Interest in VERGE has grown considerably in recent weeks, in the wake of our recent events in Shanghai, London, and San Francisco. But so have the questions -- the what, where, why, and how of VERGE. Herewith are answers, starting with the basics.
What is VERGE?
VERGE describes the convergence of four technologies — energy, information, buildings, and transportation — and the economic, environmental, and social benefits this convergence will bring to business and society.
Who's behind it?
VERGE is the coinage of GreenBiz Group, the leading media and research company defining and accelerating the business of sustainability. In June 2011, GreenBiz Group launched VERGE in the form of three executive roundtables over a 36-hour period, in Shanghai, London, and San Francisco, intended to engage a broad audience of business leaders, policymakers, investors, and others in a conversation about the VERGE opportunity.
How do you describe the VERGE opportunity?
Simply put, it has the potential to transform how we live, work, travel, shop, and play, by creating a new generation of smarter, innovative products and services. In some cases, VERGE technologies will radically improve efficiencies of today’s vehicles and transportation systems, buildings, urban infrastructure, industrial production, and other energy- and resource-intensive activities. Beyond that, VERGE has the potential to invent new products and services, even new industries, much like other technologies — such as the Internet, broadband, smart phones — have done in recent years.
The VERGE opportunity also extends to the environment, with the potential to create gigaton reductions in carbon emissions along with dramatic reductions in other pollutants, all while reducing congestion, improving health and safety, and raising standards of living. And it extends to policy, where it could lead to the introduction of supportive standards and regulations, or the removal of existing regulations that stand as barriers to more widespread implementation of VERGE technologies. Finally, the VERGE opportunity extends to a wide range of business processes and operations, affecting such activities as facility management, supply chain, purchasing, information technology, manufacturing, logistics, even human resources.
Is VERGE the same thing as cleantech?
Cleantech refers to products and services that improve operational performance, productivity, or efficiency, while reducing costs, inputs, energy use, waste, and pollution. It is safe to say that there are some overlaps between cleantech and VERGE, but there are also key differences. Some VERGE innovations involve new, emerging technologies such as renewable energy or advanced materials, but they also include many “old” technologies, or new technologies not necessarily thought of as cleantech, such as GPS, sensor networks, logistics software, and wireless communications.
VERGE isn’t just about technologies. It is also about systems thinking and design — of buildings, cities, transportation networks, logistics, manufacturing systems, and more. Even where cleantech is utilized, its success as a VERGE technology is dependent on such systems thinking and integration.
How is VERGE different from the smart grid?
The smart grid refers to the interconnected electrical grid, in which buildings, appliances, and vehicles are infused with intelligence that increase their efficiency and can result in new products and services. Its goal is to predict and intelligently respond to the behavior and actions of electric power users, including both producers and consumers of energy, in order to optimize its cost, efficiency, reliability, and sustainability.
In this light, the smart grid is a subset of VERGE. VERGE goes beyond electricity to include all forms of energy, including vehicle fuels, systemic design changes that radically reduce energy requirements overall, as well as the embedded energy in manufacturing products and materials. VERGE aims for efficiency of all business activities by leveraging smart technologies to reduce materials use, optimize and reduce the footprint of buildings, reduce travel, and many other things beyond the electricity grid.
When will we see VERGE in the marketplace?
Today! Many VERGE technologies, such as electric vehicles, smart building technologies, and smart logistics technologies are already in the marketplace. These represent the leading edge of what we expect will be a vast wave of VERGE technologies, along with the products and services these technologies enable. In many cases, VERGE solutions will emerge from the combination and integration of existing technologies — GPS, electric vehicles, and logistics software, for example to create new business opportunities — much as telephones, computers, media, and e-commerce — all of which previously existed — came together in the form of smartphones, tablets, and other technologies. We anticipate multiple waves of VERGE technologies over the coming decades, much as we’ve witnessed in information tech over the quarter-century.