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Moving bits as well as clean electrons

November 23, 2010

According to Chris Gailus’s report on Global News last week, and Jeff Lee’s article in the November 17th Vancouver Sun, work should begin this week on the quarter billion dollar Vancouver City Central Transmission (VCCT) Project

The project is BC Hydro’s first major investment in Vancouver infrastructure in nearly 30 years and it includes boring a tunnel under False Creek and building a new substation in Mount Pleasant.  

When the whole project is complete, BC Hydro expects there will be fewer power blackouts in the business centre of the city. 

Of course it’s worth pointing out here that the Vancouver City Central Transmission project is just one small part of BC Hydro’s multibillion dollar reinvestment program in the province’s aging generating and transmission infrastructure: reinvestment that is vitally necessary if we want to continue to benefit from the legacy of clean energy we received from previous generations in this province.

However, as one might suspect, the multibillion dollar capital cost of these infrastructure upgrades is going to be reflected in BC Hydro’s rates, because no one can honestly expect BC Hydro to carry out upgrade projects like these and not pass the cost on to its customers.  

Unfortunately, the spawn of COPE 378 will likely seize on this “opportunity” and falsely blame BC Hydro rate increases on the independent green energy producers they claim are conspiring to destroy BC Hydro; clever misinformation they’ve aggressively peddled around the province for the several years now.  In fact, we recently received an email from someone who attended a public meeting in which Rex Wyler made this very claim.

Perhaps someone should ask Mr. Wyler (or anyone else making this same misinformed claim) how it is that BC Hydro can spend billions of dollars renovating and upgrading the province’s aging mega dams and transmission lines and not pass the cost on to its customers through the rate it charges for electricity.  If there’s some magic business formula that Mr. Wyler knows about we’d certainly love to hear about it.

On another note, we also can’t help wondering what’s actually behind the massive growth in electricity consumption in the downtown business district, consumption that has, in part, necessitated the Vancouver City Central Transmission line project.

We also can’t help wondering about the root cause of downtown blackouts like the one that occurred two years which left large sections of Vancouver’s downtown core in darkness for three days? 

We’re going to hazard a guess about this based on some of the email we’ve received on the subject, because it got us thinking about the huge impact that information and communications technology (ICT) is having on electricity consumption, locally and globally: it takes a fair bit of juice to keep all those servers cool and running. 

In a nutshell,  just because someone’s office is located in downtown Vancouver (or even in California where they’re struggling to access cost-effective renewable energy), it doesn’t mean your server and other data infrastructure has to be physically located there.  In other words, perhaps we should be looking at moving those servers closer to the electricity instead of the other way around.  

In that vein, it has been suggested that, instead of running costly new power lines into Vancouver’s built up downtown core to power and cool ICT equipment, perhaps it would be easier to run fiber-optic cables and move bits of data instead of electrons. 

It’s certainly an intriguing idea, and even more so when you consider another aspect of the massive growth of ICT in the past decade: ICT is now one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions on the planet because of the coal-fired electricity powering and cooling most of the equipment planetwide. 

It’s just a thought, but what if all that data processing equipment from around the world could be physically moved to B.C. where we have vast untapped supplies of renewable clean energy, i.e., moving bits around the planet instead of electrons.  A cloud computing arrangement like this could potentially make a sizeable dent in global carbon emissions and add a new dimension to B.C.’s economy.

So, not only is B.C. in a position to be exporting clean, green energy to serve electricity needs in nearby provinces and states, we could also be moving clean electricity loads (and potentially a good number of new clean tech jobs and investment) into the province to take advantage of the considerable amount of clean energy we are able to generate and supply.

There’s no question that B.C.’s renewable energy resources provide us with a wealth of economic and environmental opportunities.  The bigger question, it seems, is whether something can ultimately be done to clean up the toxic misinformation that’s been spread by the spawn of COPE 378 so that we can finally turn these opportunities into realities.

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