Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Recap of The Economist report on Smart Grids

This week "The Economist" ran a 14-page special report on "Smart Grids". They cover everything many topics regarding smart grids from sensors to new city projects to IT opportunities. I've been hearing this buzz float around for a while now but after reading this report I think I finally am getting an idea of what they are trying to accomplish.

Here are a few highlights I thought were interesting:

1. Cities are updating their infrastructures to make them smarter. The article tells many stories about this but one in particular is about how London has been taking its centuries-old water system and making it smart but implementing sensors that report water flow, leaks, etc. This has allowed the city to save on water and they can now respond more quickly to main breaks.

2. Boulder Colorado is the home to what is considered the world's first "fully fledged smart grid". Their energy utility, Xcel Energy, has installed 20,000+ smart meters that report all electricity usage in real time and they're starting to offer dynamic pricing plans that allow them to charge different rates depending on the time of day (peak vs off-peak hours).

3. Opportunities will be had in Analytics. With all these sensors getting deployed someone will need to gather all this data and analyze it so humans can make good decisions. That said, there will be a lot of growth for anyone that can provide data storage and analysis.

I recommend you pick up the article and take a look because it has the potential to affect all of us.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Future of GM

This week I sat through a lecture discussing the current state of the US auto industry, specifically GM. I am mainly restating what I heard in this lecture because I find it very interesting and I think that it should be discussed.

Many political pundits will tell you that with hindsight, the GM bailout was a good idea. After all, we gave the company breathing room to pay off some debts, renegotiate others, and most importantly we saved thousands of American manufacturing jobs and we can still say that “America Builds Things”! Now as GM prepares for one of the largest public stock offerings in history in which they plan to pay back the government for its investment we can start to ask, was this really a good idea?

Here’s a couple reasons why we might want to still be a little sceptical of the bailout frenzy. First of all let’s ask, what does GM still make? Primarily trucks that sit on large chassis and frames that tend to use lots of fuel. What’s most frightening about these trucks though is that many in Washington want to push through legislation to make these same exact vehicles illegal to drive on American roads by the year 2015 (find source). Therefore if that’s the case then we just bailed out a company whose main product will be illegal to sell in the US in under 5 years...interesting.

Another reason to be skeptical is to really look at the Chevy Volt, what some are saying will be the savior of the company. The Volt is still out of reach of many Americans at a price tag of $41K ($33K if Washington can implement the tax credit) and therefore still can’t compete with Toyota’s Prius at around $25K. And when you look at the overall product line of GM the Volt is still just a tiny sliver of their offering. I might even venture to say that the Volt was somewhat of a political maneuver to show Washington that they’re moving forward but they’re really still banking on the old way of doing business.

Again I’m not claiming this is exactly what will happen but it is something that should be discussed.