Get smart

One of the big emerging trends over the next few decades will be the marriage of information technology and infrastructure. We’re going to start seeing a lot more “smart” everything — smart grids, smart roads, smart factories, smart trains, smart cities, etc. The increasing use of sensors, lightweight communications networks, and sophisticated computer models to anticipate and react to changing circumstances should enable far greater resource efficiency than we can achieve today.

The Times pulls together several of these threads in a recent “Business of Green” special section. An article that reads a bit like a brochure for I.B.M. details a range of initiatives:

* A demonstration smart grid project in Washington state showed that peak electricity loads could be trimmed by 15%, equivalent on a national scale to eliminating 30 coal-fired power plants.
* Smarter shipping algorithms allowed a Chinese firm to consolidate 100 distribution centers to 40, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 15%.
* By calibrating water flows and temperatures, a microchip manufacturing plant cut water use by 20 million gallons per year, even as production increased by 30%.
* The city of Stockholm cut greenhouse gas emissions by 12% and traffic by 20% by instituting a congestion pricing scheme. The city’s public transportation system has added 40,000 daily riders.
* New trains — “computers on rails” — allow engineers to obtain higher speeds on existing rail networks. Every mile per hour increase translates into $100 million in savings.

This vision of a wired world isn’t exactly new. Nerds have been dreaming of the day that the internet would slip it’s personal computing bonds for a few decades now. As costs come down and standards develop, technical hurdles start to drop away. What’s needed now is a compelling business driver. Climate change, population growth, and resource scarcity ensure a bright future for these technologies.

(Incidentally, the related articles are worth a read: more fuel-efficient flight, a nice graphic demonstrating how passive houses work, solar panels everywhere, and more.)

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  1. julie peters - May 6, 2009

    Is the “congestion pricing scheme” in Stockholm a “fee” or “tax” on driving? J. Peters

  2. Carl - May 6, 2009

    To be fair… I’m living in Alberta tying this… but don’t you think this article is a little like reading Wired?
    A lot of fluff and not much discussion or technology.
    Great… we (humans) are doing things that make us more efficient. Not that the last 150 years of human innovation didn’t have anything to do with it. We had visionaries then and visionaries now, it’s just that today, people can toot their own horn to more people. When you’re crapping on the floor of a hut, a flush toilet seems pretty amazing. Now, making that toilet blow air on your bottom using energy generated from the waste leaving and use less water is the next step.
    And as far as I’m concerned, the “Business of Green” is simply a marketing term that spices up a simple concept that took Americans (and everyone else) possible death by extinction to grasp.

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