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

Smart Grid Heavy Hitters – Jon Wellinghoff, Chair of US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – part 2

Jon Wellinghoff is the Chairman of the United States Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) – the FERC is the agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil.

I recorded an interview with Jon a few weeks back. The resulting video was too good to reduce to a single piece, so I split it into two. I published the first part of the interview a couple of weeks ago, this is part two.

In this second video we discussed:

  • Why it is a good thing for utilities that customers consume less electricity – 0:36
  • How smart grids help increase the penetration of renewables on the grid – 2:12
  • How electric vehicle owners are being paid up to $3,600 per annum to provide regulation services for utilities while charging! – 2:54
  • How renewable energy sources can be used as baseload power (no coal or nuclear baseload need ever be built) – 4:34

Smart Grid Heavy Hitter series – Silver Springs Networks’ Raj Vaswani

This is the third of my Smart Grid Heavy Hitters’ interviews, and in it I talked to the CTO of Silver Springs Networks, Raj Vaswani.

It was a great interview – in it we talked about:

  • Raj’s definition and the benefits of a Smart Grid
  • The fact that, to-date Smart Grids are quite notional
  • How long it will be before home energy portals, vehicle to grid, and similar technologies will emerge and
  • The differences between Europe and the US in terms of Smart Grid rollouts

I wanted to go on for longer but unfortunately we ran out of time!

GreenMonk Energy and Sustainability post for 22nd Feb

greenmonktv on Broadcast Live Free

We had a great Energy and Sustainability show today – in case you were unable to make it, I recorded the video (above) and the chatstream (below):

Tom Raftery :
Kicking off the show in a sec

cgarvey :

Cheers Tom .. I’m still stuck back at the smart meters link .. loads of links to digest. Ta!

raphael :

thanks tom

Tom Raftery :

Thanks everyone, as always, Tom

Would you buy a car if you had an option to (electric) car share?

Photo Credit Cayetano

I live in Seville, Spain and this town has a wonderful community bike rental program called Sevici. This is run by the town council and JCDecaux and use of these bicycles is free for the first 30 minutes and in the order of €1 per hour thereafter.

You use an RFID card to access the bicycles and you take bikes from, and return them to stations throughout the city like the one in the photo above. When you return the bike to a station, it is automatically recognised and locked.

Now what if you took this concept and married it with the idea of Car Sharing? And, what if all the cars in the car sharing program were electric (or plug-in hybrids) so that when you returned the car to its station, it plugged itself in and started to charge?

While a model like this wouldn’t work well in a suburban area, if you lived in a city center and had access to something like this, you might never need to buy a car. For cities trying to reduce their levels of pollution, levels of congestion or their carbon footprint, a scheme like this would seem to be a very appropriate step to consider.

A plan like this could also help with electricity grid stabilisation using vehicle to grid technologies.

Would you buy a car if you had an option to (electric) car share?

A giant distributed battery for the country?

Toyota Prius plug-in
Photo Credit geognerd

Having just taken delivery today of my Toyota Prius and having just read the Rocky Mountain Institute’s (RMI) fabulous report on Vehicle to Grid possibilities, I decided it was time to address a post to this topic.

First off, what is vehicle to grid? Vehicle to Grid (or V2G) is the idea that plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) could be used to help stabilise electrical grids by consuming power when there is an excess of electricity, and selling electricity back to the grid when electricity is scarce.

The supply of electricity is variable. All the moreso as the concentration of renewable sources added to grid increases. When this variability of supply is combined with the constant variability of demand the result is an extremely unstable grid and the occasional resultant power outage. This instability increases with the addition of more renewable sources (wind and solar).

Early on summer mornings (2am to 6am) is the typical trough of demand for electricity. As more and more wind farms are added to the grid, if there is a steady wind blowing at this time, there is a very real possibility that the amount of energy being supplied by wind farms will exceed the demand! With an excess of demand over supply the price for electricity will go extremely low or even negative to stimulate demand. At this time, if there are a large number of PHEVs connected to the grid, they can pull down the excess power and store it. In other words, they start to act like a giant distributed battery bank for the country.

The following day, if there is little wind and the temperature is high (not unusual in summer) the supply of electricity will be low and the demand for power will be high as people turn on their air conditioning units. With low supply and high demand, electricity will now be quite expensive. At this time, it would make economic sense for PHEV owners to sell the electricity stored in their vehicles back to the grid.

Furthermore, as the RMI report put it:

Utilities sell a disproportional amount of their power on hot summer afternoons. At night, business plummets. For the utility, that means their expensive generation and transmission equipment stands idle. “Night-charging” vehicles, therefore, could be a lucrative twist on the business of selling electrons.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently estimated that if half the nation’s light vehicles were ordinary plug-in hybrids they would represent a night-charging market of 230 gigawatts. That’s good news for the U.S. wind industry. In many areas, wind tends to blow harder at night, creating more energy when the vehicles would be charging.

All this requires the implementation of smart grids by utilities. These grids will be able to signal the cost of electricity (reflecting the supply and demand) in real-time and devices (vehicles, air-conditioning units, diesel generators, refrigeration plants) will respond to the price fluctuations accordingly so that when electricity is expensive, the demand will drop and supply will be stimulated to increase.

Smart grid trials are already taking place with Enel in Italy having rolled out a smart grid to 27.2m Italian residences! In the US, Austin Energy has been working on building its smart grid since 2003 while Xcel Energy announced its plans to build the first fully integrated “Smart Grid City” in the nation in Boulder, Colorado.

To get this vision to become a reality, consumers will have to be incentivised to buy PHEVs. This might be done by governments, or by utilities who contract with the vehicle owner to subsidise the price of the car, for the use of the battery when needed!

Governments could help push this forward by mandating that all government owned vehicles be PHEVs (though the police might want a derogation until there are high performance PHEVs!).

Car manufacturers also need to produce PHEVs! Toyota will bring the first plug-in Prius to market in 2009 and Renault Nissan have committed to producing electric vehicles for Israel and Denmark. With oil now at $140 per barrel and not looking likely to drop significantly in the coming years, the number of people looking to buy PHEVs will only trend upwards.

Then there are the environmental benefits of large fleets of cars not emitting CO2 for large portions of their journeys. And the resultant grid stability would enable greater penetration of wind power, producing (typically) more power overnight, just when PHEVs would normally be recharging.

What about you? If you could by a plug-in hybrid which would help stabilise the grid, increase the penetration of renewables, and allow you to sell power back to the grid, would you?