Insights from ETS16

The recent Energy Thought Summit (ETS16) in Austin was an outstanding event; drawing some 675 attendees this year and fostering conversation around energy, smart grid and the technologies needed to spark innovation.

In particular, two sessions struck me as particularly insightful, which I will share with you:

First, Vint Cerf, chief internet evangelist at Google, opened the recent event by sharing his views on artificial intelligence (AI), energy, the internet of things (IoT), the singularity effect, distributed energy, and nuclear energy. He predicted that 1,000 years from now, Bill Gates would be the innovator and technologist most remembered for his work at Microsoft and as a philanthropist. Cerf also acknowledge the importance of energy and IoT coming together and how the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP), created by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Commerce (DOC) via its National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has had the most important role in driving the transformation and creation of missing standards to make it a reality.

Cerf went on to share his views on the importance of distributed generation (DG) from solar PV panels and how DG will push for a re-design of the power grid as we know it.  He spoke about nuclear energy and new innovation with new materials and small size reactors as the most viable long-term solutions for our energy needs. As for his position on artificial intelligence, Cerf disagrees with Elon Musk and others who claim it is dangerous and will harm us.  Instead, he suggests and AI could play a key role in partnership with us on addressing many use cases to focus on improving our quality of life and productivity.

Furthermore, Cerf also disagrees with the notion that we will achieve the singularity effect and names Ray Kurzweil’s vision of an ascending spiral that ultimately allow us to transcend our current living state and join the digital universe (as ones and zeros like in the movie Tron).  Cerf suggests that AI is good but that we are nowhere near the technological and computational capabilities to predict such an outcome.

The second great encounter was the panel that I moderated with Bob Metcalfe, the father of Ethernet and a professor of innovation at the University of Texas at Austin, and Massoud Amin, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota and a self-healing grid expert.

I asked both about their views on the battle of fossil fuel versus renewables and they agreed that we need all fuels to achieve our low carbon goals as we maintain grid reliability and resiliency. When it came to their views on centralized generation versus distributed generation, they both agreed that centralized generation in all its forms (nuclear, coal, natural gas, wind and solar) is essential to a robust power grid however they also agreed that distributed generation represents a great opportunity in re-designing the grid to enable a two-way power flow and superb resiliency.

On the topic of security, they said we need to invest more and sooner in fixing the known technological security problems. Metcalfe suggested that we should not build a separate industrial internet that is secure, but that we should retrofit our current commercial internet and make it mission critical secure for all industries.

Finally, the discussion concluded with what’s going on with Apple and the U.S. Government about battling over privacy rights. Metcalfe, Amin and most of the audience (included myself) sided with Apple and with protecting our privacy rights.

Do you agree with Cerf, Metcalfe, and Amin on all their views?