Innovations in Smart Energy: Using IT and Other Advances to Curb Runaway Dependence on Fossil Fuels

Almost from the moment that Thomas Edison had the first filament of an idea, the light bulb has been a symbol of invention—and of the Eureka! moment that comes with innovation. But as public awareness of green and clean technologies has gained currency, the incandescent light bulb of yore might just as easily serve as a symbol of traditional energy sources, burdened with all sorts of hidden and not-so-hidden costs.

In other words, light bulbs are out. LEDs are in.

At Xconomy, we’re anticipating waves of similar innovations that incorporate smarter and more efficient ways of using energy to heat and light buildings, to transport people and goods, and in both supplying electricity and operating the power grid. And as Internet pioneer Larry Smarr pointed out Tuesday afternoon, there also are smarter ways of applying what he calls ICT, information and communications technology, to use less energy.

Calit2 Director Larry Smarr

Calit2 Director Larry Smarr

“Energy is one of the remaining industries that has not been transformed by digital information technologies,” Smarr said. He cited a “Smart 2020” report prepared by UCSD and UC Irvine that found “ICT’s largest influence will be by enabling energy efficiencies in other sectors, an opportunity that could deliver carbon savings five times larger than the total emissions from the entire ICT sector in 2020.”

Smarr provided an overview of what such innovations could look like as he kicked off the Xconomy Forum: The Rise of Smart Energy Tuesday afternoon. More than 125 people attended the afternoon conference at UC San Diego’s Calit2 (the California Institute for Information Technology and Telecommunications at UC San Diego), where Smarr has served as founding director since 2000. As several attendees told me afterward, his opening keynote talk laid out several prevailing themes that threaded through the presentations and discussions that followed.

Those themes unspooled in a panel discussion about the kind of innovations that will be needed in sensor networks, IT infrastructure, and software analytics as California utilities struggle to provide electricity to customers in 2020, when a third of the energy on the grid must come from solar panels, wind turbines, and other intermittent sources of renewable energy. Jan Kleissl, a UCSD assistant professor of engineering, explained how a sensor network that measures radiant sunlight in real time could help utility operators cope with precipitous drops in … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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