Energy Information – The next Big Thing?

October 29th, 2008 · 3 Comments · Buzz, Energy

I recently read an article at the New York Times Green Inc. Blog about rough speculations on the next (really) big thing planned at Google. The talk is about »Google’s energy ideas« and whether these will be implemented in an open source way or not. However, in my opinion, of more importance than the applied licensing form are the actual ideas currently developed, which may shape future energy markets if implemented smartly. The NYT quotes Mr. Ed Lu from Google as follows:

“We can’t really talk too openly about what we are doing just yet,” said Ed Lu, who works in advanced projects at Google. Mr. Lu, a former NASA astronaut, said he could only talk in general terms. “The big area that we are looking at is energy information,” he said.


He chose to explain Google’s thinking with an analogy. Buying electricity today, he said, is a bit like going to a grocery store where the items have no prices and where you get billed a month later for your purchases. Some engineers in Mr. Lu’s team, are working on tools to turn energy buyers into more informed consumers, he said.

Mr. Lu does not reveal a lot. However, what he reveals points in an interesting and potentially very profitable direction. Firstly the term »Energy Information« itself caught my attention. I predict this will be one of the most important buzz words in the beginning 2010 decade, even if there is (at the moment) no Wikipedia article on »Energy Information« and you won’t even find anything of relevance in this context when you type the term into the Google search field (considering that the EIA is a helpful energy information source only for experts, and even for them they cannot provide consistent and complete information in all cases). The term has not been defined closer by Google yet, which is simply because it still remains a business secret. However, combining energy and information is, in my humble opinion, the most promising step for an IT company seeking to »index the planet« in the present situation. There are at least strong hints that high energy prices and increased energy scarcity will remain an issue for the world for a significant amount of time. What is more, information about energy costs, flows and inventories seems to be inaccessible or unavailable on a broad scale. This holds true for the governmental, commercial and the consumer side. Mr. Lu clearly identifies the latter as what Google aims at with its »Energy Information« ideas.

So what is Google likely to do? How do they seek to implement a convenient consumer (end-user) tool for controlling energy costs? Does the existing infrastructure (internal and external) enable Google to implement such a tool successfully? What has to be done on the commercial / industrial (or even governmental?) sector to provide such a tool?

As you can see there are several questions that arise from this. The ones listed above are not even half of what came to my mind when I read the article. I admit I don’t have answers for (all of) them yet. However, a rough guess is that implementing such a thing as a consumer energy information system implies that you need collaboration with energy retailers and the industry. Probably you will also need infrastructural improvements or work-arounds. Moreover, it would make much sense to base the system’s business model on a win-win situation (better prices / price control for consumers, better grid capacity utilization for energy retailers). However, these are just rough thoughts on the issue. I will certainly write another article on the topic therefore.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 David Roussel  Nov 30, 2008 at 12:45 am


    I worked at an energy company, taking data feeds or energy prices, and storing them in a database.

    Oil prices change every day, which is to be expected – it’s just the market closing price.

    But electricity prices are different. In some markets the price changes every 15 minutes and is based on demand.

    So if you’ve got a job your about to run on a grid (or someone else’s grid – in cloud computing land), then the cost of running that job can be determined from the current price of electricity.

    Once this level of information gets to your home PC, you could use current electricity prices to start up and shutdown Skype, bittorrent, or software update jobs based on cost rather than time.

  • 2 admin  Nov 30, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    That’s a pretty interesting point. I did not yet think about applying this directly to the CPU energy consumption, but this may be the most direct first step. Maybe it’s more applicable to things like a daily backup or maintenance job than to time-critical jobs like Skype, but it clearly goes into the right situation. Given that such information is available to the personal computer, we could build something like eBay for electricity prices and improve both efficiency and costs for all involved parties… Worth further thinking!

  • 3 David Roussel  Jun 23, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Yes, your right backups could benefit, as could that Handbreak transcode queue.

    Also potentially scheduling washing machine and tumble dryer runs to run later when the price drops to a suitable level.

    There are many other things that can be done: you could allocate a power budget to each room of the house. So that teenager doesn’t use too much. Turning off extra lights automatically when price is too high.
    Running your desktop CPU like a laptop on battery mode when the price is too high. Etc…

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