Eric Schmidt: Oil is Finite But Information Is Infinite


ericschmidtnafBy now Google’s (s goog) 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.


Alex Haislip

GOOG stock is off 62% YTD. Maybe Schmidt needs to spend more time focused on improving operating margins at Google in anticipation of the advertising fall off. Where’s the Board of Directors?

Mark Goldes

Create an UltraGrid – as part of the Electronet National Smart Grid
The nation needs to build “an electronet,” a unified national smart grid, with high-voltage, low-loss underground wires that deliver renewable energy…Such a grid would require a $400 billion investment upfront, but would pay off in just over three years, he said, because the nation spends $120 billion annually on costs from power failures attributed to the existing grid. Al Gore November 9, 2008
A SuperGrid has been proposed to tie together the nation’s utilities. A superconducting Tieline would serve the country well in this era of terrorist threats. The reliability and availability of cost-effective electric power is also a major problem following natural disasters such as earthquakes, ice storms, hurricanes and floods, since the nation’s electric power utilities are only connected regionally.

An “electronet” has also been proposed, to modernize our aging transmission grid and extend it to connect remote renewable generation. However, the proposals may assume cryogenically cooled superconductors will be utilized, complicating the system by requiring many thousands of miles of tubing filled with liquid hydrogen, a costly refrigerant. Ultraconductors have extremely high current densities at ambient temperatures. They require no refrigeration whatsoever.

Ultraconductors can eventually replace copper wire in many types of motors and generators, helping to greatly reduce total energy demand. Due to the resistance heating of wire, power transmission lines in the U.S. lose 11% of the electricity they carry in the form of heat – at a cost exceeding $80 billion annually. Each 1% reduction of these transmission losses would save above $500 million every year. Load leveling on a national basis might save an additional 5% of energy loss and 2% of new plant construction could be unnecessary – adding up to a savings of perhaps $65 billion in avoided cost for infrastructure. In addition, national load leveling will reduce the plant construction needed for growing peak power demands. Thus, an UltraGrid Tieline will more than pay for itself.

Ultraconductors in the form of wire and cable are clearly on the horizon. An UltraGrid system could utilize Ultraconductors operating at ambient temperatures. The economics of an electronet would be far more cost-effective, if Ultraconductors are utilized for the major parts of the system rather than cryogenically refrigerated Superconductors.

An electronet composed of Ultraconductors could consist of a buried cable – carrying AC power at 5,000 volts or less, identical in power handling capability to a more than 100,000 volt system on towers – with minimal environmental degradation. This is due to the extremely high current density.

Deep Patel

I agree and have been preaching this for a long time, we need to turn the electric grid into two way channel in which people can contribute via distributed generation. The grid is a 100 years old here, that is our biggest security threat. We need to deploy a smart grid today, and yes we should use the majority of the bailout money towards a project to upgrade our grid, it would create tons of jobs and simulate the economy towards a new clean energy revolution. This should be our top priority, what is the federal government doing?

Henry Martin

Opening up the grid to internet control does simplify control of distributed power generation. Before we start building, however, we must solve a very important problem. The information must be much more secure than the Windows computers of today. The magnitude of destruction that can be caused by a terrorist in control of the grid is staggering. Even the simple attack of flooding the internet with bogus packets could cause generators to self-destruct and bring down the entire grid. Yes, the grid needs to get smarter, but just putting it online is not enough.

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