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John Keast, the former CIO and Chief Technology Officer of California's Pacific Gas and Electric, says that government agencies and utilities should use the California situation as a wake-up call to build an improved e-business infrastructure to manage the nation's energy needs. He says an e-marketplace for electricity would have better positioned many companies in California for the crisis just past there. Are Web-based electricity markets part of the solution?

ANDERSON: Well, the first problem is the intelligent part of the intelligent grid. There's nothing that you can do by trading lots of anything that will give the grid any intelligence for managing systems. Systems integration requires the ability to move electrons from one place to another, and you can't do it with the current outmoded thermal mechanical switch-throwing grid. You have to put the grid into the modern world, with solid-state switches, and then you have to manage that grid with computers that optimize the flow and distribution.

GEHL: There are also advances on the horizon in aluminum composite materials, with higher conductivity, higher strength and lower weight, that would allow you to really maximize the throughput on a given transmission right-of-way. Ultimately, we're looking at superconducting transmission lines as well. So there's a whole series of technologies that are at commercial or near commercial stage that are sort of sitting on the shelf right now. What we need to do is to come up with the appropriate incentives so that we can actually implement these things and get them off the shelf and into service. There's a tremendous task ahead of us to do this sort of thing and create the sort of incentives that will induce people to do the necessary development, to cooperate, to make sure that all the various interchanges are working properly. It's something that I think we are just beginning to come to grips with.

ASMUS: Some interesting experiments are already under way, chiefly in the area of alternative energy generation. The Alameda County Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, Calif., for example, in a collaborative effort with CMS Viron Energy Services, has linked up via the Web to solar panels. They have energy management software where if a cloud cover comes over it, let's say at a 5 o'clock peak, the place will automatically ramp down power consumption on site so that no extra electricity has to be bought from the grid at high peak prices. The cloud cover passes, the solar generation comes up to a maximum, and the software manages it. And what's interesting is that the county used no general funds.

How does the CIO fit into the picture?

HANDFIELD: I think the CIO should definitely be a major player on the team that develops energy strategy. I think it should be led by supply management and operations, and it should be a cross-functional undertaking, really, because it is of critical importance.

GARDINER: I agree. What we see emerging is a need for IT organizations along with their facilities counterparts inside companies to be working very closely with power companies to talk about their strategies for the future, what kinds of [technology] needs they have, and how they can work together to anticipate what that's going to mean to the group.

HURLE: The CIO's role in an organization is two-fold: First, to be responsible for integrating technology into the business strategy of the organization; and second, from an operational standpoint, to deal with issues on a day-to-day basis—provide technology, anticipate technology change. I don't think it's fair to expect the CIO or even any single organization to be responsible for redesigning the nation's power grid, and I think Dr. Anderson's point is well on. There really isn't anyone in charge, and it's not necessarily fair to hold any one organization responsible. The CIO's job, a company's job, is to maximize shareholder value, and that's what they'll do. That's what they get measured on, that's what their performance is based upon.

ANDERSON: And they can do a great job and still have brownouts sweep through their company.

HURLE: I think CIOs fall into two groups. There are CIOs of energy companies who have, I guess, a lot more pressure on them to think of technologies, and to look at either whether it's a supply-side company or a demand-side company. Like CIOs at some of the companies that I work for who, for instance, are trying to attract retail customers in more than eight states in the U.S., and for every single state they have a different billing system to be able to deal with attracting customers. That makes for a lot of inefficiency. Then there are a lot of other CIOs who aren't with utility companies but nevertheless have a lot of issues to deal with in terms of the infrastructure, the cost, how they organize themselves, how they procure their energy, involve themselves with base markets and so forth.

MEHRABANI: For us, it's an economic problem. It's an issue of what do we need to do to protect the basic fundamental operations of the business—and what is the source of the energy that will let us do that? I think we CIOs would be supportive of any reasonable economic approach to solving the capacity problem, whether it's an alternative source of energy or something to enhance the capabilities of the grid. But I'm not sure that a CIO, for example, or even an architecture individual like myself, would want to stick his nose into the decision, "Do I want to use my windmill today or do I want to use my biomass?" That's not what I'm being asked to do.

This article was originally published on 07-01-2001
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