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VERGE SF 2013 day two: Big Data and little things

<p>The vision is that measuring billions of little things -- like online transactions or the smallest computers you&#39;ve never heard of -- will accelerate advances in energy.</p>

The high energy of VERGE SF continued on day two – and it was all about energy. Technology giants and upstarts shared big visions for driving global sustainability -- vast changes that hinge upon measuring tiny bits of data, whether in kilowatts or dollars or pounds of carbon, in new ways.

Former EPA chief Lisa Jackson opened Wednesday with her first big public talk as Apple’s new sustainability leader, dishing on Apple's pursuit of 100 percent renewables for its data centers. Although Apple doesn't plan to get into the energy business itself, "realistically when you're generating energy you're either working with or not with the utility," she said. Jonathan Bardelline has the story.

“We have to transform the way energy is delivered,” said SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive, recently profiled by Martin LaMonica. Rive hopes his innovative solar-panel leasing model will expand from 70,000 to 1 million rooftops in the next five years. He sees SolarCity as an energy company, and "an energy company should help you manage energy at your house."

Decentralizing the energy landscape involves aggregating far-flung little things. Seemingly countless little things -- coming from energy meters, embedded sensors or Internet transactions -- are starting to be counted, quantified and controlled in real time, dramatically saving energy and natural resources.

Take eBay, for example, where some 450 million items are for sale this very moment. Its online energy dashboard shows the world its data-center “Rubik's cube” permutations of performance, cost, environment and revenue. “You’ve got to start solving all the sides together,” said eBay VP Dean Nelson.

Rive may not envision a “Moore’s law of solar” at play, but a key theme at VERGE was how other incredibly shrinking technologies can accelerate sustainability.

“We can now put computers in places we never could before,” said Stanford researcher Jonathan Koomey, adding that what’s critical are “the tools that can help us analyze data we’re going to be getting from sensors everywhere.”

Aggregating data can do more than help to match energy supply with demand, Koomey continued. Marrying sensors with software also enables innovative new products – like Makani power, which makes wind turbines on kites, or the two-wheel gyroscopic vehicle from Lit Motors (a VERGE star last year).

Entrepreneur Jeremy Walker is among those seeking to accelerate the Internet of Things. He announced the soft launch of IOTA Computing, which aims to make ultra-tiny, low-power computers, each complete with a processor, battery and encryption.

“You want smart dust, not smart bricks,” he said. “We’re trying to drive this down to under a dollar to Internet-connect everything. We can build the tools for you. What you do with them -- what you change, monitor, manage and measure is really up to you.” Check out Heather Clancy’s profile of Walker for more.

And making buildings smarter and more efficient is just the beginning of possibilities for machine-to-machine communication, as Jonathan Bardelline reports.

Sunil Cherian, CEO of smart grid company Spirae, also touched on data and energy decentralization. As we move away from large power plants, the whole system is changing from something “far, far away to something near and dear to you that you can actually control and manage,” he said.

Spirae put these principles into action at VERGE, where it worked with All Power Labs and Sungevity to build the microgrid powering the show floor.

Image of GreenBiz chairman and executive editor Joel Makower by Goodwin Ogbuehi

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