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Technology is completely revolutionising the healthcare industry

Healthcare is changing. Recent advances in technology are completely revolutionising how we approach the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness. And this is just the beginning of what will be a technological revolution in healthcare.

Smartphone use is growing at an enormous pace. They now account for 87% of the total mobile handsets in the US, for example. And with the smartphones has come hundreds of new apps related to health and fitness. These apps do everything from monitoring sleep and movement (steps), to keeping track of glucose levels, blood oxygen, and even ovulation.

Fitbit Dashboard

The relentless rise of wearable connected devices is also having a big effect on people tacking their health and fitness. These small devices (such as the Fitbit Force, the Jawbone Up, and the Withings Pulse) are light and easy to wear, and they communicate with apps on the smartphone to monitor and record health-related information.

The next evolution of wearables, where they are built-in to the clothes you wear, has already begun. If these devices become as ubiquitous as smartphones, they will help us make far better informed decisions about our health and fitness.

Then you have major players like Apple going on a hiring spree of medical technology executives to bolster its coming Healthbook application, as well as its rumoured iWatch wearable device. Samsung too have wearable fitness trackers and announced their own Healthcare platform “to track your every move” today.

Going further back the stack, and we see IBM using its artificial intelligence play Watson to make inroads into the health industry (see video above). IBM has been partnering with WellPoint Inc. and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to help clinicians better diagnose instances of cancer in patients.

And more recently IBM has announced that it is working with New York Genome Center to create a prototype that could suggest personalised treatment options for patients with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. From the announcement:

By analyzing gene sequence variations between normal and cancerous biopsies of brain tumors, Watson will then be used to review medical literature and clinical records to help clinicians consider a variety treatments options tailored to an individual’s specific type and personalized instance of the cancer.

And IBM aren’t stopping there. They announced last month that they were opening up Watson as a platform so developers can create apps that can utilise Watson’s cognitive computing engine to solve all kinds of difficult problems. And earlier this month IBM announced that several “powered by Watson” apps have been developed, including one to help dermatologists better diagnose skin cancer.

And IBM also announced the acquisition of Cognea. Cognea offers virtual assistants that relate to people using a wide variety of personalities—from suit-and-tie formal to kid-next-door friendly – think Siri, or better yet Cortana for Watson!

Then, newer in-memory database technologies such as SAP’s HANA, are being used to crunch through datasets so large they were previously to big to query. For example, SAP announced today a partnership with the Stanford School of Medicine to “achieve a better understanding of global human genome variation and its implications in disease, particularly cardiovascular disease”. From the release SAP goes on to say:

Researchers have already leveraged SAP HANA to corroborate the results of a study that discovered that the genetic risk of Type II Diabetes varies between populations. The study looked at 12 genetic variants previously associated with Type II Diabetes across 49 individuals. With SAP HANA, researchers in Dr. Butte’s lab were able to simultaneously query all 125 genetic variants previously associated with Type II Diabetes across 629 individuals. Using traditional methods, this analysis on this amount of data would have taken an unreasonable amount of time.

So, the changes which technology are bringing to the healthcare industry now are nothing short of revolutionary. And with the likes of SAP’s HANA, and IBM’s Watson, set up as platforms for 3rd party developers, the stage is set for far more innovation in the coming months and years. Exciting times for healthcare practitioners, patients and patients to-be.

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Cloud computing companies ranked by their use of renewable energy

Cloud-Providers Renewables use updated

UPDATE: After publication of this post I was contacted by Rackspace who informed me that they do, in fact, publish their megawatt electricity consumption. it is contained in an investor report (PDF) published on their Investor Relations page. This shows Rackspace used just over 105mWh of electricity in 2013. This means that the 35% of Renewables figure corresponds to 36.8mWh (in fact it comes to 36,785kWh, or 0.037m kWh, as it is now represented in the chart above). Consequently, I adjusted the chart and moved Rackspace up a number of places in the rankings.

Cloud computing is booming. Cloud providers are investing billions in infrastructure to build out their data centers, but just how clean is cloud?

Given that this is the week that the IPCC’s 5th assessment report was released, I decided to do some research of my own into cloud providers. The table above is a list of the cloud computing providers I looked into, and what I found.

It is a real mixed bag but from the table you can see that Icelandic cloud provider Greenqloud comes out on top because they are using the electricity from the 100% renewable Icelandic electricity grid to power their infrastructure.

On the Windows Azure front, Microsoft announced in May of 2012 that it was going to go carbon neutral for its facilities and travel. Microsoft are now, according to the EPA, the second largest purchaser of renewable energy in the US. In 2013 they purchased 2,300m kWh which accounted for 80% of their electricity consumption. They made up the other 20% with Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). And according to Microsoft’s TJ DiCaprio, they plan to increase their renewable energy purchases from 80% to 100% in the financial year 2014.

Google claim to have been carbon neutral since 2007. Of Google’s electricity, 32% came from renewables, while the other 68% came from the purchase of RECs.

SAP purchased 391m kWh of renewable energy in 2013. This made up 43% of its total electricity consumption. SAP have since announced that they will go to powering 100% of its facilities from renewable energy in 2014.

The most recent data from IBM dates from 2012 when they purchased 764m kWh of renewable energy. This accounted for just 15% of their total consumption. In the meantime IBM have purchased cloud company Softlayer for whom no data is available, so it is unclear in what way this will have affected IBM’s position in these rankings.

The most up-to-date data on Oracle’s website is from 2011, but more recent data about their renewable energy is to be found in their 2012 disclosure to the Carbon Disclosure Project (registration required). This shows that Oracle purchased 5.4m kWh of renewable energy making up a mere 0.7% of their total consumption of 746.9m kWh in 2012.

Rackspace have no data available on their site, but in email communications with me yesterday they claim that 35% of their electricity globally is from renewable sources. They declined to say exactly how much that was (in kWh) See update above.

Amazon discloses no information whatsoever about its infrastructure apart from a claim that its Oregon and GovCloud regions are using 100% carbon free power. However, they don’t back up this claim with any evidence, they don’t disclose to the Carbon Disclosure Project, nor do they produce an annual Corporate Responsibility report.

The other three cloud providers in the list, Softlayer, GoGrid, and Bluelock have no information on their websites (that I could find), and they didn’t respond to written inquiries.

I’ll be writing a follow-up post to this in the next few days where I look into the supply chain risks of utilising cloud platforms where there is no transparency around power sourcing.

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SAP to power its cloud computing infrastructure from 100% renewable energy

Wind turbine

Cloud computing is often incorrectly touted as being a green, more environmentally-friendly, computing option. This confusion occurs because people forget that while cloud computing may be more energy efficient (may be), the environmental friendliness is determined by how much carbon is produced in the generation of that energy. If a data centre is primarily powered by coal, it doesn’t matter how energy efficient it it, it will never be green.

We have mentioned that very often here on GreenMonk, as well as regularly bringing it up with cloud providers when talking to them.

One such cloud provider is SAP. Like most other cloud vendors, they’re constantly increasing their portfolio of cloud products. This has presented them with some challenges when they have to consider their carbon footprint. In its recently released 2013 Annual Report SAP admits

Energy usage in our data centers contributed to 6% of our total emissions in 2013, compared with 5% in 2012

This is going the wrong direction for a company whose stated aim is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from their operations to levels of the year 2000 by 2020.

To counter this SAP have just announced

that it will power all its data centers and facilities globally with 100 percent renewable electricity starting in 2014

This is good for SAP, obviously, as they will be reducing their environmental footprint, and also good for customers of SAP’s cloud solutions who will also get the benefit of SAP’s green investments. How are SAP achieving this goal of 100 per cent renewable energy for its data centers and facilities? A combination of generating its own electricity using solar panels in Germany and Palo Alto (<1%), purchasing renewable energy and high quality renewable energy certificates, and a €3m investment in the Livlihoods Fund.

So, how does SAP’s green credentials stack up against some of its rivals in the cloud computing space?

Well, since yesterday’s pricing announcements from Google they definitely have to be considered a contender in this space. And what are their green credentials like? Well, Google have been carbon neutral since 2007, and they have invested over $1bn in renewable energy projects. So Google are definitely out in front on this one.

Who else is there?

Well, Microsoft with its recently branded Microsoft Azure cloud offerings are also a contender, so how do they fare? Quite well actually. In May 2012, Microsoft made a commitment

to make our operations carbon neutral: to achieve net zero emissions for our data centers, software development labs, offices, and employee business air travel in over 100 countries around the world.

So by doing this 2 years ahead of SAP and by including employee air travel, as well as facilities, you’d have to say that Microsoft come out ahead of SAP.

However, SAP does come in well ahead of other cloud companies such as IBM, who reported that renewable electricity made up a mere 15% of its consumption in 2012. IBM reported emissions of 2.2m tons of CO2 in 2012.

But, at least that’s better than Oracle. In Oracle’s 2012 report (reporting on the year 2011 – the most recent report available on their site), Oracle state that they don’t even account for their scope 3 emissions:

Scope 3 GHG emissions are typically defined as indirect emissions from operations outside the direct control of the company, such as employee commutes, business travel, and supply chain operations. Oracle does not report on Scope 3 emissions

And then there’s Amazon. Amazon doesn’t release any kind of information about the carbon footprint of its facilities. None.

So kudos to SAP for taking this step to green its cloud computing fleet. Looking at the competition I’d have to say SAP comes in around middle-of-the road in terms of its green cloud credentials. If it wants to improve its ranking, it may be time to revisit that 2020 goal.

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Technology for Good – episode nine

Welcome to episode nine of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s show we had special guest John Clark, Worldwide Manager of Smart Buildings for IBM. Given the week that was in it with Google’s announcement of Android Wear, and Twitter’s eighth birthday, there were plenty of stories about social networks, and wearable devices.

Here’s the stories that we discussed in the show:

Climate

Wearables

Health

Open Source

Twitter

Internet of Things

Misc

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The Internet of Things is bringing Electricity 2.0 that much closer

One of the reasons I started working with GreenMonk back in 2008 was that James heard my Electricity 2.0 vision, and totally bought into it.

The idea, if you’re not familiar with it, was that as smart grids are deployed, homes will become more connected, devices more intelligent, and home area networks would emerge. This would allow the smart devices in the home (think water heaters, clothes dryers, dish washers, fridges, electric car chargers, etc.) to listen to realtime electricity prices, understand them, and adjust their behaviour accordingly. Why would they want to do this? To match electricity demand to its supply, thereby minimising the cost to their owner, while facilitating the safe incorporation of more variable suppliers onto the grid (think renewables like solar and wind).

That was 2008/2009. Fast forward to the end of 2013 and we see that smart meters are being deployed in anger, devices are becoming more intelligent and home area networks are becoming a reality. The Internet of Things, is now a thing (witness the success of devices like Nest’s Thermostat and Protect, the Philips Hue, and Belkin’s WeMo devices). Also, companies like Gridpoint, Comverge and EnerNoc are making demand response (the automatic reduction of electricity use) more widespread.

We’re still nowhere near having realised the vision of utility companies broadcasting pricing in realtime, home appliances listening in and adjusting behaviour accordingly, but we are quite a bit further down that road.

One company who have a large part to play in filling in some of the gaps is GE. GE supplies much of the software and hardware used by utilities in their generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. This will need to be updated to allow the realtime transmission of electricity prices. But also, GE is a major manufacturer of white goods – the dish washers, fridges, clothes dryers, etc. which will need to be smart enough to listen out for pricing signals from utilities. These machines will need to be simple to operate but smart enough to adjust their operation without too much user intervention – like the Nest Thermostat. And sure enough, to that end, GE have created their Connected Appliances division, so they too are thinking along these lines.

More indications that we are headed the right direction are signalled by energy management company Schneider Electric‘s recently announced licensing agreement with ioBridge, and Internet of Things connectivity company.

Other big players such as Intel, IBM and Cisco have announced big plans in the Internet of Things space.

The example in the video above of me connecting my Christmas tree lights was a trivial one, obviously. But it was deliberately so. Back in 2008 when I was first mooting the Electricity 2.0 vision, connecting Christmas tree lights to the Internet and control them from a phone wouldn’t have been possible. Now it is a thing of nothing. With all the above companies working on the Internet of Things in earnest, we are rapidly approaching Electricity 2.0 finally.

Full disclosure – Belkin sent me a WeMo Switch + Motion to try out.

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IBM tackling water issues globally

Home electricity consumption

Water, water everywhere…

Water is becoming scarce resource globally – even more-so in rapidly growing urban environments.In fact, according to the UN, water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population growth in the last century. – See more at: http://www.unwater.org/statistics_use.html#sthash.SVRxbpoE.dpuf Also, increased droughts, and flash floods are not helping matters.

To help alleviate this, it is great to see IBM stepping up to the challenge and helping with the issue in various communities:

  1. In London for example IBM announced that it will be working with Thames Water to improve operations and customer interaction. According to the announcement, the alliance will analyse big data and social media to boost “safety, reducing total expenditure and environmental impact alongside lowering energy and chemical costs”. This is important as Thames Water ramps up to meet the obligations of the next regulatory period (Asset Management Programme 6 – AMP6) from 2015-2020.
  2. IBM are also using big data and analytics to help the Arad Group process water consumption data of water meters. The Arad Group has water utility customers in 50 countries worldwide who could potentially benefit from this getting quick insights into water losses in its system. This solution also reduces by around the number of technician visits required by about 50%, freeing up those hours for more valuable work.
  3. IBM and Waterfund LLC, have signed up the Ministry of Water and Environment of Uganda to become the first African nation to become a member of the Water Cost Index (WCI). The Water Cost Index calculates the unsubsidised cost of freshwater production, to bring financial transparency to investors in water infrastructure. The hope is that this will help Uganda attract private sector funding and facilitate Uganda in the provision of clean and safe freshwater for its citizens.
  4. In South Bend, Indiana, federal requirements to change the way the sewer systems work meant that this small city (pop. 100,000) was going to be faced with a bill in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

    To avoid this they instrumented their sewers, and wirelessly piped the information from these sewers to IBM’s Intelligent Operation Center (IOC). South Bend now has the most instrumented sewer system in the world, reducing the number of waste water overflows and keeping the local water system cleaner. The system saves South Bend $100m in water capacity and reduces the number of fines South Bend would have been subject to by $600,000
  5. IBM has worked with partners to manage Lake George, one of New York’s most pristine natural ecosystems. This project aims to create a sophisticated lake environmental monitoring and prediction system giving scientists and the community a real-time picture of the health of the lake. The hope being that the software and lessons learned can ultimately be used to help other lake systems worldwide.
  6. And, IBM worked with the Dutch Ministry of Water (Rijkswaterstaat) on a project called Digital Delta. Theis project aims to provide realtime information on water quality, the impact of extreme weather events, and the risk of floods or droughts. It will enable relevant agencies to share this information quickly so response efforts can be quickly coordinated.

Ready access to water has been an issue for mankind since the dawn of time. With our ever growing global population, water is going to become an ever more pressing concern. Companies like IBM who can help alleviate some of these issues will no doubt have a ready market for the foreseeable future.

Image credit Tom Raftery

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Facebook and ebay’s data centers are now vastly more transparent

ebay's digital service efficiency

Facebook announced at the end of last week new way to report PUE and WUE for its datacenters.

This comes hot on the heels of ebay’s announcement of its Digital Service Efficiency dashboard – a single-screen reporting the cost, performance and environmental impact of customer buy and sell transactions on ebay.

These dashboards are a big step forward in terms of making data centers more transparent about the resources they are consuming. And about the efficiency, or otherwise, of the data centers.

Even better, both organisations are going about making their dashboards a standard, thus making their data centers cross comparable with other organisations using the same dashboard.

Facebook Prineville Data Center dashboard

There are a number of important differences between the two dashboards, however.

To start with, Facebook’s data is in near-realtime (updated every minute, with a 2.5 hour delay in the data), whereas ebay’s data is updated every quarter of a year. So, ebay’s data is nowhere near realtime.

Facebook also includes environmental data (external temperature and humidity), as well as options to review the PUE, WUE, humidity and temperature data for the last 7 days, the last 30 days, the last 90 days and the last year.

On the other hand, ebay’s dashboard is, perhaps unsurprisingly, more business focussed giving metrics like revenue per user ($54), the number of transactions per kWh (45,914), the number of active users (112.3 million), etc. Facebook makes no mention anywhere of its revenue data, user data nor its transactions per kWh.

ebay pulls ahead on the environmental front because it reports its Carbon Usage Effeftiveness (CUE) in its dashboard, whereas Facebook completely ignores this vital metric. As we’ve said here before, CUE is a far better metric for measuring how green your data center is.

Facebook does get some points for reporting its carbon footprint elsewhere, but not for these data centers. This was obviously decided at some point in the design of its dashboards, and one has to wonder why.

The last big difference between the two is in how they are trying to get their dashboards more widely used. Facebook say they will submit the code for theirs to the Opencompute repository on Github. ebay, on the other hand, launched theirs at the Green Grid Forum 2013 in Santa Clara. They also published a PDF solution paper, which is a handy backgrounder, but nothing like the equivalent of dropping your code into Github.

The two companies could learn a lot from each other on how to improve their current dashboard implementations, but more importantly, so could the rest of the industry.

What are IBM, SAP, Amazon, and the other cloud providers doing to provide these kinds of dashboards for their users? GreenQloud has had this for their users for ages, now Facebook and ebay have zoomed past them too. When Facebook contributes oits codebase to Github, then the cloud companies will have one less excuse.

Image credit nicadlr

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IBM’s mobility play: MobileFirst

Airplane mode on iPhone

One of the big talking points at this year’s IBM Pulse was IBM’s recent unveiling of its new platform for mobile, MobileFirst. My colleague James covers the announcement in details on his RedMonk blog, but I thought I’d talk a bit about the GreenMonk perspective, as we haven’t covered mobile here very much to-date, and it is becoming increasingly pervasive.

Mobile is now huge. I know this is self-evident, but it is totally game-changing. Now everyone is instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent, as IBM themselves might say.

What does this have to do with sustainability? Well, we here at GreenMonk take a broad view of Sustainability and as we noted in our write-up of the Pulse conference, IBM’s Smarter initiatives all play to a sustainable agenda. Sustainability is all about doing things more efficiently. Mobile definitely enables that.

You only have to think of the application IBM rolled out last year to help staff and students crowdsource cleaning up of the Los Angeles Unified School’s District. And, it is also making a big splash in the Enterprise space, as witnessed by SAP’s Operational Risk Management mobile app; the ESB and IBM mobile app to help finding and scheduling charging of electric vehicles in Ireland and many similar initiatives.

And there’s also social – I wrote a blog post last November about the intersection of big data, social and sustainability. What does this have to do with mobile? Well, in each of the examples outlined in the blog post, a significant amount of the data would have been entered via mobile. People as sensors. The internet of everything.

There are lots of other examples in healthcare, smarter cities (the Boston mobile app I mentioned in this post), education, etc.

The one place IBM may be missing a trick in mobile? Mobile endpoint energy management. IBM have an endpoint management app for mobile, but it’s focus is more on security than energy management, but, as we’ve noted here previously, battery life is a significant pain point for mobile users. A user whose device is out of battery, is a frustrated, disconnected, unproductive worker.

An Endpoint Management solution which manages mobile battery life (by having low power modes, or by automatically shutting down all but the frontmost app, or similar, for example) would be a definite win for any enterprise.

Full disclosure – IBM paid travel and accommodation for me to attend Pulse.

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IBM’s 2012 Industry Analyst event in Madrid – the Smarter Cities panel

The future is so bright

I attended the IBM Industry Analyst event in Madrid recently and I was very taken with several of the briefings that I sat in on there.

There was an interesting panel on Smarter Cities chaired by IBM Europe’s VP for Smarter Cities Sylvie Spalmacin-Roma. Also on the panel were Francois Grosse (SVP Digital Services, Veolia Environment) and Marc Sanderson International Investments Director, Málaga City. Francois talked about how Veolia Environment works with public transport data and spun off a startup to meet demand in this space. Marc from Málaga gave a very interesting talk about how the city of Málaga is running many projects simultaneously to transform itself into a truly Smart city.

Some of the things Marc mentioned in Málaga are the water sensor project – Málaga has installed 60,000 sensors on its water piping to help it reduce the amount of water lost through leaks. This is particularly relevant given the recent Water 20/20: Bringing Smart Water Networks Into Focus report which maintains that more efficient use of water may save utilities $12.5 billion a year.

Málaga’s emergency management centre has an app that citizens can download to report issues directly to the town hall.

Málaga is the headquarters for the EU’s high speed rail research and it is currently building an 80km high speed rail test track.

Marc went on to point out that that Málaga has a joint project with Spanish electric utility company Endesa called Smart Cities Málaga where it is rolling out smart meters to 17,000 customers and tracking their energy use in an effort to make consumption more transparent to the customer and align the supply and demand curves.

And finally Marc mentioned Málaga’s Zero Emissions Mobility to All project Zem2All. This is a project which sees the deployment of 200 electric vehicles and 229 electric vehicle charge points throughout the city.It is a four year project designed to assess the usage patters of electric vehicle usage on a day-to-day basis. The project contains some of the first bidirectional electric car chargers in Europe – these chargers are capable of taking a charge from the car, as well as charging the car. This is to enable Vehicle to Grid (V2G) energy flows where electricity can move from the car’s battery back into the grid to help with grid stabilisation, for example, and to enable Vehicle to Home (V2H) energy flows where energy can move from the car’s battery into the home to keep the owners dwelling live in the event of short electrical outages.

The Málaga example is a superb one because it crosses so many domains – water, electricity, transportation, and it includes deep partnerships between the public and private sectors. One of the reasons this was made possible was because the Mayor of the city Francisco de la Torre Prados has been a strong proponent of building Málaga’s reputation as a smart city in order to attract in jobs and reduce Málaga’s 30% unemployment rate. Here’s hoping he succeeds.

Apart from this panel discussion, there were also briefings at the event covering all kinds of topics from data center energy management, to social business and most interesting (to me) one titled “Technologies which will change the world” – more on that in another post.

IBM analyst events are always a great reminder of the breadth of IBM’s interests, and this event was no exception to that pattern. My only quibble with the event would be I’d have preferred the smarter cities panel to have taken the form of a briefing, but given they had customers presenting, I can see how that would have been difficult.

[Full disclosure – IBM paid for my travel (train) and accommodation expenses to attend this event]

Image credit nicadlr

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IBM and ESB develop IT system for smart electric vehicle charging in Ireland

Electric vehicle charging

In August 2010 I was given the chance to test drive a pre-production model Nissan Leaf in Ireland. I was totally taken with the experience, so it was with a certain amount of delight I read last week that IBM and ESB eCars were collaborating to implement a country-wide smart charging IT system for electric vehicles in Ireland.

ESB Networks has so-far approximately 1,000 electric vehicle public charging points currently available, with a target of installing 1,500 on-street charge points and 30 fast charge points. ESB also have Android and iPhone mobile phone apps to help drivers locate charge points throughout the country.

The IT system being created by IBM and ESB will allow drivers to access, charge and pay for a car charge using an identification card. According to the release:

Electric vehicle parking place

The IBM EV platform will enable EV drivers to select convenient payment options and access all charge-points using one ID card – a process that will aggregate usage costs and simplify billing. This smart charging capability allows consumers to charge anywhere at anytime, regardless of their electricity provider and without the need to carry multiple access cards. Additionally, drivers will also have the option to use a mobile device or browser to locate the nearest charge post, check its availability, and make a reservation if the post is available.

This gives tremendous flexibility and ease of use to drivers of electric vehicles, while also providing valuable data to utilities on energy usage. This usage data will allow better forecasting of demand and help balance the load on the power grid as well as help ESB Networks to monitor the health and status of the charge-points to ensure service reliability.

The changeover to a national fleet of electric vehicles is always going to be a difficult proposition which will take considerable time and faces the familiar chicken and egg issue. However a move like this from ESB and IBM will certainly help reduce the chicken and egg issue somewhat and should contribute to a faster adoption of electric vehicles in Ireland.

Full disclosure – IBM and ESB Ireland are not GreenMonk clients (though in the past IBM has commissioned work from GreenMonk).

Image credits Tom Raftery