A packed room of executives, entrepreneurs and energy aficionados gathered Wednesday to talk about one part of the U.S. economy that isn’t just flourishing, but booming: energy efficiency.
A lineup of speakers from companies such as Google, Intel and Cisco talked about strategies to maximize efficiency in the two-day Santa Barbara Summit on Energy Efficiency that will finish Thursday. The event was hosted by UCSB’s Institute for Energy Efficiency.
One of the speakers Wednesday afternoon was Rod Tucker, a laureate professor at the University of Melbourne, Australia, who talked about ways to consume less energy while moving data between network devices.
“Transport of data on the Internet isn’t free and it does come at a cost,” he said.
Tucker showed a graph that illustrated that more carbon actually would be produced by transmitting 1,000 gigabytes of information through the Internet than by physically placing the hard drives on an airplane traveling 3,000 miles.
Another speaker seen at Wednesday’s summit was Cisco Systems’ Gary Epps, who works as a distinguished engineer for the company. Epps was instrumental in designing the company’s popular router, and is actively involved in designing what he called “the plumbing of the Internet.”
Making that plumbing more energy efficient and designing software to make it smarter is key. Epps said he has a TiVo at home, which, by design, has a disk drive that spins at all times, whether he’s watching it or not. Designing software to turn parts off when not in use will separate new technology from its older counterparts, he said.
“That kind of revelation is what this industry is all about,” he said.
Demand for that energy is sure to grow exponentially in the future. According to data from Epps, more than half a zettabyte of data will cross the global network in 2012, most of it in the form of video.
One zettabyte is equal to 1 billion terrabytes, he explained, a “staggering” amount of data. “That’s the biggest number I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said.
But all of that data has tremendous implications to productivity, he said, including the ability to teleconference, which has cut costs for Cisco on domestic travel by 75 percent.
Another speaker, Igor Mezic, who leads the building and design solutions group at the institute, talked about how buildings consume nearly 70 percent of electricity in the United States and pump out nearly half of the country’s carbon emissions.
Utilizing unused space on top of industrial buildings instead of land to hold solar panels was a highpoint of a discussion by Jack Sahl, director of environment and resource sustainability at Southern California Edison.
The lineup of speakers is even more admirable considering that the Institute for Energy Efficiency began only in January of last year.
The institute works to leverage talent from multiple departments at the university, including engineering and economics, as well as faculty who have experience with public policy and entrepreneurship, and has already gained national attention. In April, the program was awarded a $19 million grant as a part of President Obama’s stimulus package. The money will go toward employing more than 40 researchers, a director and an assistant, and supplement faculty already at the institute and its partner institutions over a period of five years.
It classifies itself as an “interdisciplinary research institute,” and draws from a pool of 75 faculty.
“We’re bringing together all of these multidisciplinary voices,” said Daniel Colbert, the program’s executive director. The program has six groups that focus on improving efficiency in lighting, production and storage, buildings and design, computing, electronics and photonics, and economics and policy.
“We need these types of technologies environmentally, but they’re also incredibly good investments,” he said, adding that they pay off quickly by increased productivity.
The conference will continue Thursday. Those unable to attend the conference can check out a live Webcast from the summit’s Town Hall Meeting for a panel discussion on policy and technology, which will be broadcast live here at 11 a.m.