Tuesday 12 March 2013

The Energy Gap and Unrealistic forecasting

Over the last few weeks I heard Prof Ian Bitterlin speak on three separate occasions, all different presentations but with similar elements running through each delivery.
The upshot is, that some forecasting organisations (I'm not going to tell you who they are, ask Ian or check out his presentation slide decks on the BCS Cheltenham and Gloucester branch website, the BCS DCSG website amongst many others) are all citing that internet growth is set to exceed even our wildest expectations, some reckon 2600% growth, others less, some more but they are all in 4 figures.
But, and it is a very big but, these forecasts miss one very important fact, power, and to be precise the lack of it.
In Japan, pre Tsunami, the projected growth of the internet, and by that I mean traffic and the associated data centres was estimated to require 100% of the entire grid generative capacity by 2020, yes, 100%.
Lets put that into perspective, all of the electricity generated in Japan would be needed to run data centres, all of it, so no power available for traffic lights, cooking, heating, lighting, recharging your mobile etc, which I guess would put a stop to people using the internet/data centres, and clearly not sustainable or even with the most liberal government going to happen.

In the UK, we face a similar scenario, here its estimated that 100% of the grid will be needed by 2030, just to power the internet and that's before we switch off 20% of our capacity generated by Nuclear power stations, and another 45% of our coal fired power stations via the Large Combustion Plant directive (an EU Directive which requires Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS, to be installed, OR an operating ceiling of 22,000 hours (which by the way is almost up for all our coal fired assets))

So, it is clear that change is needed, so in my humble opinion we have a number of options:

1. To curtail the internet, now this could be achieved by tariff increases, a "smartphone" or "broadband" tax, but given the Governments desire to provide high speed broadband to all at a minimum of 2MB and in urban areas at 40MB this will be political suicide.

2. Build more generative capacity, but with nuclear power stations taking at least 10 years to build and a seriously poor energy bill progressing through Parliament, the industry will probably go with CCGT assets, that's Combined Cycle Gas Turbines to the layman, fair easy to build (a tried and trusted technology) can be installed on existing power station sites, but leaves us in the hands of overseas "friends" to supply the gas required (a fossil fuel that is also in fairly short supply).
Don't get your hopes up with shale gas either, the reality in the UK is that the beds are not as geologically stable as in the USA and extraction will prove a lot more difficult.
That's not to mention the green lobby that will undoubtedly raise hell if fracking is used.

3. Develop a carbon neutral economy, that to say, reduce energy use but switching off everything if its not being used, generate your own power via solar, Ground or Air Source heat punps, biomass etc there's more information on the CAT website C.A.T. Website

4. Accept the inevitable, buy a shotgun and hole up in the hills with tinned food

Now, 4, aside we can meet this challenge with a little imagination and innovation and I'm very pleased that it seems that the Government is slowly but surely getting there with the Technology Strategy Board announcements today and various other initiatives from the EU etc.

So, I'm not getting worried yet, but I am watching events very carefully around the world, keeping up to date with various ideas and generally hopeful.

I've made some useful contacts in the past few weeks and hope to build on these in the future.

Until next time, keep safe.


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