Summary:

With the world population booming and energy consumption growing, the challenge is on to counter the impacts with smart solutions, said Microsoft’s Rob Bernard. He said cloud-based software, creative uses of data and innovative interfaces will help create smart systems that can address the growing problems.

Rob Bernard, Microsoft, at Green:Net 2011

Rob Bernard, Microsoft, at Green:Net 2011With the world population booming and energy consumption growing, the challenge is on to counter the effects with smart solutions, said Rob Bernard, chief environmental strategist for Microsoft. He said cloud-based software, creative uses of data, innovative interfaces and new data center designs will help create smart systems that can address the growing problems. Bernard, who spoke at GigaOM’s Green:Net conference, explained how Microsoft is working with customers and developing its own efforts to create intelligent infrastructure.

He said the cloud can help address a number of the problems: from helping utility companies manage their growing energy sources to helping smart grids intelligently schedule electric-car charging based on a user’s calendar. Bernard said cloud-based solutions, for example, can greatly improve the efficiency of farming, which consumes 70 percent of the world’s water, but loses half of it to inefficiency. By using sensors, weather information and managing resources through cell phones, farmers can be much more efficient in how much water they use.

“We need massive amounts of information in the cloud driving actions that will help agriculture,” Bernard said.

He said this harnessing of data is critical for solving problems but also for better assessing how much work needs to be done. Bernard said industry leaders are still coming to grips with how much is unknown about the challenges ahead.

Another big hurdle is educating consumers and giving them easy ways to participate. Bernard said simple and natural interfaces, or solutions that are almost invisible to users, are necessary to get users on board. As an example, he pointed to air and water quality data in Europe that Microsoft helped make accessible to users, showing how consumers can get involved if the barriers are lowered.

Bernard also talked about how Microsoft is tackling its own resource challenges. He said the company’s biggest power use goes toward data centers. But he said the company has found that they don’t have to build data centers that are enclosed with complex cooling systems. Instead, Microsoft has started building more centers that don’t use cooling but are able to tolerate much higher temperatures and still keep running.

Ultimately, improving resource management and promoting more clean solutions comes down to putting the information together and coming up with innovative answers, said Bernard, something the cloud is well positioned to tackle.

“When you have data, you can take information that’s been historically disconnected and put it together in new ways and we can solve problems at a much more rapid and hopefully effective pace,” he said.

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