Technology for Good – episode 12

Welcome to episode twelve of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s show we had two guests Chris Adams, and Kartik Kanakasabesan. Given the week that was in it with the Heartbleed bug, and the Samsung releases, there were plenty of stories around security and Wearables.

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

Climate

Energy

Cloud

Wearables

Security

Internet of Things (IoT)

Misc

Technology for Good – episode eleven

Welcome to episode eleven of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s show our special guest was unable to make it due to looming deadlines, so I did the show solo. Given the week that was in it with Microsoft’s Build conference taking place, there were plenty of stories stemming from Microsoft’s various announcements, but there was also a ton of other news, as always.

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

Climate

Cloud

Renewables

WiFi

Apps

Social

Internet of Things

Open

Misc

Technology for Good – episode ten

Welcome to episode ten of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s show we had special guest Bill Higgins, who works on IBM’s Cloud & Smarter Infrastructure. Given the week that was in it with Google’s slashing of cloud computing pricing, and Facebook’s purchase of Oculus Rift, there were plenty of stories about cloud computing and social networks.

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

Climate

Renewables

Cloud

Social

Open

Internet of Things

Misc

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.

Technology for Good – Episode seven

In episode 7 of the Technology for Good hangout we had many great news stories to cover, and some great live discussions using the comments on the event page. The links to the stories are below.

As always, if you know of any stories you think we should cover, or someone we should be talking to, feel free to get in touch (@tomraftery on Twitter, or tom at redmonk.com on good old-fashioned email!).

And, here as promised, are the stories which made the cut for episode 7 of the Technology for Good hangout:

Climate change – doom and gloom

And now on with the good news!!!

Smart grid and renewables

Smart health and wearables

Security

Mobile

Transportation

Efficiency

Miscellaneous

Follow @TomRaftery

Internet of things, wind turbines and ThingMonk the conference.

Back in 2009 I remember attending Logica’s analyst day in Lisbon and being very impressed with their Renewables Management System (RMS) – a windfarm management desktop application which was at the time managing a live feed of 300-400 data points from 2,000 wind turbines all over the Iberian peninsula.

Logica has since gone through a merger/acquisition process and is now known as CGI. I’m not sure what the status of their RMS solution is now, but I was reminded of it when I attended SAP TechEd in Las Vegas recently.

At the event SAP’s Benjamin Wesson gave me a demonstration of an internet of things (IoT) solution SAP have developed. The demo app, as can be seen in the video above, showcases how a windfarm manager can manage remote (even offshore) windturbines, see the status of any errors, create/manage trouble tickets, see schematics, and deploy resources based on proximity and availability. All from a tablet.

As we head into an era where more and more devices are being connected to the Internet, creating this Internet of Things, we enter a time when we can interact with and control everything from large offshore windfarms, to light switches in our home, from our device of choice (computer, tablet, smartphone).

The implications of this are still far from clear, but it is plain to see that apart from the legitimate security and privacy concerns, the ability to measure and take charge of equipment at all times from wherever has massive potential ramifications for efficiency. Everything from “Did I leave the light on?”, to, “Do I need to alter the angle of that blade on that 6MW wind turbine in the North Atlantic?” can now be asked and answered from the screen of your device of choice.

If you want to learn more about the Internet of Things, I recommend you head along to our ThingMonk conference in London on Dec 3rd next. Benjamin Wesson will be speaking there, as will some other awesome speakers, and there’ll be great demo’s as well.

And if you can’t make it along, we plan to video as many of the talks as possible for subsequent publication.

SAP’s 2011 Sustainability Report

SAP 2011 Sustainability Report

SAP launched its 2011 Sustainability Report this week and in terms of aesthetics and social sharing, this is one of the best Sustainability Reports I have seen to-date.

The site contains many videos with SAP staff – including one from co-CEO’s Jim Hagemann Snabe & Bill McDermott which is featured prominently on the home page. Interestingly there are also several customer reference videos as well with the customers vouching for how SAP have helped them become more sustainable.

There are also many blog posts and interesting stories from SAP employees talking about everything from Materiality, through to Electric Vehicles.

There is a whole section in the report dedicated to how SAP Empowers its customers. It includes customer video testimonials, white papers and some very impressive top line figures for savings (“5.7 million tons of estimated carbon reductions, saving $550 million in energy costs”). However the methodology for producing these data is not gone into in any detail in this section. I contacted SAP to voice my concerns about this and they assured me that in the next couple of weeks the report will be updated to include the methodologies, and the story around producing this innovative section of the report.

SAP's progress on sustainability

As you’d expect from SAP, there’s also a lot of data in the report on how they are doing on their journey to sustainability and it’s mostly positive results. Almost all of their numbers are headed in the right direction. Unfortunately the exceptions to this are in the environmental area with increases in Data Centre Energy, Total Energy consumed and SAP’s Greenhouse Gas Footprint.

On the data centre energy front, the energy increase is both in real terms, and in kWh per employee. This is likely due to SAP increasingly hosting customers data and applications through their cloud offerings. What might be interesting here would be to see a kWh per cloud customer metric, or similar. Also, one would suspect that there should be a net reduction in energy consumption for that application, if it is replacing a customer’s pre-existing on-premises application. There could be some interesting data to mine there around energy wins.

On the Total Energy Consumed page you see that energy consumption has increased from 843GWh in 2010 to 860GWh in 2011. In the report it attributes this to growth in the business (SAP bought SucessFactors during this period) but the lack of a kWh per Employee metric on this page makes this hard to verify.

On the Greenhouse Gas page, we again see an increase in emissions from the 453kTons 2010 figure to 490kTons in 2011. On this page, it is possible to see a By Employee figure and here too we see an increase in emissions from 8.7 tons per employee in 2010 to 9.0 tons in 2011. However, when we look at the emissions by ? revenue, we see a fall, from 36.3g/? in 2010 to 34.4g/? in 2011. 2011 was a good year for SAP, from a revenue perspective, it would appear.

On the upside, SAP has increased its use of renewable energy from 45% to 47%. Not a huge increase, to be sure, but at least this environmental metric is going in the right direction.

I mentioned that the site has a lot of social sharing built into it – there’s a “Share this page” on every page which allows you to share that page on your social network of choice (or print, or email!). However, in terms of interactivity, the report seems to have regressed. In the 2010 report, there was the ability to comment directly on any page, to rate comments, and see conversations taking place about the page, directly on the page. This functionality has been removed completely from the 2011 report, and to be honest, the report is the poorer for its removal. Browsing other readers comments on pages is always a superb way to gain others insights into the page content – both for consumers of the report, as well as for SAP.

From a UI perspective there are several glitches on the site (some rollovers not working; external links and links to PDF’s not made obvious; and inconsistent use of pretty permalinks etc.) but these are minor quibbles and easily fixed.

The 2010 report doubled individual visitors over the 2009 report, with the 2010 report receiving over 60,000 readers. SAP tell me they are aiming to maintain that progress and have over 120,000 visitors to this, the 2011 report. One huge advantage of having the report in the form of a website, is of course the invaluable data stream you receive from the visitor analytics to the report. Something which is impossible to achieve with a PDF.

On the whole, SAP’s 2011 report, with the removal of the interactivity and the increased energy and emissions, seems to have faltered slightly in terms of the tremendous progress it had been making to-date. To put that in perspective, SAP’s 2011 report is still one of the better produced sustainability reports.

For the 2011 report I’ll have to grade it as “very good, but could do better”.

Photo Credit Tom Raftery

Facebook hires Google’s former Green Energy Czar Bill Weihl, and increases its commitment to renewables

Christina Page, Yahoo & Bill Weihl, Google - Green:Net 2011

Google has had an impressive record in renewable energy. They invested over $850m dollars in renewable energy projects to do with geothermal, solar and wind energy. They entered into 20 year power purchase agreements with wind farm producers guaranteeing to buy their energy at an agreed price for twenty years giving the wind farms an income stream with which to approach investors about further investment and giving Google certainty about the price of their energy for the next twenty years – a definite win-win.

Google also set up RE < C – an ambitious research project looking at ways to make renewable energy cheaper than coal (unfortunately this project was shelved recently).

And Google set up a company called Google Energy to trade energy on the wholesale market. Google Energy buys renewable energy from renewable producers and when it has an excess over Google’s requirements, it sells this energy and gets Renewable Energy Certificates for it.

All hugely innovative stuff and all instituted under the stewardship of Google’s Green Energy Czar, Bill Weihl (on the right in the photo above).

However Bill, who left Google in November, is now set to start working for Facebook this coming January.

Facebook’s commitment to renewable energy has not been particularly inspiring to-date. They drew criticism for the placement of their Prineville data center because, although it is highly energy efficient, it sources its electricity from PacificCorp, a utility which mines 9.6 million tons of coal every year! Greenpeace mounted a highly visible campaign calling on Facebook to unfriend coal using Facebook’s own platform.

The campaign appears to have been quite successful – Facebook’s latest data center announcement has been about the opening of their latest facility in Lulea, Sweden. The data center, when it opens in 2012, will source most of its energy from renewable sources and the northerly latitudes in Lulea means it will have significant free cooling at its disposal.

Then in December of this year (2011) Facebook and Greenpeace issued a joint statement [PDF] where they say:

Facebook is committed to supporting the development of clean and renewable sources of energy, and our goal is to power all of our operations with clean and renewable energy.

In the statement Facebook commits to adopting a data center siting policy which states a preference for clean and renewable energy and crucially, they also commit to

Engaging in a dialogue with our utility providers about increasing the supply of clean energy that power Facebook data centers

So, not alone will Facebook decide where their future data centers will be located, based on the availability of renewable energy, but Facebook will encourage its existing utility providers to increase the amount of renewables in their mix. This is a seriously big deal as it increases the demand for renewable energy from utilities. As more and more people and companies demand renewable energy, utilities will need to source more renewable generation to meet this demand.

And all of this is before Google’s former Green Energy Czar officially joins Facebook this coming January.

If Bill Weihl can bring the amount of innovation and enthusiasm to Facebook that he engendered in Google, we could see some fascinating energy announcements coming from Facebook in the coming year.

Photo credit Jaymi Heimbuch

Why would you feature oil companies as customer references?

Oiled Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation

The BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico was, unfortunately, far from being an isolated incident. Chevron in Ecuador, Shell in Nigeria, Exxon in Alaska – name me an oil company and I’ll name you an environmental disaster. And, it appears that some of them are responsible for funding, climate change denial.

And yet at a number of conferences I’ve been at recently, oil companies have been mentioned as customer references from the podium. From my position as an advocate of green measures, that irks.

Hasso Plattner keynoting the Sapphire Now conference

At SAP’s Sapphire Now conference last week for example, during the keynotes given by Vishal Sikka, CTO, and Hasso Plattner, Chair and co-founder of SAP, three oil companies were featured. And this is a company which is going to great pains to establish a reputation for itself as being being Sustainable.

It is not like SAP were short of customer references – there were probably north of 30 customers shown between the two back-to-back keynotes. No-one would have complained if there were three less.

So, they had oil companies, ok, well to counter that how many of the other customer companies represented were renewable generators? Not one. Not a single one.

C’mon guys, it’s not like renewable generators have a shortage of big data – I remember on visiting Logica’s center of excellence in Lisbon seeing their windfarm management application. They told me that a typical turbine outputs around 250 data points per minute and that particular application was managing over 2,000 wind turbines.

Leaving Logica aside, there are plenty of other well known companies heavily involved in renewables who could have been showcased – think Siemens, Vestas, Samsung, Mitsubishi, Iberdrola, Hyundai, GE, Gamesa, and Alstom for wind energy; then there’s Bosch, Sharp, and Sanyo for solar, for example.

In fairness to SAP, one of their demos, from UK energy retailer Centrica, was a Smart Meter Analytics demo where Centrica was able to utilise the analytics to help consumers reduce their power consumption – more on which in another post.

And, I should not ignore that fact that oil companies such as BP have invested in renewables but is that where their focus really is? SAP is pushing the sustainability agenda and for that they should be given credit. But… show us the evidence in the real world of customers that SAP is supporting.

That’s how you gain credibility.

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Photo credit NOAA’s National Ocean Service

The International SAP for Utilities event – focus on renewables and in-memory computing

Joschka Fischer

I attended the International SAP for Utilities event in Mannheim recently. This was the fourth SAP for Utilities event I have attended and it was by far the best. This was the first time I was attending the event as a speaker, not just an analyst and that may well have coloured my opinion of the event, but I don’t think so, to be honest. Why?

Well, there were two main take-aways for me from the event

  1. There was a much higher focus on renewables and
  2. There was a lot of discussion of in-memory computing

And neither of those had anything to do with the topic of my own talk (The New Power of the Customer’s Voice).

I knew I was in for an interesting conference when the opening keynote was from Joschka Fischer. Fischer used his keynote to make a blistering attack on the nuclear industry. Fischer, the former German vice-chancellor and Foreign Minister said “we must say goodbye to nuclear energy – it is not safe, and we don’t know the costs”. He went on to state that Germany “is going to phase out of nuclear energy”. Bear in mind that many of the utilities who were in the room would have significant nuclear plants in their generation fleet.

What will Germany use to replace its nuclear power? Renewables and energy efficiency will be key, he said. Germany will need super grids and a smart grid with gas as a backup technology (from diverse regions because, he said, Russia is not a reliable source).

In his opening keynote, Klaus Heimann, apart from talking up two new SAP Energy Management products, declared that “more than ever before we wish we could generate all of our electricity from renewables” and he went on to assert that “if we spent our resources learning how to capture and store natural power, we’d be in a very different place now”.

And this was the first two talks of the conference!

SAP Research director Orestis Terzidis

SAP Research director Orestis Terzidis

Scarcely a talk went by without some reference to renewables – understandable given that this was taking place in the immediate aftermath of the Fukashima nuclear disaster.

The most data-rich talk on renewables, perhaps not surprisingly, came from Orestis Terzidis, VP SAP Research EMEA. He referenced peer-reviewed research throughout his presentation to make his case that large-scale wind, water and solar systems can reliably supply all of the world’s energy needs at reasonable cost.

Interestingly, on the renewables front SAP has put its money where its mouth is. From SAP’s independently verified Sustainability Report you can see that SAP increased its purchase of renewable energy from 16% in 2009 to 48% in 2010.

Nice – obviously 100% would be better than the current 48% but renewables are not available for purchase in all geographies. Yet.

The other core topic heavily referenced in the event was in-memory computing (In-memory computing moves data off traditional storage and into RAM, providing a performance boost over reading data off disks).

Given that utility companies deploying smart grids will be moving from a maximum of one meter read per month to a situation where they will have more data coming from smart meters (more data fields) and coming in more often (one read every 15 minutes means around 2,880 reads per month), utilities are about to face in influx of data like they have never seen before.

In-memory computing is a natural fit for performing any kind of real-time analytics on this tidal-wave of data. Not surprising then that one of SAP’s first in-memory products is going to be a Smart Meter Analytics for Utilities solution.

The next SAP for Utilities event will be the US one this coming September in San Antonio. Given that this one was so good – the pressure is really on conference organisers The Eventful Group to try to exceed, or even just to match this conference.

Full Disclosure – SAP are a GreenMonk client and SAP paid for me to attend and speak at the SAP for Utilities event.

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Photo credit Tom Raftery