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Archive: smart grid

January 4th, 2011 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Art & Society, Business & Economy, Environment & Energy, Science & Tech | Comments Off

Outlook 2011

rear view mirror

Before we offer forecasts for 2011, let’s review how we did with Outlook 2010

Aging
2010 was indeed the final year of preparation for the age wave, but we made only modest progress in getting ready. The U.S. Health Care bill was the most positive step, as it included some needed adjustments to Medicare, and has the promise of restraining the cost of health care a bit. But as the year closed and the U.S. election took place, 2010 ended with the promise of threats to the social safety net in the U.S. austerity became the new mantra. This echos the political mood in Europe as well. Summary: The forecast was correct, but the policy reaction to the forecast fell short.

Technology
3D was indeed the primary technology development of the year, including the availability of 3D video recorders for personal video production. The consumer uptake of 3D was slow, as the technology was still new and content only now being widely developed. The $100 Genome did not appear in 2010, and in fact now looks perhaps four to ten years off. Summary: The 3D forecast was correct (and is now a common forecast of tech observers for 2011), while the $100 Genome was off-base.

Energy
I suggested that 2010 may be the year, and that the coming decade would certainly be the decade, when we discover that peak oil, defined as the moment when world oil production reaches its historical maximum, was imminent. However, 2010 saw increases in oil discoveries, and a continued slowing of demand growth, such that many experts now believe the peak may be several decades off. The International Energy Agency agrees when looking at supplies, but believes a peak in production could come sooner depending on government policies. 2010 did see intensified interest in alternative energy as forecast, particularly electric cars. Natural gas discoveries were enhanced by the process known as fracking, but, as forecast, the issue of long-term contamination of ground water became more controversial. Summary: Results were mixed – we learned more about Peak Oil, but the timing is more uncertain now than before.

Economy and Jobs
I forecast that 2010 would be a year of slow job growth in the U.S., but in contrast to most observers at the time, argued that we are not in for a period of jobless growth. In fact more than one million non-government jobs were created in 2010, the most since 2006. But this made barely a dent in unemployment figures. I also predicted a better than expected economic recovery in 2010, which by year-end looked accurate but barely. Still not robust, but better than expected. Summary: An accurate forecast as job growth accelerated but slowly. Long-term implications for recreating the 8 million jobs lost in the recession still look positive but will take years. This time, for the first time, it could be that replacement of workers via greater efficiency based on information technology will have a permanent impact.

future bench

Forecasts for 2011

Demographics and Social Policy
The age wave, which hit shore on January 1, 2011, becomes a big story finally, but unfortunately in a misleading way. There will be a concerted effort to use the age wave and government deficits to justify an effort to permanently cripple Social Security in the U.S. It is true that the Social Security Trust Fund is “where the money is” when you look at available tax money in the U.S. But it is not true, and never has been, that Social Security is on the verge of bankruptcy, or requires massive changes. Simply leaving things as they are enables a full payout of benefits until 2037. Minor changes like an increase in Social Security taxes of 1/20th of a percent per year for 20 years would make the system self-sustaining longer term. The key problem now is deciding what the Federal Government can stop spending on in order to repay the taxes borrowed from the Trust Fund for general use since the Reagan “reforms” of the early 1980′s. There are only two realistic ways to create pools of money that are large enough – either raising general tax rates, or substantially decreasing military spending. Preserving Social Security in the U.S. will be more important than ever, as a declining percentage of aging workers will have company pension programs, and the self-funded 401K programs designed to take their place are both very insecure and on average too small to provide a reasonable retirement for more than half the population. A monumental fight over Social Security looms and the outcome will determine whether the U.S. slips back into significant poverty among the aged.

Technology
3D will continue to grow in the consumer space, but the biggest tech story of 2011 will be explosive growth of tablet computing. Tablets and smart phones will become the most common access devices for the Net by the end of the year.

The Smart Grid will be the biggest large-scale technology issue of the year, as the electricity industry moves more aggressively toward a smarter distribution system. A big issue will be developing the human resources needed to build the smart grid. The other large-scale technology issue will be the continued lagging of the U.S. compared to the global economic tigers in 21st Century development of high-speed transportation systems and hubs. The U.S. will need to get out of its current “can’t do” attitude soon, but this will not happen in 2011 given the political climate.

Environment
2011 will likely be a hot year once again, but the confusing weather signals that result, combined with the deliberate political confusion sown by those who want no aggressive climate policies mean that 2011 will see little progress on national and international policies to slow down climate change. But, interestingly, 2011 will see the most aggressive actions yet by private industry to improve their own profitability by adopting sustainable energy and environmental practices. This includes especially the production of more energy efficient autos, buildings, and appliances.

Energy
A consensus will form that Peak Oil is further in the future than thought a few years ago, unless there are policy decisions to decrease or eliminate the government subsidies provided to conventional fossil fuel production and to price the carbon emissions that come from burning fossil fuels. Since such policies are unlikely, growth in the production and use of fossil fuels is likely. Oil will approach $100 a barrel again, but stay a bit short as producing countries work very hard to keep the price around $90-95.

Economy
As we move through 2011 an economic recovery will gather momentum both nationally and globally. We are likely to see continued global growth in places like China of nearly 10%, in the U.S. of 3-4% and in Europe of 2-3%. In the U.S. this will mean job growth on the order of 1.5 to 2 million new jobs, still far short of “normal” growth after a recession, but as much as twice as good as 2010, which was the best year since 2006. However, gross GDP and employment statistics will tend to miss the deeper stories as the next economy emerges. One question which will become clearer during 2011 is whether we have indeed “reset” the economy, particularly in the U.S., at a lower, more frugal level. About half of the unemployed who found work in 2010 have begun new jobs paying less than the job they had lost in the recession. The other critical story is the continued bifurcation of the new economy into the very wealthy and the poor, with a loss of the middle class. Such a trend, if it continues, takes civilization back toward ancient times when such a split was the norm. Recent research has suggested that such societies are less happy, less stable, and less secure. It does not look like 2011 will be a year in which this trend is confronted, but eventually it must be addressed though social and economic policy.

Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, author, consultant, blogger, internet video host and Founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.

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May 29th, 2009 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Business & Economy, Environment & Energy, Innovation, Science & Tech | Comments Off

World on FiRe – Notes & Impressions from FiRe 2009

Last week included four eventful days at the annual Future In Review conference put on by the Strategic News Service. This year, the last at the San Diego Del Coronado was the best of the five I have attended, of the eight that have been held. (full disclosure – I am on the planning committee offering my thoughts as a futurist consultant and speaker).

What began as a high level conference about the 5-year future of technology has become over time a 360-degree look at the issues and challenges facing the world, the near term potentials in technology, and the need for concerted system-wide action to produce a more just and prosperous world. This is quite an evolution and has made the FiRe conference one of the most influential global events each year.

You can read more about FiRe 2009 here, and also learn how to register for FiRe 2010, which will be held in Los Angeles (Palos Verdes) next year.

FiRe is the kind of conference that begins early each day and runs more or less non-stop till late evening. Thus this report hits only the highlights, for me.

Two themes dominated the program – earth in peril, and technology driving the economic rebound.

Here are tech innovations discussed in the general program that seemed particularly important…

The Cloud. This concept is subject to hype and is dismissed by many for that reason. Simply defined it means the ability of servers to hold all personal data and to run applications so that personal computing machines can go back to the future as terminals that access the cloud. In practice it may mean that you could walk up to any terminal, anywhere and access your own “desktop” that actually resides in a variety of servers. One Cloud expert explained to me that this would enable schools, for example, to resurrect obsolete computers, turn them into terminals, and provide inexpensive high-level computing to everyone. There are many hurdles to jump before this becomes a robust, and stable reality, but the cloud is a clear trend in future computing.

The Gigabit Age. A great story around the world, less so in the U.S., is the continuing installation of much improved bandwidth via fiber and wireless. We learned about an economic stimulus project in Australia, for example, to replace copper wires with fiber to something like 90% of all buildings and homes, enabling Australia to leap ahead in the information economy by providing net speeds dozens of times faster than available in the U.S. This $43 billion project would cost $350 billion in the U.S., but the U.S. is spending only $7 billion on enhanced bandwidth as part of the stimulus, a missed opportunity. In Australia, a key driver for more bandwidth is the Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder project.

The Web becomes the Stream – As we move beyond Web 2.0 into an evermore interactive network, in which users send as much material as they consume, via social nets and video sites, and so on, it becomes obvious that we are progressing from the Internet through the Web to the Stream. It is the constant flow of information that matters. (When Sonia Sotomayor is nominated to the Supreme Court, within about 90 seconds her bio on Wikipedia has been updated.) No static website or traditional media company can keep pace.

Electric Cars Progressing. Elon Musk brought the Tesla for more test drives (below is my turn), but more importantly reported a just-completed agreement with Daimler to partner in producing the Tesla Motors sedan set for delivery in 2011, at half the cost of the Tesla sports model, with a 300+ mile range on a single electric charge. (Elon also reported on progress with private space launch, including the contract with NASA to be a cargo delivery vehicle for the space station.)

Glen Hiemstra test drives the Tesla at FiRe 2009

Glen Hiemstra test drives the Tesla at FiRe 2009

Other Tech Tid-bits – Mark Hurd, CEO of HP explained why printing will continue to grow when only 20% of current printing is digital. He also noted that they build manufacturing capacity overseas so that they can manufacture close to the buyers; only 8% of their cost is labor, so cheap labor is not the driver, being close to customers is. This was interesting.

Apple is reported to be purchasing 7-inch screens; the question is for what?

Thorium may be the nuclear fuel of the future – it is more abundant than uranium, cannot be processed into weapons grade material, decays in about 75 years instead of thousands, and can be used in current reactor designs. Since the energy future may depend on getting energy from many sources, this may keep nuclear in the game.

A smart grid will dramatically reduce energy consumption, especially if humans become part of the “smart.” A recent test in Colorado by Accenture energy showed that installing a small screen on the refrigerator in homes that monitors electricity usage around the house and makes the numbers visible led to 50% decrease in energy consumption. Knowing what is going on in real time makes a difference.

Calit2 Lab Open House at UCSD: Larry Smarr once again organized an evening at Calit2, the future of computing and telecommunications program at UCSD. I will blog about some specific things there in the future as well – highlights included progress with super-hi definition screens and real-time telepresence, life-like robotics, and the use of wide arrays of sensors to learn about geographic information.

…Fire Starters – the breakthrough companies. Each year at Fire new companies are nominated to be “Fire Starters,” those early stage companies with a compelling product or service and a chance to change the world. This year there were 13 companies. One of my tasks was to interview the principals in these companies for short web-video introductions. Those videos will roll out over the next weeks, and I will blog about each company separately, but here are a couple of standouts:

Smaato – bringing order and scale to the world of mobile advertising.

Blue Mars, from Avatar Reality – soon to debut a robust, multi-user next generation online virtual world.

SIMtone – bringing cloud computing closer to reality and making it greener.

Vesta Health Systems – developing a technology platform for a simple, strong disinfectant effective against virus and bacteria.

Earth in Peril

The second and dominant theme at FiRe 2009 was “earth in peril.” This was kicked off by the opening dinner keynote from Professor V ‘Ram’ Ramanathan. Dr. Ramanathan is a distinguished researcher in climate science and global warming. His databased explanation of where global warming is now was sobering to all, even those most knowledgeable on the subject. His program title, “Practical Strategies for Solving the Climate Problem” was intriguing, and he delivered. It turns out that while CO2 is the biggest long-term problem in that we are producing so much, and it is so long lasting in the atmosphere, the other green house gases offer some hope of faster success in reducing global warming. Methane, soot, and other greenhouse emissions are easier to reduce, and what is already in the atmosphere dissipates in months or years, not centuries. Thus, if we can eliminate these green house gases soon, the impact will be immediate, and will buy time for the more difficult problem of reducing CO2.

Beyond climate change, there was a major emphasis on the health of the oceans and ocean species. Roger Payne and Lewis Douglas from the Ocean Alliance reported on new research showing chromium to be a problem pollutant in ocean species. Paul Watson of Greenpeace reported on the battle with the Japanese over whaling. And film producer and director Louis Psihoyos presented a premier showing of his documentary, The Cove, winner of the Sundance and Cannes festival awards. This powerful film highlights the plight of dolphins and the secret industry that kills them. The film opens theatrically in August 2009.

CTO Challenge – the Global Water Shortage

A final feature of the FiRe event has become the “CTO Challenge.” Chief technology and information officers are given a problem to solve, and a couple of days to solve it. This year the challenge was the looming water shortages, in and around San Diego. The team did an outstanding job which we will report more fully as well, but a highlight was the idea of covering canals with anti-evaporation covers, and those with solar cells to collect energy to run the pumps and provide excess energy from an already established right-of-way. Great idea.

Final thought – best FiRe yet. Join the party next year.

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