Who doesn’t want to have a hand in saving the world?
Fairly regularly, information technology and computer professionals ask me how they could contribute to cleantech and sustainability sectors. Most of them have a vague feeling they should use their tech skills in some way for the energy or environment sectors, but do not know where to start.
At the same time, cleantech (if you are asking what the heck cleantech is, click here) has reached a stage where it needs computer and information technologies more than ever.
In fact, there are some investors who feel that infotech (IT) is the tool that will aid a resurgence in the struggling cleantech sector, by making solutions more scalable, effective and thus profitable.
The key component IT adds to cleantech is of course its ability to process diverse and vast amounts of data – both structured and unstructured data – for resource optimization. Some instances where such optimization can provide significant benefits are: energy and fuel efficiency in both residential and commercial/industrial sectors, minimizing waste generation, and quick fault detection and correction of distributed energy sources.
I am listing down a few examples where IT is already making adding significant value to the cleantech sector:
- Smart grid – Software and information technology will be the prime movers in making the entire grid intelligent – starting with power generation plants and going all the way until the houses and industries where the grid ends, and also smart-ifying the transmission and distribution infrastructure in the middle.
- Internet of Things based energy and resource optimization in transport and logistics sectors (Uber)
- Smart agriculture – crop monitoring, input optimization for crops
- Optimization of computing energy use – through the use of mobile technologies and cloud computing…
- SCADA and monitoring systems – Sensor-based fault detection for remotely located renewable energy resources (solar, wind power plants…). This will also play a key role in the smart grid infrastructure mentioned earlier.
- Smart manufacturing – this could be a big, big thing. Once again, starts with IoT as the anchor, and essentially tries to make every manufacturing node (machines, manufacturing supply chain, quality control, the manufactured products themselves) intelligent. Companies such as GE are investing significantly into this, building what is getting termed as the “Industrial Internet”
- Building energy efficiency – this has grown into a large and profitable sector in itself. It is easy to guess how IT can be used to make lighting, heating, air conditioning, ventilation intelligent and optimized, and a number of solutions have been in the market for these for some years now. You can hence call this a fairly established sector, one of the few within cleantech that is fortunate enough to be so! (More on building energy efficiency from other posts here and here)
Given the remarkable penetration IT has had in our lives, I am positive there will be many more domains where IT and cleantech intersect in the near future.
Some months back, I had an interesting discussion with an exec heading new research initiatives at IBM; he was keen on leveraging IBM’s high-end analytics capabilities to improve the generation of solar power plants, and I connected him to some power plant owners so he could kick off some pilots.
It is not just IBM, but also many other digital tech majors who are making their own efforts in cleantech – Google for instance has developed some interesting cloud-based tools that make it easy for people to estimate the potential their rooftops have solar power generation.