Energy on the Alpha Geek Radar

One easy way to tell when an idea has hit the broader alpha geek radar is when stories start appearing on slashdot. So it seems like a good sign for our upcoming Energy Innovation Conference that slashdot is now regularly covering energy. Here are a few of the recent stories that caught my eye:

  • Server Power Consumption Doubled Over Past 5 years pointed to a report on a new study that showed that “In the US, servers (including cooling equipment) consumes 1.2% of all the electricity in 2005, up from 0.6% in 2000.” This trend is what first got energy on my radar. I had a conversation with Larry Page and Sergey Brin several years ago in which they cited energy as one of the biggest costs for Google, with the annual energy costs of running a single CPU approaching the purchase cost of that CPU if then-current trends continued. Subsequent conversations, such as one with Debra Chrapaty, VP of Operations for Windows Live that I blogged about last year, confirmed that this is a huge and growing issue.
  • Biology Could Be Used to Turn Sugar Into Diesel covers Emeryville startup Amyris Biotechnologies, a company funded by the Gates Foundation to research applications of synthetic biology to malaria, but they’ve gone further afield. I love the engineering spirit of these guys: “Jack Newman, the Vice-President of Amyris said, ‘Why are we making ethanol if we’re trying to make a fuel? We should be making something that looks a lot more like gasoline. We should be making something that looks a lot more like diesel. And if you wanted to design, you name it, a jet fuel? We can make that too.'” Spoken like a hacker. (Incidentally, we”ve been following synthetic biology for a while too. Drew Endy came to Foo Camp 2003, and ETech after that, and we had Rob Carlson at our Science Foo Camp this year. It’s amazing stuff. Check it out.)
  • Nanotech Battery Claims to Solve Electric Car Woes points to the work of A123 Systems on “a Lithium Ion battery that not only can discharge at very high rates of current but can be recharged very quickly without damage to the cells or overheating.” If true, and widely deployed, this innovation might make true long-range electric vehicles a reality.

It’s really interesting the way ideas spread and catch on, and suddenly get on everyone’s radar at the same time. It makes me think of Danny Hillis’ definition of global intelligence: “It’s that which decided that decaf coffeepots should be orange.” (And yeah, I know that “An Inconvenient Truth” and the drumbeat on global warming has contributed to this issue being front and center, but a lot of the companies and projects that are surfacing now actually predate that public awareness. Hackers have been playing with energy for a long time — I think of Lee Felsenstein’s pedal powered internet project for instance — but it’s now getting much wider notice.)

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