Greater innovation for a sustainable future

HP Labs has come up with a City 2.0 blueprint that it says is the solution to a more sustainable ecosystem, and which leverages on IT and engineering to lower energy consumption.

The next wave of IT revolution will lie in the use of computing and analytics to manage limited resources such as water and power, said Chandrakant Patel, a senior fellow at HP Labs.

In Singapore to speak at The World Engineering Education Forum, Patel explained that these green solutions are derived from the cooling methods the company created for data centers, and it is ready to export the expertise over to the managing of resources in a city he has dubbed "City 2.0".

While Patel admitted that some cities are interested in adopting the solutions, HP Labs is not in talks with any party. He urged governments to take charge of the situation as continued growth and development are putting a strain on natural resources.

"IT can broker that supply and ease the strain on resources," said Patel. In its whitepaper, the research team promised that City 2.0 will be "an infrastructure created by a system of resource microgrids, designed for lifecycle operation and managed for optimal supply side and demand side provisioning by an intelligently monitored IT ecosystem that consists of billions of service-oriented client devices and thousands of data centers and print factories".

Patel explained that the technologies involved are not "rocket science". "With GPS in mobile phones, we are all connected and 'living sensors'. With architectural modification and analytics, [the GPS in phones can tapped] to create a sustainable living environment for the future," said the researcher.

He added that the green initiatives which many governments are pushing, are not broad-based enough to keep the ecosystem sustainable in the long run. Hence, he argued on the need for greener innovation.

City 2.0's solution is laid out in a four-step transformation, starting with the designing of a city based on the lowest environmental impact across the lifecycle. The supply and demand side management comes next, such as constructing a system of microgrids that are governed with policies and careful monitoring.

The third step involves leveraging on IT services to better the lives of people, followed by lifecycle management using a cradle-to-cradle framework to create strategies for reclamation, and incineration to produce synthesis gas and methane from biomass for fuel cells in the grid.

Patel explained that these models are designed to be broad-based so they can be applied to either transport, waste management or any of the verticals. As the concept is relatively new, he expects cities to test out on a single vertical before implementing the plan on a greater scale.

While competitors have come up with similar "green labs", HP says it is still lacking in the "cradle-to-cradle" impact as these new designs focus only on removing inefficiencies. As such, the consumption of energy has not been significantly reduced.

Patel said that education is key to pushing forward his City 2.0 IT plan. He suggested restructuring the tertiary curriculum for a more holistic engineering education.

"At the bachelor level, teach them the basics of engineering, but at the master's level, bring in the concept of economics and analytics so they would be able to understand the overall ecosystem in terms of architecture and figures," said Patel.

"The challenge is to train people in basic and multi-disciplinary engineering, because besides building, they are involved in data mining," he added.

Besides education, experiments are also crucial to ensuring success in the transformation of the ecosystem.

Unlike green IT labs that have taken off, Patel admits that this is a project that HP Labs will still be working on 10 years from now. However, the team wants to start implementing the transformation in a couple of years, and hopefully, provide a blueprint for other cities to follow.

When quizzed on the level of interest, he only said many cities are keen, and that "the interest in APAC is huge".

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