The Wrong People Are Getting The Bill


In his wrap up to EnergyCamp last month, David Berlind said something which struck me strongly enough I am still thinking about it.

The main thing I have learned today is that the wrong people are paying the bill.”

David made the statement in the context that he figures we’re due a 15 year shakeout before we really get a handle on the complexity of carbon and energy consumption and production, so that we can accurately calculate costs and move beyond simplistic economics to better understand the impacts of the decisions we make.

For every believer in food miles and local sourcing there is a New Zealand meat farmer that will argue NZ is a better source of eco-friendly meat because it doesn’t use petrochemical fertilizer on fields sheep graze. Yesterday morning my friend Oliver ribbed Gregor, who was carrying a heavy bag, for using an elevator to go down one floor. Quick as a flash Gregor turned around and said: no its greener to use the lift, because he wouldn’t need to have a shower straight away…  (it was a hot Berlin day).

The current commonly cited example in the IT industry of the wrong people paying the bill is facilities management (FM) versus IT. IT doesn’t pay for its electricity. No, seriously, go to your FM manager or IT manager and ask who pays to power your IT properties. The vast majority of IT systems get a free ride on electricity bills, which is one reason its taken so long to fully consider IT carbon costs.

David’s point about the wrong people paying the bill also has a wider context which cuts into issues of sustainability and social responsibility. I was deeply disappointed when the UK Government recently announced the Climate Change aid fund its building to help emerging nations mitigate problems such as rising sea levels, or increased strong weather effects, will actually be loans rather than grants. Who is paying the bill for what here?

The current high costs of food globally, at least partly driven by the new fetish for biofuels, is bound to hurt those those that can least afford it.

Corporate budgeting and planning is generally designed to make costs external. If someone else is paying the bill that helps the bottom line. Pollute a river, and let someone else pay the cleanup costs, is “just good business”. If you think I am just being cynical I would advise you to read or watch a cold-eyed look at the icy hearted sociopath we commonly know as The Corporation

Economists and company leaders like nothing better than what they call “externalities” -basically costs that someone else has to deal with. Chewing gum is a brilliant example of externalities in action.. It costs 3p a stick, but an esimated 10p to clean it off a city street.

Another way of talking about a less simple economics is to consider Post-Autistic Economics. Autistic economics looks only at the “facts” without understanding social consequences. More heterodox thinking is now entering the mainstreal through, for example, the triple bottom line concept or broader sustainability narratives from major corporations.

The final way I want to think about the wrong people paying the bill concerns our children. The more damage we do right now, the more resources we consume, the more mess we make, the higher the clean up costs will be for the next generation. Even if you believe we can innovate our way out of trouble, large scale clean terraforming is not going to come cheap. We’re externalising the costs of our current lifestyles pretty blithely, and the wrong people are going to get the bill. Economics is many things but simple isn’t one of them. The facilities manager, people living in low lying areas such as Bangladesh, our kids: the wrong people are getting the bill.


Finnair: Awesomeness by Carbon Calculator (never say never)

Just the other day I say we wouldn’t be covering Carbon Calculators unless they ran on AMEE. Wrong. This afternoon I got a link from Joseph Simpson at MovementDesign and it got me thinking. I have no idea why a thinktank dedicated to the future of movement wouldn’t actually blog the link rather than sending it to me, but that’s the web for you. Wired has a story about Finnair. Wired gives them props for not being defensive about emissions, but that’s not what jumped out at me. What I like is the fact Finnair is showing customers the potential carbon impacts of different journeys through different hubs.

It’s a simple application, but it’s pretty cool. Just load in your departure and arrival city, and the calculator returns the total distance of your trip, the amount of fuel used per passenger, and the amount of CO2 generated by that fuel. To calculate the per passenger number, Finnair looks at typical load factors for their different flight segments (long haul flights tend to be 85% full, leisure flights 95%, etc.), and also takes into account what type of plane is being flown on each route, since fuel efficiency varies depending on model. And, with typical Scandinavian thoroughness, Finnair has designed the calendar so that you’re able to see how emissions are impacted by connections at various Finnair hub cities.

Its that last function which interests me most, in some respects. Now if we could just get Finnair to integrate with AMEE at the back end and dopplr, the travel serendipity platform, at the front end for trip-planning, then we’d be cooking with… uh… a wind-powered oven. Exciting times. I would love to know what the implications are for trips through different hubs. I am pretty sure Heathrow, with its circling, and fuel-burning on the ground is just awful. Computers and augmented intelligence are going to redefine travel in the new energy era.


Chasing AMEE, EdenBee and the Carbon Account

As I am sure you all know by now Greenmonk is a fan of Amee, the carbon caculator’s carbon calculator – or “the World’s Energy Meter” as it styles itself. AMEE is a back end service for carbon data, with the data freely available under a CreativeCommons Attribution and Share-Alike license. Credible? Tesco, the world’s second biggest retailer, and DEFRA, the UK’s EPA, are both heavily involved. AMEE an Exemplary Open Service. And being an environmental API as well, its an Exemplary GreenMonk Service.

I realised this morning, having been invited to an interesting new social networking service called EdenBee, that I now basically use AMEE as a yes or no. If someone approaches me with news of something that has a carbon calculator that isn’t AMEE-based my default is pretty much total lack of interest. Nice related conversation here.

Later in the day someone pinged me to look at The Carbon Account.  Like EdenBee it passes the AMEE-test. I will wait until people start inviting me before I check it out though.Nice to see the “ingredients” listed – that is, what open source technologies support the site.

The only thing AMEE needs to fix is the URL. Come on guys you’re the world’s electricity meter…


Shai Agassi To Forge Israeli Electric Car Network


So ex-SAP executive Shai Agassi’s Project Better Place has managed to pull it off. Former product chief Shai catapulted coolly into DLD in Munich yesterday straight from Jerusalem, where he had launched one of the most curious deals the auto industry has ever seen. He drove out that afternoon. To Davos.

Alongside Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Renault / Nissan’s CEO Carlos Ghosn, Agassi announced, a spectacular and audacious agreement on Monday to deploy a new kind of electric power network and set of cars to run on them that will get Israel’s car drivers off oil as quickly as possible. It’s consistent delivery on his October deal, when he raised $200 million from Israeli Corp and VantagePoint Venture Partners.

Shai and I spent thirty minutes talking yesterday in Munich and what I heard proved to be true. On stage, Agassi is a brilliant presenter, dashing, focused, witty and strident. He’s up there with Al Gore in getting you by the throat and implying “talking about this isn’t enough!” and stood shoulders above the impressive line up the crushed and seat-deprived attendees of Burda Media’s DLD event had seen.

Project Better Place will integrate and deploy a new product, sales and support channel (read ‘charging’ stations) that will allow Israeli consumers to drive their own pure electric (not hybrid) car that has a 200km or so range. It will feature a new design of battery that can be swapped in and out in about the time it takes right now to fill up a car with gasoline. People will be able to do so at a country-wide network of swapping stations, or charge cars via power points. The cars will be designed and built by Renault / Nissan. Agassi says it will reduce oil use in Israel drastically – we’re talking figures like 50 per cent here.

The capital to get this going has come from a group of investors that includes Israeli Corporation (which right now supplies Israel with oil – proving, as with Abu Dhabi’s latest moves – that oil money can sometimes turn green) and also features VantagePoint Venture Partners, blessed right now with this shining star to distract everyone from the mess at Tesla. Agassi claims the system will launch within four years.

One of the big features of the system is that electric power will be sold as packages akin to the way that mobile phones are sold today – there will be multiple plans you can buy, including one that says if you buy about six years of power, they’ll throw in the car for free.

Shai Agassi

Photo credit jdlasica

But can he really pull it off? Agassi has got to this situation incredibly quickly. When I ask how in a year he has managed to leave his old job and do one of the most audacious deals imaginable he says “Nine months! It’s been nine months!”

In truth, for any entrepreneurs out there who may suddenly feel deeply inadequate, Agassi has had this process in train for three years. The journey started when he listened to a challenge by a speaker at Davos to do something to make the world a better place. Agassi admits that during those first few years “I walked every single wrong path first. I was sure for months hydrogen, then I was sure it would be ethanol.”

This characteristic of Agassi’s seems crucial to understand. You feel he’s churned the options over in his head constantly and worked out the answer. Now he’s settled on it, his purpose is to set that vision out to the world, do the necessary business deals to make it happen and then…”. Actually, “and then?” is a fairly good question and there isn’t right now a lot of substance to see, beyond the deal itself. Be in no doubt that Project Better Place now needs to ‘execute’, as IT guys would say. They’ll need some very talented people, they’ll need to ensure that Renault / Nissan and other partners such as battery provider NEC deliver technologies, and integrate those technologies together, on time. They will also need to work out the details of the service model and sales and marketing, factors that could make or break the project. And of course if oil prices fall dramatically (admittedly unlikely) the economics become a problem.

So is the man up for it? The company website is today a lonely place, with a link to ‘leadership’ that leads to… just Agassi. There are two people photos. Him and, curiously, his young son, who is part of the Davos pitch. Yet while Agassi himself quipped on stage to the (German) DLD audience that he “used to be the next CEO of SAP”, he never was SAP’s CEO and opinions gathered from my Twittering IT analyst friends vary on just how successful his time at that firm was.

First, here’s Dennis Howlett, veteran technology and financial software analyst:

“Shai created a roadmap and at one stage was delivering a ton of product [at SAP]. “But it became indigestible for many SAPpers.”

Then over to Greenmonk’s own James Governor:

“The Agassi legacy at SAP?…. a job unfinished. He built an architecture, but it was not as widely adopted as he, or the board, wanted.” James’s other comment is curious. “Shai evidently doesn’t have a great deal of patience and is inclined to hector communities (for example, customers) that don’t do what he wants.”

What next? Well Project Better Place has a hell of a lot to do and, once Davos is over, Agassi better get together a brilliant team and start executing. Right now, you hear nothing except him. While the project talks about partnership and being open, it would seem that the big deal has for now taken priority over engaging the talent base required. The firm will need a lot of great people, and those partnerships will take a lot of managing.

What’s sure is that the world is a better place for this development. Amongst the visionaries and future talk underway at DLD, Agassi stood out as a doer.

But don’t for a minute think this is the only future for cars. Agassi’s vision has unlocked anything up to a billion dollars but there is surely more to come and many things are happening right now. Agassi is a visionary but his vision is pretty narrow.

Shai’s in Davos now, wooing the great and mighty with that vision and his audacity. For the next three years he’ll definitely be judged on that ability to ‘execute’. We wish him well.

Read on at Re*Move, where we ask Is Project Better Place the big answer?
Mark Charmer is a contributor to Greenmonk Associates. He is CEO of The Movement Design Bureau, a think tank.

Photo credits: Project Better Place.


Go Green: Shave Costs


20% reduction represents a mighty close shave. reports that Mark Blowers, senior research analyst at Butler Group, claims significant cost savings can be achieved by going green in a report entitled Sustainable IT Provision – Meeting the Challenge of Corporate, Social and Environmental Responsibility. I like the sound of it – it evidently goes beyond just green data center thinking.

“Radical solutions such as designing software to consume less processor cycles and using hardware that does not require a power-hungry AC-DC conversion should be standard practice, the report says.”

Amen, Mark. In other shaving news this week, Computerworld reports that HP is apparently on a mission to reduce emissions: aiming for 25% better efficiency in its PCs and laptops within 2 years.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, HP said that to reach its goal it would cut energy usage by integrating power saving technologies and processes, including more efficient power supplies and lower-energy chipsets. The company plans on making the changes across its entire PC line.

Well done HP.


picture courtesy of scottfeldstein on Flickr, creative commons Attribution 2.0 license.


Its Not The Houses That Are Smart Its The People

Probably the most interesting recent news GreenMonk has seen comes from a research project at the US Department of Energy, reported in Computerworld: Pilot program puts “smart” houses on network that adjusts energy use to pricing.

The technology in play included wireless technologies, broadband connections and back-end systems that use a Web-enabled service-oriented architecture for linking disparate information systems.

The intent of the “intelligent smart-power grid” is to give consumers the ability to conserve energy with systems that automatically adjust to pricing. There are a number of ways in which that might work, and here’s one: In the event of a heavy electric demand period that is threatening a power outage, a clothes drier embedded with a controller could receive a signal that prompts it to turn off the drying element for a short period.

IBM was involved in the project, and its good to see Big Blue doing something that affects consumer behaviour. What I find fascinating though is not the automation – its the fact that if people have better access to information, they will adjust their behaviours accordingly. Electricity meters shouldn’t be down in the basement.

According to ARS Technica:

In effect, such technologies make both the machines and their human owners into members of what the lab calls “a collaborative, distributed, commerce-driven ‘society'”—some of the same terms used to describe the many “Web 2.0” destinations. In this case, though, the purpose isn’t to create the Internet’s most tech-savvy collection of minds (see the Ars OpenForum for that) but to create a “shock absorber” for the national power grid; saving money for consumers is simply a byproduct of that process.

There is an extremely cool product out there which makes electricity use manifest – the Wattson. They have a cool slogan too- DIY Kyoto.

People are perfectly capable of making intelligent, well-formed decisions, if they have the relevant tools. Bringing meters out into the open is going to be a big part of the changes societies make over the next few years. I love a quote from the Guardian story:

“Our kids are saying that they are helping to stop the ice caps melting,” she said.

My little boy is only two years old, so perhaps I am not best equipped to comment yet, but as I understand it having kids pester their parents to turn off lights – usually only happens once they have left home and are paying the bills…

special thanks to Mike Gunderloy, who sent me a link to this story through Twitter, saying it was “greenmonky”. he was right.


Toyota as a case study in complexity. Is prius just a greenwash halo?

Great piece today at movementdesign’s re*move blog about Toyota. It tells us a lot about bright green, and the danger of kneejerk reactions. There are plenty of lessons for any industry there.

Right now there’s a petition going on in the States, calling for Toyota to support a proposed bill requiring ‘CAFE’ fleet average ‘gas mileage’ for cars and small trucks, to rise to 35mpg by 2020.  Toyota is doing its green image absolutely no good by trying to derail this bill, and supporting an alternative, which calls for the average to rise to 32mpg. Could it be that the self-styled green giant Toyota, is not as green as it likes everyone to think it is?

It seems its all about the trucks, with Prius as nothing more than window dressing.

Sadly, like everyone else auto-wise when it comes to the United States market, Toyota is actually rather keen on truck sales – specifically its big Tundra truck – which it recently launched a new version of. While Ford and GM have been taken to the cleaners by greens and press alike over their poor gas mileage, and reliance on selling inefficient trucks and their lack of hybrids, Toyota has sailed merrily on, positioning itself as the big green giant, basking in the halo effect of the Prius.

Joe though avoids knee-jerk conclusions. Its not either, or.

So although this fuel economy episode is unlikely to do Toyota’s green image much good – and although it indeed seems rather hypocritical of them to oppose the tougher gas-mileage bill, I wouldn’t kick Toyota too hard. They are ahead of the game – in terms of alternative power plants, advanced research and future mobility ideas. Just because they oppose the regulations now, doesn’t mean they won’t hit, or even exceed the legislation come 2020.

Toyota is of course undoubtedly a leader in green automotive technology, and green automotive sales, but we have to remember the company’s job is to sell as many vehicles as possible. Until it becomes deeply embarrassing to drive one of those huge trucks in environments where they aren’t absolutely necessary people will keep buying them. Toyota it seems to me is a company we should be encouraging to do better. But then signing the petition is perhaps a way to do just that.

Somehow I can’t see a computer company lobbying to reduce energy consumption targets on servers, but stranger things have happened. Environmental leadership is complex and only going to get more so.


The UK Gets A Green IT Conference: w00t!

Exciting. Green IT 08 is a new UK conference for “IT leadership in Environmental Age.” Its really good to see this conference in London – its surely one of the first in the world, let alone the UK.  They are looking for green pioneers, sponsors and all sorts.

One of the thing I think is cool is that they are starting small, evidently trying to start a snowball to roll downhill, rather than pus a rock uphill. Its at the business design center, a small but perfectly formed venue in Islington.

The fact they put a web site online, without feeling the need to have every tab complete, is goodness. The community will drive the content, which is a good grassroots approach. All I can say is- I know what I am doing 9th and 10th April next year.


I want me some Blue Sky

I am a Thinkpad fanboy. The machine to me is a stone cold industrial design classic (warm palm issues on the X60s notwithstanding). What is more, you can pour an entire glass of water into the keyboard and you’ll probably get away with it. Thinkpad Looks Good, Works Well. The machines tend to be light, too- thus the current weightless ad campaign.

When it comes to desktop machines I have no such preference but I have to say I am excited by the new Blue Sky thinking from Lenovo. ComputerworldUK has the story here.

A desktop machine which at 45 Watts can potentially be powered by a solar cell – sweet. Perhaps even cooler Lenovo claims its made up of 90 percent reusable or recyclable materials, and its packaging is 90 percent recyclable,so it got a Gold EPEAT rating.

Small is beautiful. Low power is beautiful. Blue sky is beautiful.

photo courtesy of papalar, Creative Commons attribution no derivs license.


Turn Servers Off When You Don’t Need Them Part 2

I recently blogged about the fact its common in Japan to turn servers off at night, so I found it interesting that Cassatt, the data center automation vendor launched by BEA founder Bill Coleman , has just announced a power management play- claiming “customers have experienced up to 50 percent reduction in their power usage, simply by allowing Active Power Management to turn off servers when idle, and then confirm a successful power-up when they’re needed again.”

According to the release the The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported last month that data centers are consuming up to 1.5 percent of all the electricity generated in the U.S.

But Europe is actually ahead of the US in some areas of efficiency and greening. BT, a leader in the field, now looks for always available, rather than always on in its equipment purchasing. One of the strangest arguments of the last ten years came from the Washington lobbyists and politicians claiming efficiency initiatives harm the economy. I am glad this argument is being won by the other side – green power can save money whether you’re a small or large business. As this Computerworld story says vendors such as Sun and Fujitsu are now showcasing their own initiatives. It doesn’t matter whether you turn electricity off to save money or save the planet.

Why do I find the Cassatt pitch interesting? Partly because it answers a key counterpoint to “turn you server off” thinking. Thus Mike Gunderloy, in comments to my earlier blog post, asked:

Has anyone looked at the labor costs of this? I know that even on my tiny little dozen-machine network, I am reluctant to power everything off at night simply because it takes so bloody long waiting for the damn things to boot up in the morning. Seems like actual working fast-boot technologies would go a long way to sell this initiative.

IT labor costs of course will kill energy efficiency initiatives every time, if they are too high. That’s where automation software comes in. We can expect automation vendors of all stripes to pursue similar power management strategies, which is a good thing.

Power off.

picture courtesy of r3wind‘s creative commons attribution license.