3Tier: Remapping the World for Renewable Energy, From a Supercomputer Hothouse in Seattle

11/7/08Follow @xconomy

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50 percent for four years in a row. 3Tier’s marketing guy, Todd Stone, says the company’s computers store more data than existed worldwide in 1990. It currently has more computing power than most research universities in the United States.

When Westrick got this company going, the main competitors were Garrad Hassan, a UK-based consulting firm on wind energy, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a unit of the U.S. Department of Energy. The problem with the U.S. government data is that it was “clunky” and not very accessible, Westrick says, which his company could improve upon.

3Tier’s biggest customers include GE, the Spanish utility Iberdola, Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy, and Seattle City Light. Since 3Tier is in the business of creating predictive models, this is naturally of interest to folks who trade stocks and commodities that are influenced by swings in weather patterns. (I half-jokingly mentioned they should sell this to my former employer, Bloomberg LP, the $20 billion financial information powerhouse. Westrick replied that it was no joke. He is, in fact, in talks with someone from Bloomberg about ways its trading customers might get access to this data.)

This information obviously doesn’t come cheap, but 3Tier does offer some basic services to the general public for free, powered by Google Earth. If you want to look at how much solar energy falls on your rooftop, or how much wind power potential is in your backyard, you can go to FirstLook, punch in your address, and get a readout. It doesn’t include the fancy forecasting models for folks like GE, but it’s a snapshot that can get people thinking about possibilities, Stone says.

The twin trends of high-priced oil, and global climate change certainly aren’t hurting demand for 3Tier services. On Election Day, while most people were glued to the TV or the Internet, Westrick was giving a talk at the United Nations. I wasn’t able to listen, but he cited statistics that show there about 1.3 billion people in the world who lack electricity, and how people in those countries need access to information like this to make smart decisions about investing in alternative fuels.

“If we want developing nations to ‘leapfrog’ over fossil fuels, they need information about what renewable energy resources or combination of resources exist. Remapping the World is a sophisticated mapping technology initiative to show where renewable resources are, and change the way we look at the world’s energy production options,” Westrick said, according to this report in Vector1Media.

If Westrick can find a way to get his company’s information in the hands of decision-makers in the developing world, this could be pretty big news in years to come. If he’s successful, maybe Seattle will be known as a hotbed for global energy development, as well as an emerging force for global health.

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  • WindySue

    FirstLook is a nice tool, but there is no way for 3TIER to make money with it. Use it while you can. 3TIER laid off 19 more people today.