The Intersection of Energy and IT

Broadband technology is the single best bet for reducing driving time.

With my 25th college reunion approaching this summer, theres a sense of having come full circle. My goal as a Carter-era undergraduate was to take on the problem of energy; now, a quarter-century later, more than 500 IEEE Fellows rank "energy development" at the head of their lists of problems demanding technology input during the next five years.

That IEEE report, accessible at www.spectrum.ieee.org/WEBONLY/resource/jan03/surv.html, takes a commendably broad view of the needs and opportunities that could focus the forces of innovation during the coming year. If it has one flaw, though, its in putting too much emphasis on what engineers are able to build and too little on the need to change what people want.

Its one thing to say, "No one needs a Cadillac Escalade," to quote one survey respondent. Its another to note, as the report fails to do, that broadband technology is the single best bet for reducing drive time, even if entertainment is more of a driver for broadband demand.

Having been a full-time telecommuter for 14 years, Ive evolved with the technology: from telephone and fax, to intermittent e-mail, to persistent dial-up connection with Notes or Outlook, and finally to DSL. At last, the technology is pretty much transparent. There are few remaining excuses not to evaluate broader use of remote (not necessarily home-based) office sites.

Being in the Los Angeles area, I get regular reminders of how much time it wastes to move 160 pounds of wet meat from one place to another when all one really wants to move is information. When the state of Washingtons Energy Office tested part-time telecommuting in 1995, it found that each telecommuter saved 1,500 kilowatt-hours per year in reduced transportation, while adding back only one-eighth that amount in added home energy useā€”not to mention saving 42 hours per year of commuting time. Here in Los Angeles, I could easily burn 42 hours a month if I were working in the center of the city, instead of from an office suite about a 6-minute walk from my home.

By all means, read the whole IEEE report. Ive mentioned only the intersection of two of its topics. But its an intersection filled with opportunity.

Tell me about your telecommuting efforts at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.