How Green Dialysis Could Save Tens of Thousands of Lives per year

Understanding how processes and systems act on one another is key to sustainable living. Sustainability means living without externalities – because everything we do, as individuals, organisations or companies has a cost and an environmental impact. There is a clear parallel with healthcare- which requires a deep understanding of how processes and systems act on one another. Now a research project at Geelong hospital in Victoria, Australia aims to extend healthcare models directly into the environment, and vice-versa.

Associate Professor John Agar, the Director of Renal Services at Barwon Health, said:

?Dialysis is the most water and power-hungry of any individual medical therapy.?

Each dialysis patient treatment uses more than 400 litres of water and 6 kWh of electricity. But Geelong is now using water recycling and solar power to afford the same level of care with a far lower environmental impact. Indeed the dialysis department further reduces its cost by selling excess power from its solar panels to the electricity grid. Healthcare meets smart grids. Makes sense. The idea of demand response in dialysis might strike you as somehow unethical, but what could be more ethical than effectively lowering the costs of healthcare to the broadest range of patients? Of course solar power doens’t make sense in all geographies, but it certainly does in many regions of the world. And there might be alternative, on the Eastern Sea-board, or the UK- namely wind or tidal.

Hat tip to Fresenius Healthcare, the German renal treatment company behind the initiative. Seems the German government feedin tariffs for solar power are showing real benefits in unexpected areas. Subsidise solar to subsidise healthcare… I said there were no externalities in sustainability, didn’t I?

However – its certainly not all good news for Fresenius. As a major provider of renal care in the US the company has to be horrified by the appalling record of dialysis related deaths. According to a new ProPublica story in the Atlantic.

?Every year, more than 100,000 Americans start dialysis. One in four of them will die within 12 months?a fatality rate that is one of the worst in the industrialized world.

The article is pretty horrific. The problem, sadly, is poor sanitation and an assembly line mentality to healthcare driven by the need to cut costs. Clearly we have a long long way to go before dialysis can be considered properly sustainable… and offer safer outcomes and decent quality of life to patients. Step one to improving margins and so reducing the cost-cutting mentality in dialysis care may well be reducing the costs of water and power.

It really is all connected.


Smart Grid FUD: Its time to cut the crap

Greenmonk spends most of its time researching smart grid approaches and deployments.? I hired Tom Raftery largely because of his visionary take on the future of energy networks – Electricity 2.0. So you can imagine how happy I am that smart grid stimulus funds are being aggressively spent… on antivirus and encryption software. Yay – that’s just the market we want to track.

The “security industry” just loves to sell FUD. Its what they do. But the almost ghoulish lip-smacking around smart grids as the next great revenue opportunity is really off-putting. Is security important in a distributed energy network? Of course- but really its a small part of the puzzle, not the prize itself. With all this in mind I really enjoyed a post from EMC’s RSA stable this week. A guy called Sam Curry explains that customers are getting wise to the FUD, or are at least bored of it.

Sam: so?how’s your SmartMeter deployment going?
Security Director (SD): great! we’re rolling out about 1,000 a month
Sam: so, which ones are you using?
Sam: great, great, I heard they’re implementing encryption into their products
SD: yeah, I heard about that; but it’s not in the meters yet
Sam: ah — so what are you using for encryption?
SD: nothing
Sam: <gasp>
SD: uh, oh — here comes the FUD

And then it hit me?most of the time security people come in and try to scare customers and partners. What’s the point in that? Well?it’s a confidence scam. You scare people with FUD and then you comfort them with your brand

Sam seems like a good guy, a smart guy, and he understands that the real goal, the carrot as he calls it, is the hope of “better, greener power generation”. The real train wreck though will be our economies if we can’t fix some pressing energy concerns. The RSA post is excellent, and of course utilities need to rethink their entire risk profile and processes, just as IT does in the age of the internet. I am going to ping Sam and talk to RSA’s real smart grid offerings, so expect an update in the near future.

I want to start getting under the skin of smart grid deployments, and make sure we’re not substituting real smart grid innovation with unrelated product and service purchasing. After all- those stimulus funds… that’s our money. So we should be scrutinising the spend. There has to be more to smartgrids than AV.


Dude – Where’s My Customer? On Telcos, Utilities and Smart Grids. Towards a “SIM Card” for Smart Grids

SIM card reader
We had a really solid briefing with Convergys today. The firm sells software and services to telcos and utilities for customer care and billing – it has 80k employees worldwide, 550+ clients, and $3bn in revenue.

According to Greenmonk research most?utilities are failing to understand the the need to put the customer right at the center of their Smart Grid strategies. I pushed Kit Hagen, senior director of marketing, on the issue and he came back with a strong response.

“We often see utilities refer to IT as “the meter to cash process”- there is no customer in that. They’re calling the customer a meter.

Now you’re not going to just have disaggregated generation, but potentially a bunch of devices sitting behind the meter itself, and utilities should want to understand whats going on there. The world doesn’t end at the smart meter: think of kitchen appliances, for example.

This is an area the utilities need to start addressing. We can enable the technology, we can help the utilities…”

Electricity microgeneration, supported, for example, by feedin tariffs. How would a utility handle that from a billing perspective, send out two bills – one for consumption and one for production?

Kit’s colleague Mary Ann Tillman, director of product marketing, offered up a near perfect analogy for the kinds of challenge we’ll need to fix – mobile phones and SIM cards.

“Think of roaming. We need the same model for electric vehicles. How is someone that travels from London to Edinburgh in their EV going to be billed for recharging?”

Great analogy Mary – and that’s just within the UK… what about Pan-European requirements? For context – in case you have missed it, it turns out that EVs are one of the promising distributed storage mechanisms- the car battery becomes part of a “virtual utility”, as per Better Place.?We’re going to need the equivalent of GSM, and SIM card standards to support smart grid ecosystems of networked devices.

Not to put too fine a point on it – wireless communications companies are rather more used to this kind of model than traditional utilities, which could prove to be a competitive advantage. The role of the traditional utility billing engine fundamentally changes in smart grids – its definitely time to start refactoring these systems. T-Mobile is already driving a SIM to smart grid integration strategy.

Top down, customer takes what we give them just won’t work in smart grids. Roaming puts the customer first, and “number portability” will have to be part of the model. As we have been saying lately – smart grids and wireless networking are converging.

disclosure: Convergys is not a client.


Power Companies and Smart Grids: a Greenmonk link roundup

One of our prospects asked about relevant Greenmonk research? in her space- that is: utility company customer care and billing. So Tom compiled a few links and fired them over. It seems to me though that you might also find the roundup interesting. So here are some links showing you the kind of thing Greenmonk is thinking and researching about in terms of Smart Grids and how they will affect utility companies and their customers:


Grid Watch: smartgrids meet smartcomms

New Meter

We have pointed to the ongoing convergence of wireless communications and smart grids before, for example in this video about Tropos Networks and in Tom’s stump pitch on sustainability and mobility, but some news from this week throws the trend into stark relief.

Carbon Trust investments, the VC arm of a non-profit organisation working to lower the UK’s carbon emissions just announced it is to invest in a network management company called Arieso.

Why would Carbon Trust do that? After all, what does mobile network optimisation have to do with energy management? According to the newenergyworldnetwork story:

Rachael Nutter of CT Investment Partners said, ?Energy consumption in mobile phone base stations is a significant proportion of the opex of mobile operators, as high as 50 per cent in the most extreme cases.

That’s the thing about sustainability – it doesn’t need to be seen as a cost center… rather it can, and should be, part of optimisation activities. Lower carbon, lower energy, cheaper mobile roll-outs. What’s not to like?

If you’ve been following GreenMonk for a while you should know we’re wedded to bottom up sustainability approaches – “from the roots up” as we call it, which is one reason we’ve sponsored, and contributed to the awesome UK HomeCamp community, founded by Chris Dalby, who now works at UK smartmeter firm Current Cost. Seems things are moving along there too.

One of the key players attempting to drive home automation as an activity for “civilians” is ZigBee. It just started working with GreenPeak, which specialises in ultra low power mobile silicon chips, designed to be used in battery-free devices. [See a theme emerging? ;-)] No batteries isn’t just a lower carbon play though- it also means less heavy metals and toxic chemicals. What’s the news? GreenPeak is now Zigbee compliant.

Finally some smart grid news.

Swiss smart meter player just took $165m in new funding.

Could be smart timing.

The Climate Group, sponsored by GE, Google, HP, Intel, Nokia and others? just called on Barack Obama to adopt a goal of providing every household with real time information about their electricity use.

Meanwhile last week Microsoft hohm and Ford announced they are working together on home energy to Electric Vehicle management and integration, to help people that own these EVs charge them cost effectively. Its worth pointing to one of my favourite GreenMonk interviews in that light- we talk to Greg Frenette of Ford about EV smart grid convergence.

It really is time to run the first HomeCamp US!

Ironically enough, when I searched for a creativecommons attribution only shot of a smartmeter i found one from my colleague Michael Cot? in Austin. His utility called it a smartmeter, but unless he? has access to the data generated I don’t see how it deserves the name. But that’s a subject for a different blog, and indeed a line of Greenmonk research.

The really keen eyed among you may have noticed how many of the links above come from newnet news. No accident. I love the feed. Its like a shot of good news tequila every morning – something to warm your spirits.