below.

Event link:

Confirmed Speakers:

Who Should Attend:

  • Agency representatives releasing new IT contracts, including data center consolidation
  • Agency representatives responsible for achieving the goals in their agency’s Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan
  • Industry representatives looking for new opportunities outside the CIO’s office for IT, including cloud, big data, and mobility
  • Company executives that need to understand the business case for incorporating sustainable practices into their overall corporate strategy and operations
  • Federal capture and business development executives needing to be informed about government-wide trends
  • Small business representatives and system integrators interested in teaming opportunities

Learning objectives include:

  • New opportunities for traditional IT companies in this trend of “smart” facilities
  • New training and organizational change opportunities associated with this trend
  • Insight on how to position your IT offerings to help government use “big data” to increase sustainability of operations and reduce operating costs
  • Education for the private sector to create solutions that enable the government to realize the goals of the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship
  • Case studies on how agencies have achieved cost savings by operating more sustainably
  • Information on new tools, processes and methodologies in sustainability
  • Details on agency requirements, including specific policies, mandates, and recent executive orders

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