March 14, 2010
Visions of a Smarter Planet
Hoogkerk is the first microgrid project in Europe to integrate a full-scale, operational “smart” residential community energy system. The community includes 25 interconnected residential homes equipped with micro-cogeneration units, hybrid heat pumps, PV solar panels, smart appliances and electric vehicles, and additional community-based power produced by a wind farm and a gas turbine.
Whilst 25 homes seems to me to be stretching the definition of "a city" a bit far, it seems that:
The project seeks to develop a market model for a smart grid, creating an industry reference standard to help enable wide-scale smart grid implementation. In the live phase, research into the community members’ energy use behavior will be undertaken to gain insight into the “smart” energy consumer. Data will be collected on how, how much and when electricity is used and analyzed to explore consumer willingness to exchange comfort for flexibility based on financial incentives.
This project is a "high tech" solution to future sustainability, of the sort being promoted by a variety of giant corporations, notably IBM with their "Smarter Planet" initiative. It seems that IBM have identified cities as the biggest hurdle standing in the way of a sustainable future, and they suggest "Smarter Cities" as a solution. As IBM put it:
Unprecedented urbanization is both an emblem of our economic and societal progress—especially for the world's emerging nations—and a huge strain on the planet's infrastructure. It's a challenge felt urgently by mayors, heads of economic development, school administrators, police chiefs and other civic leaders.
The challenges these leaders face—educating the young, keeping citizens safe and healthy, attracting and facilitating commerce, and enabling the smooth flow of planes, trains, cars and pedestrians—are compounded by the global economic downturn.
Thankfully, help is at hand. Around the world, intelligence is being infused into the way our cities work.
Earlier today, we visited a rather different vision of a sustainable future at Embercombe, which is "a place and an organisation" situated in a 50 acre valley just outside the Dartmoor National Park in South West England. Embercombe is the vision of Tim "Mac" Macartney. At first glance it seems to be about as far away from a high tech smart city as it is possible to get:
Mac also appears to have a rather different vision to IBM about the sort of leadership required to bring about a sustainable future for our planet. Here are some of his views about business, leadership and the future:
IBM's views on the same topic don't seem to be embeddable. You can however take a look at them on IBM's website here.
From my own perspective "high tech" will be part of the solution to the most pressing problems of our age, but only if it avoids "being sabotaged by the vapid frailty of maximising shareholder value" as Tim Macartney puts it. He suggests a very different criterion our political and business leaders should use to guide their decision making:
No decision will be taken that will harm our children.
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