Sunday, March 23, 2014

Electricity transformation

As the world energy consumption continues to rise every year, the portion of energy generated from renewable sources is finally also increasing in a measurable way. For example, in 2012 over 28% of electricity produced in the EU was sourced from Renewables (with Norway producing 98% of their electricity in a clean way from large hydro!).

So slowly, but surely the mix of primary energy sources consumed to generate electricity in the grid is shifting more towards renewables. What implications could that have? One aspect to think about is the role of utility companies. Large electricity companies are operating coal, gas or nuclear power plants and sell their electricity on the market. But these old-school sources are now no longer competitive with electricity from renewable sources. German energy giant RWE admitted that in 2013 and started shutting down a good amount of its capacity. In fact, in a recent global PWC study 94% of utility company expect a complete transformation of the utility business model. Mostly decentralised, mid-scale renewable electricity could ultimately become the predominant grid source and utility companies would take the role of a safety net in case of peak demand. For this, they could charge an 'insurance fee' or as recently stated by a utility CEO "you don't pay the firemen for the water they use, but for being there when it burns".

But will it burn? Amory Lovins' Rocky Mountain Institute recently released a study on the potential of 'grid defection'. With local battery capacity on the rise and distributed roof top solar being widely available, they calculated when this system could reach economic electric grid parity and make it possible for customer to defect the grid entirely. 

Overall, it seems clear that the times of centrally produced, large scale dirty energy are economically over. The new normal will be a distributed system of clean energy sources as outlined by Hermann Scheer in his book "the energy imperative". What lies ahead is a difficult uphill road to get us there against the current status quo, but it is the only game in town.  

Other helpful resources on clean energy:

Friday, December 27, 2013

Solar powered cars

Note: the following post includes the personal opinion of a single Green Team member

Usually solar powered cars are some goofy looking vehicles taped together by a few undergrad students for a solar mobility competition in the Australian outback. That's all very good and important, but in my view there is much more to the concept. Electricity can efficiently and cleanly be produced by photovoltaics and electric vehicles of all kinds can be efficiently powered by it. Let's look at both of these aspects.

PV arrays have increased in efficiency while dropping sharply in price. In 1980, a MWh of solar power would have cost almost $1,600 while in 2010 the same amount of power was available for $200 (as outlined in the much recommend GMO quarterly report by Jeremy Grantham). Prices are likely to continue to go down making solar a highly competitive power source. If only it were to shine all 24 hours of each day...

Similarly, electric vehicles are much more efficient in use of primary energy to move about their cargo (i.e. single humans mostly). Even if we were to burn the same gasoline in a stationary large scale facility to generate electricity, it would be more efficient than driving around a small scale engine with direct exhausts. More so, electric vehicles have much less moving parts and are simply more economical over time (on top of being more ecological right out of the gate). A quick look at key ingredients of the Tesla Model S makes that point clear.

In my personal quest to become electricity (not quite energy) independent, I have added a PV array to our house capable of producing 27 kWp (that's kilowatt peak).  Even in "sunny" Germany, this setup produces about 24,000 kWh / year, which I can consume or sell back into the grid as clean energy due to the German system of feed-in tariffs. This, of course, is way more electricity than we consume as a family (about 6,000 kWh per year for a 6 person household). But this is where electric mobility comes in. We can use the excess power we generate to charge our electric car! On a clear sunny day this looks as follows:

Our solar power control center "SMA home manager" shows the current electricity flow from the roof to the house drawing 7.4 kW (and taking 260 W from the grid to supplement). 

At the same time, the car is set from my iPhone's mobile app to being charging at this moment consuming the locally generated clean solar power to fill its battery. That's what I call a "solar powered car".

An electric vehicle has a certain amount of kWh it consumes per 100km driven. The new BMW i3 for example is rated at 12.9 kWh / 100km. So to drive 20.000 km it would require 2.580 kWh. This is an amount that can be achieved by a normal household sized roof top PV array. Even if sourced from the grid as 100% renewable energy at .25 Euro-Cents / kWh, it would be less than half of what you would have to pay at the pump to drive that far.

The crux is that our car is not always parked in our home garage plugged into our house grid when the sun shines. This is where two co-dependent factors come into play: a high number of electric vehicles and wide distribution of standardized charge points. As soon as EVs can be plugged in (or better using plugless charging systems) at work, at the supermarket, at the gym, almost anywhere, they can be connected to the grid as an electricity consumer while charging as well as contributor selling electricity back. The accounting for the demand and supply based battery management is likely easier than my daughters cell phone plan. On a large scale many of these 'driving storage systems' can be used to manage the inherent ebb and flow of renewable energy sources in today's electricity grids.

In my view, a future with de-centrally produced clean energy, a large number of electric vehicles and a widespread bi-directional charging infrastructure is possible. It is the true potential of solar powered cars and a much preferable outlook over today's fossil fuel based mobility.

Monday, December 16, 2013

eBay pioneers Digital Service Efficiency

As part of eBay's efforts to improve energy efficiency of their trading platform, the company has created a dashboard bringing kWh consumed by their data centers in relation to online activity. Specifically, they measure energy efficiency per Buy / Sell, their key business metrics. This level of metrics and visualization is a unique step forward in showing the value of energy efficient design and implementation of services.

Their dashboard is also exposed publicly for everyone to view here. This brings a new level of transparency into data center efficiency metrics.

eBay has also released this methodology to the Green Grid for other companies to leverage. They have documented the detailed development steps in a public whitepaper to stimulate further discussion in the peer group of cloud companies.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Workday ranked fifth biggest user of Green Power amongst technology companies

In a recent Bloomberg study, Workday was ranked the fifth largest consumer of Green Power (by percentage) amongst its peer group of technology companies. Led by giants such as Lenovo, Microsoft or SAP, this list also differentiates between companies producing clean energy themselves (such as Apple or Adobe) and other using RECs or other clean energy products to achieve their goals. Strangely missing from this list are companies like Google (major player in clean energy), Amazon (getting there) and Salesforce (recently also commitment to clean energy).

This is exciting validation that our efforts to be a 100% green powered cloud player are recognized and our CSR report is used as a source for such information.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Apple secretly builds out massive clean power facilities

While Google has over the years invested over a billion dollars in renewable energy projects and is a very public force-for-good in this sector, Apple has so far not made any visible moves to cleanly source the energy needs of its data centers. This is now changing. Over the last several years, Apple has built up two massive solar farms in North Caroline next to their newly build data center. Build by SunPower, these 20 MW solar farms plus their new 10 MW Bloom Energy fuel cell farm produce more energy than they consume in total.

The extent of the investment is staggering and it begins an era where large internet companies are actively playing in the energy market and changing the landscape of it in the process. Amazon is even building its own substations now and has engineers re-write old code to increase energy efficiency. At this scale, it makes sense. Very interesting moves by the big players...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

How green is the internet?

At a recent Google-hosted conference, the research community discussed the question of how green the internet really is. The video shows several 5 minute rapid talks on a variety of angles to this topic.

Also, Northwestern University presented a research framework called CLEER to provide a baseline to compare cloud to non-cloud offerings. Something we could consider in the future as a case study approach.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Workday says "No" to eWaste

As a responsible citizen of the cloud, Workday has recognized that besides being "100% Green Powered", it is also very important to handle all forms of eWaste in an environmentally acceptable way. Our goal is simple: "100% No Landfill"This means nothing that was used at Workday should end up in a landfill or be recycled in inappropriate ways.

In order to achieve this, we have drafted an Electronics Disposition Policy which governs all handling of obsolete electronics at Workday.  

The key objectives of the policy are:
  • Data Safety First: Securely dispose of any data in any media in an irrecoverable way.
  • Prevent Pollution: Where ever possible and environmentally sensible, equipment should be re-used internally to extend its life cycle providing value to Workday. Wherever internal re-use is not possible, opportunities for resale or donation should be pursued.
  • Minimize Waste: Where re-use is not a viable option, every reasonable effort will be made to control all Electronic Wastes and to avoid Electronic Wastes from entering landfills, incinerators or entering other environmentally irresponsible processes. Environmental Partners shall contractually commit to employing environmentally responsible processes and practices in the recycling and disposal of materials. All exports and imports of Electronic Waste handled by Workday and its authorized environmental partners will comply with existing international waste trade agreements and legal requirements.
  • Be a Responsible Neighbour: Workday does not permit Electronic Waste to be exported from developed (OECD/EU) to developing (non-OECD/EU) countries either directly or through intermediaries.

After a diligent selection process, Workday has chosen a vendor that complies with the required eStewards certificationsWe are in the process of starting our collaboration and executing the disposition process as defined by our policy. As we move forward, we will expand coverage of this process to all obsolete electronics at Workday.