Amazing achievements: Internet, smart grid and smart cities -- all in our lifetime

Tue, 2014-11-25 15:39 -- SCC Staff

By Alan Snook, GRID20/20

In the early 1990s the term “information superhighway” began to take root.  It was touted as a revolutionary way for people to communicate, access information and easily engage in commerce globally.  Yes this thing called the Internet was allegedly going to change the world.  Early adopters nearly went crazy exploring the opportunities the Internet unleashed and developers were equally enamored, feverishly leveraging their skills to further expand the breadth of this platform. 

Then the rest of us started to catch on, beginning with email (how amazing was it to send a note to a friend without using the postal service?), then we evolved to research, advertising, marketing and  e-commerce.  Today we recognize the Internet’s role in improving lifestyles, livelihoods and growing our economies.  The push is on to make it as accessible to people in emerging nations just as it is in the developed world.   What an amazing achievement!

Then came the smart grid
Somewhere along the way, the smart grid concept was born – the idea that adding intelligent devices and communications capabilities within the electric grid could actually improve its reliability and resiliency.   Some of the world’s largest companies dedicated significant resources to this vision, exploration and development of the smart grid.  Likewise, smaller companies appeared and pursued varying segments of this emerging space.   And now, just like its predecessor the internet, smart grids are about to change the way we live.  Again, what an amazing achievement!

And then came smart cities
Somewhere during the smart grid evolution, the concept of smart cities emerged.   How exciting to think that leaders around the globe are now recognizing the value of transforming their communities from traditional, silo-type management and operational approaches, to ones that proactively and holistically embrace today’s cutting-edge technologies. And just consider the progress we've already seen in energy and water conservation.   Another amazing achievement!

The volumes of articles, white papers, research, trial programs, investments and lessons learned which surround the smart grid and smart cities is truly overwhelming.   From the most miniscule focus points to the most macro-views, information continues to be presented to the world for its review, consumption and implementation… via the Internet.   

A refreshing "fuss"
But why in the world are we doing all of this?  What’s the fuss?

Traditional, linear-type thinking might surmise the fuss is all about various forms of wealth creation, and possibly power.  But in this case, the fuss seems to be driven by something more valuable to mankind than wealth or power.  And that is a refreshing perspective.

We now live in a world with a population of seven billion and growing.  Regardless of where you reside on this planet, it's hard to escape the fact that vital natural resources are becoming less plentiful.  While some resources are renewable, they may not renew rapidly enough to meet the rate of consumption, thus making them more precious.  Fresh water is a perfect example; you no doubt can think of others.

Is it possible that the smart grid and smart cities fuss is really driven by the leaders and followers of this world collectively realizing that if we do not pull together, find ways to improve our efficiencies and lessen our negative impacts on the planet, that our future will be far less pleasant than anyone wishes to imagine?   Perhaps for the first time in human history, we are collectively thinking and acting in a manner that leads to better ways to inhabit our planet.  Rather than selfish actions, disregard for others and the environment, and a “what’s in it for me?” attitude, are we truly coming together in a global sense?  It certainly appears to me that the proliferation of smart grids and smart cities we're starting to see worldwide are spectacular examples of this phenomenon -- sincere global cooperation, rooted in a desire to make a meaningful and productive difference.  What an amazing achievement!

We are making a difference
So in our lifetime we have ushered in the Internet to literally connect our world.  We have ushered in the smart grid and redefined how electric power is generated, transmitted, distributed and consumed.  And we are ushering in smart cities which will more effectively and efficiently address the world’s growing urban populations for improved livability, workability and sustainability.  

Regardless of where you, your city or your company may fit into any of these initiatives, the fact is that you are contributing in a meaningful way.   Together, we are writing history and decades from now our successors will look back at the ingenuity, investment, courage and vision that we all brought to the table to make this world a far better place to live.   And they will be amazed and thankful for our contributions to improve the quality of life on this planet.

Yes, the ‘fuss’ is all about doing the right thing; about finding ways to invest in and maximize resources including human capital for everyone's benefit.   While we can enjoy what amazing technology makes possible, there is no replacement for the power of the human mind, or the commitment of the human spirit.  And nothing more awesome than a collection of human minds and spirits that are acutely focused on solving real problems, for the right reasons.   

Thankfully, the challenges of our world are pulling us together to work toward the common good.  What an amazing achievement!


Alan Snook is a founding member of GRID20/20, Inc. and has led the company as its president since its inception in March 2011. GRID20/20 is a Council Associate Partner.