Missing in Action

Opinion: The tech industry should be more involved in the energy debate.

On the same day that President George W. Bush signed the $14.5 billion energy bill into law, the price of crude oil hit a new high of $64.27 a barrel. As the bills proponents noted, there was nothing in the bill to alter the ever-climbing price of oil in the short term. The laws provisions, the proponents contend, will offer relief through the encouragement of alternative fuels and greater efficiency over the long term. As "end of cheap oil" doomsayers contend (especially "The Long Emergency" author James Kunstler, at www.kunstler.com), nothing anyone is going to do will offset the economic and social chaos coming our way as the oil era draws to an abrupt end.

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I find it curious that the voice of the high-tech industry has largely been missing from the discussion of the energy crisis and the industrys role in developing alternatives and more efficient ways to use the energy we have. The main high-tech-related discussion surrounding the recent energy bill was regarding the extension of daylight-saving time starting in 2007. In an argument that bore too much resemblance to the Y2K discussion (www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8861692), the role of technology companies mostly has been to provide shifting answers regarding their ability to comply with the time change. Benjamin Franklin, who first proposed the creation of daylight-saving time in 1784 as a way to save fuel (www.imahero.com/ herohistory/ben_herohistory.htm#DST), would doubtlessly be perplexed by the consternation over the shift.

While the arguments over open-source software versus proprietary software, which vendor will become the dominant player in the development of the digital home media center, and the rights and abuses of copyright and patent law in a digital economy are interesting, they are not central to our society or economic progress. Increasingly, technology vendors seem to be engaging in issues peripheral to societys major concerns, instead of central to those needs. Thats a mistake, and there is no reason technology vendors, users and the high-tech community at large should not be vital to the deliberations about developing a comprehensive and sensible energy policy.

The tool set available to measure, monitor and develop energy-related products has never been greater. We have financial business performance management tools to measure the ebb and flow of fiscal data. We have employee management tools to measure productivity, performance and output. And, increasingly, we have the technology tools to measure and monitor the flow of physical goods and energy resources.

The advent of RFID (radio-frequency identification) tagging, location-aware GPS services, and remote Web-based monitoring and control capabilities from organizations such as the ZigBee Alliance (www.zigbee.org) holds tremendous promise for using energy resources such as electricity in the most efficient manner. Companies that measure cash flow down to the penny in real time often have no idea how much power is being consumed by idling computers, inefficient server room construction, or heating and air-conditioning systems using controls that have not changed in decades. A company would be wise to apply some of its technical talent to those areas rather than firing and outsourcing its technology skill base.

Toyota, with its hybrid-automobile development, is proving that consumers do care about efficiency, especially as costs continue to climb. At the corporate level, the need is as great, if not greater, for a digital dashboard that displays energy use as it is for a digital dashboard that displays financial performance.

The recently enacted energy bill includes many provisions that will not be possible to accomplish without an increased dose of technology. Increased appliance efficiency, tax breaks for higher overall efficiency and a more reliable electrical transmission grid will all require new technology developments. The cost of oil is not going to fall. The need for energy alternatives and efficiency will increase, and the high-tech industry should be playing a central role in this most important debate.

Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at eric_lundquist@ziffdavis.com.

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