I think sustainable and scale
solutions are going to require complex, interactive systems. This means
that both the intrinsic generation or sources are going to have to evolve,
but so will the systems by which we control them, and ultimately the
way in which we get people to interact with them.
I think as a result we have a unique opportunity now to work together
to build a cleaner, more sustainable way forward to transform our economic
competitiveness in the United States, and to spark a new wave of investment
in startups and green collar jobs that will focus on this.
So, why do we need to solve this energy problem? I think, of course,
there are two key reasons. One is just the geopolitics and national
security issues that surround the current way that energy is distributed
around the world, and the second is the environment. To mitigate the
climate change problems, we clearly need to reduce our carbon footprint.
If we faced either of these problems in isolation, it would be an interesting
challenge in its own right. But today we face them with a need to solve
them simultaneously, and that more than doubles I think the complexity
of addressing them.
Then on top of that we now face an unprecedented – in recent memory
– recession, and yet we know that economic evolution will result in
the Third World countries having more and more of an appetite for power.
And yet as we think about trying to solve the climate change problems,
we really find most people are focused on just trying to manage the
sources and uses that we have today, without even contemplating the
likely doubling of aggregate global demand that will come.
I think that one of the challenges, of course, is that the most accessible
fuel that's around today is all carbon based in one form or another,
and has the most significant impact on the overall environment.
Some nations have chosen to move toward energy dependence by using their
domestic sources of oil or natural gas or even coal, and this may solve
for the energy security problem, but it certainly doesn't solve the
environmental crisis. And, of course, it does seem that relying strictly
on carbon is unsustainable for the very long term in any case.
Craig Mundie, Chief Research and Strategy Officer for
Microsoft, spoke on “The Future of Energy Conservation” and the launch
of Microsoft Hohm at the Edison Electric Institute Annual Conference
held in San Francisco, CA, June 24, 2009, excerpted by World-Gen.
|At the same time, the most environmentally
friendly sources aren't really ready for deployment at scale, either because
we have the wrong kind of infrastructure or because they're simply not
yet mature enough to be able to meet the demand.
So, it's clear that we need to be on a path to some type of zero carbon
energy ecosystem, and I think there's no other way for people to solve
the compound problem that geopolitical, national security, environment,
and increasing demand problems that we face simultaneously. But I think
we're simply not in a position today to completely replace our energy
sources right now, to reduce our carbon footprint as much as we would
like, and at the same time accommodate future growth and demand.
However, I do think we can take immediate steps now to conserve energy.
No matter what your predispositions are about what the future sources
of energy are, there's no question that if we can just intrinsically use
less, that's just a good thing. And so I think an equal emphasis, perhaps
a large emphasis in the short term has to be applied to this question
of conservation, and how do we deal with that.
At this time I think if we focus on
some conservation issues, while we work to
develop through engineering activities and
business activities zero carbon sources,
we'll be in a better position than we would if
we only focused on the new generation
I think many of these zero carbon
sources may emerge but are clearly on a
10- to 20-year cycle, and so we have to do
something in the interim to improve the situation.
I think one reason for optimism is that
forthcoming advances in computing are greatly accelerating our engineering and
scientific discovery capabilities. Individual
computers – the ones you'll find on your
desk or in your cell phone – over the next
few years will go through a quantum
change in the architecture of the microprocessor.
There has not been a change of
this magnitude in the computing environment
since the microprocessor was invented
about 30 or 40 years ago.
These changes will result in machines
that are 50 to 100 times more powerful than
the ones you use today that consume less
than or equal power, and cost the same or
less money than the ones we have today.
So, this kind of step function change
represents an opportunity, both in terms of
how we use that capability close to where
people are, but when we aggregate them
into these exoscale computing facilities,
what people now call the cloud, we have the
ability to gang them up literally by the thousands,
potentially even the millions, and to
create a computational capability the likes
of which the planet has never known.
In the United States the country's preeminence
in many fields actually has its
roots in the ability to do computing in ways
that other people can't. That was certainly
true in the nuclear power and nuclear
weapons era, but I think it's been true in
many, many fields of endeavor. And I think
that we have an opportunity in the United
States to lead again in the use of these
advanced computing capabilities to look for
engineering solutions to these problems in
ways that we really don't fully expect to
I think we clearly need to materially
reduce the largest CO2 emitter, which is
transportation, and this too will present us a
huge challenge. In the United States today
transportation accounts for I think roughly
about a third of CO2 emissions, and about
29 percent of all energy consumption, and
it's two-thirds of all the oil that we consume.
The majority of that consumption is by cars
and other vehicles.
So, I think what we have to do is plan
under the assumption that the conversion
to more electric transportation is going to
be a 10 or 20 year problem, one where the
natural replacement cycle of the vehicles
will largely drive the time over which that
conversion could take place.
So, I think it's clear enough that the
first crucial step we have to take across the
board is conservation. We clearly can't conserve
enough energy to solve the energy
and environmental problems, nor can we
achieve the reduction of consumption that
we need by using just traditional sources of
energy. But there are short-term opportunities
to achieve significant savings, perhaps
as much as 20 to 30 percent, using some of
I think software can help consumers
to better understand their energy usage,
and help them find ways to use less energy
with minimal disruption on their lifestyle.
For example, one of the focuses at
Microsoft is to be able to help the PC industry
design personal computers and software
that controls them that will dramatically
lower their aggregate energy consumption.
SAVING $22 BILLION
Today, there are some estimates that
say if just U.S. personal computer users had
machines that universally put themselves to
sleep or into a very low power state when
people weren't actually actively using them,
that it would save about $22 billion a year in
electricity costs, and eliminate about 3 percent
of the total U.S. CO2 emissions, just
from the personal computers that are distributed
around the United States.
I think a bigger opportunity though is
to use instrumentation and networking at
the level that we now enjoy it to get a better
handle on the load, and think about ways to
control that load.
Clearly, finding the right technical and
regulatory and incentive mechanisms to
move people forward in this direction will
require some significant work, but it's a
place where I think the coming together of
the technology industry and the electric
utility industry really holds significant
I think we should obviously step up
our investment in other sources, but not all
of these are created equal. We should
undoubtedly increase research and investment
in alternative and renewable energy
sources such as wind and solar, but equally
we need to be clear, at least in my mind,
that I don't think these are ever likely to be
a substitute for today's primary sources,
particularly if world demand at least doubles
over the next 20 years.
TAP PROVEN RESERVES
A better short term bet might be to
tap into in the United States new things like
the proven reserves in natural gas as a way
to help bootstrap ourselves forward in a
somewhat reduced carbon footprint, but
ultimately we're going to have to find very
large scale, zero carbon sources.
Carbon sequestration may, in fact, be
a possibility, but I think like some of the
others it may turn out to be a significant
investment, and would certainly be suboptimal
if we could find other ways to do this.
Any of these potential solutions are
going to require a lot of research and development,
significant capital expense, and a
long term rollout plan that transitions us
from a world that today is dominated by
coal and oil to a world that would be based
on these other low or zero carbon sources.
All of these possibilities still raise the
same fundamental questions about the grid,
and our command and control infrastructure.
And while, in fact, I think we have
focused today on a command and control
capability in the hands of the utilities and
generators and distributors, at the end of
the day a lot of the consumption occurs in
the homes. The largest single consumer of
electricity I believe is residential, followed
by small commercial. And, of course, it's
the big industrial users that have the most
sophisticated arrangements for control and
cooperation and pricing arrangements, but they don't actually represent the largest
It really doesn't matter what you
believe the long term sources of zero carbon
energy may be; whether they're centralized
though or fully distributed co-generation
I personally believe as a software
technologist will actually turn out to make a
big difference. And it isn't clear that the
country can afford to bet on both of them,
given the magnitude of the investment and
the different types of technical challenges
associated with deploying them.
If it turns out you bet on the distributed
co-generation strategy, then I think we
will look at a number of interesting challenges.
One, of course, because many of
these sources like wind and solar, you can't
spin them up on demand, they come and go
with the wind and the sun, it puts a much
bigger burden on the question of storage of
energy, and I think storage is not improving,
battery technology and other storage
systems are not improving at the rate that
semiconductor technology and other technologies
are, and I think it would bring with
it a demand for a distributed control system
to effectively control the loads and to be
able to aggregate this and ultimately dealing
with the economics of it.
As someone who spends a lot of our
time looking at the question of the Web, at
the scale that it represents today, and knowing
the challenges that we face in command
and control of that with the cyber security
issues, the economics of it, the need for
standardizations, it is a daunting technological
challenge in the computer hardware and
software domain, and one that I think
would be quite significant if we were really
to try to say we're going to move to this
very I'll say low-scale, distributed co-generation
However, if you focus on the other
strategy, I'm going to cut carbon sources at
scale and find an alternative large scale way
of generating power, then, in fact, you
wouldn't need the same degree of complexity
and sophistication that would be
required in a fully distributed system.
So, to some extent when people talk
about the Smart Grid, I always ask them,
well, which one of these are you really
focused on, and frankly I don't usually get a
clear answer. People talk about a Smart
Grid, but they have many different views of
what that might comprise, and I think that
as a country we're going to have to pick a
few key scenarios and focus on them, and
then we're going to have to bring forward
the best people in the world in computing
and communications and related software
technologies in order to be able to get that
to happen. I believe it will be a much more
difficult problem than many people are estimating.
I think it's important to remember
that at the end of the day, if there were easy
solutions to solving this environmental and
demand footprint requirement, we'd have
done it by now. It just isn't an easy problem.
And when taken together, these challenges
can be quite daunting.
It is clear to me that we need to be
on a zero carbon source quest, and that
the only long term path to solving the
world's energy problem, with a planet that
will ultimately end up with about 9 billion
people on it, from 6.5 billion people, and a
reasonable assumption that certainly over
several generations all of those people will
come to expect and even demand that
they have access to energy just as people
in the developed countries do.
I think in the short term what we
can and must do is increase conservation
and improve efficiency, which is an area
where, in fact, we believe at Microsoft we
Today, we announced that we're
releasing a beta version of a new product
called Microsoft Hohm. Microsoft Hohm
is a free, online, Web scale service that is
designed to help consumers identify what
their energy consumption patterns look
like, and identify and make suggestions
for ways to save money and cut consumption.
We are partnering with four utilities:
Puget Sound, Xcel Energy, Seattle City
Light and Sacramento Municipal Utility
District. Microsoft is also partnering with
Itron Inc. and Landis+Gyr to make it easier
for utilities and consumers to automatically
access granular energy consumption
data. Integration with meter data will
make it even easier for utilities to take full
advantage of Microsoft Hohm offerings.