Eric Schmidt: Oil is Finite But Information Is Infinite

ericschmidtnafBy now Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt has said several times that he’s not interested in the position of Chief Technology Officer in the next administration, but that doesn’t mean he’s stopped giving politically tinged speeches on the topic of energy. Schmidt gave a talk yesterday for the New America Foundation on how the power of information and the open model of the Internet can help solve the oil and energy crisis.

“Oil is finite, but information is infinite,” said Schmidt explaining that the goal was “to take the structures of information and apply it to what is the life blood” of the economy ie. energy and oil. Schmidt pointed to how the power of the Internet in bringing information to the world, saying that one day, “almost all of the world’s people will have access to almost all of the world’s information.” That, he said, can create both transparency — helping to deliver the truth in a wisdom-of-the-crowds type of way — as well as “engagement” and a two-way dialogue over important issues like energy.

In the same way that Obama used the Internet and web sites like YouTube to create engagement and passionate supporters, the Internet can help the energy crisis by creating an informed — and action-oriented — user base, said Schmidt. Al Gore expressed a similar sentiment at the Web 2.0 Summit earlier this month when he said we need to use the latest web tools to organize a social movement in order to help rescue the Earth from climate change.

And given that the Internet was founded on an openness that spurred innovation, why, wondered Schmidt, don’t we apply that model to the energy grid? More specifically, the Internet was created to let any devices connect to it, and any applications to run over it — as long they play by the rules. So it should be used to design the power grid to allow for distributed power generation, a smart two-way connection, and distributed energy storage in plug-in vehicles, Schmidt said. The only reason the grid is not this way now is because of “a design problem,” he said, adding, “It’s just a matter of will.”

Schmidt’s suggestion is to first and foremost start building out the grid and making it smarter. “[T]he simplest thing we have to do is address the grid problem,” he said. And he suggests using part of the bailout program to help fund this buildout.

Ultimately getting the grid built out is dependent on first laying out the necessary infrastructure, so that clean power can be generated, and utilities can invest in energy efficiency programs. Broadband networks are needed before people can access the Internet, use web sites like Facebook, or create email accounts; the underlying infrastructure for the power grid needs to be built out, too.

As Schmidt put it, “[I]nfrastructure is the foundation upon which wealth is created.” He should know, without high-speed broadband there would be no Google.

Image courtesy of the New America Foundation.

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