Does the telecommunications industry have a place in the green economy? It does if we make one.
It’s supposed to be our nation’s saving grace – the silver lining beneath this economic thundercloud is the opportunity to reinvent industry. Call it a reset, a restructuring, a renewal. What we’re talking about is really a revolution, and its color is green.
And all the talk about the green revolution suggests that if you’re not a part of it, you ought to be lest you miss this economic ship. So, find a way to get on the boat, and fast.
The green revolution is a large, unwieldy concept, and one that can be difficult to get our heads around – particularly if you’re in a kind of business that really doesn’t have too much of a carbon footprint in the first place. For example, my company, Teo, develops telephone and network communications systems. We’ve made many improvements to reduce the impact of building our hardware. We also developed a unified communications system that can help businesses and organizations reduce their travel and work more efficiently. But still, in the back of our minds was that nagging feeling that we could do more. And, so, we’ve been peering into the window to this bright new future to search for more.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration studied trends over the last century and estimated that the domestic demand for electricity would increase at least 20 percent by 2030. Many in the private sector believe this is a conservative estimate. The Western Governors’ Association, representing 19 states and a couple of U.S. territories in the Pacific, are leading the charge toward more progressive energy policies that it believes will not just reduce the United States’ carbon footprint, but will be the catalyst to rebuilding the economy based on clean, cheaper renewables.
So, what does any of this have to do with telephones?
Out on the windy steps of eastern Washington state’s Columbia River Gorge, we see how the new green economy is taking shape. Not only are there more tall white electricity-producing turbines spotting the barren landscape, these projects also attract new supporting business. The Gorge Technology Alliance was recently created for just that purpose. Collectively, hydroelectric dams, wind farms, gas-recovery plants and other renewable energy projects are the major attraction for companies needing that electricity – companies in the high-tech sector, such as Google’s (News - Alert) server farm at The Dalles, Oregon.
It’s an inspiring call to action and a motivator to imagine getting in on the ground floor of this potentially lucrative economic revolution. There are a lot of possibilities for telecommunications, and we in this sector have a lot to gain. Taking a page from the Obama playbook, we have proactively sought out new problems to solve – and we found one. Recently, Teo teamed up with another West Coast firm, Bergelectric Corp., one of the largest electrical contractors in the country, to engineer a vital communications structure for wind farms.
Communications has been challenging for this new industry in terms of both operational and safety concerns. Not only are most wind turbines located in remote, fiberless outposts, they are also tall and noisy. Technicians climb up and down the 80-meter structures all day, and it’s critical for them to be in touch with other technicians and operators. Wireless communications don’t easily penetrate the steel towers, and the process of communicating has most often involves the use of special, high-powered radios with messages being passed through a middleman with a walkie-talkie.
That’s a problem begging to be solved. And so, Teo and Berglectric began outfitting a couple of wind farms in Klickitat County on the Columbia River Gorge with Internet access, VoIP-based telephones and enhanced 911 technology based on Teo’s unified communications system.
“By equipping the top of each turbine with an E911-enabled phone and IP connection points for various devices, such as computers, cameras and sensors, we’re not only increasing safety for maintenance personnel, we’re also enabling them to become more efficient,” says Jason Hayes, of Los Angeles-based Bergelectric. “They can now access electronic work instructions, contact technical support, access manuals and diagrams and operate SCADA from the top of the turbine.”
Of course, with a communications solution engineered and ready to deploy, we hope that more wind farm projects are encouraged and developed with these safety features. And as new turbines go up, we’ll hopefully see that business rise, as well. Regardless of this particular project, however lucrative its potential, my point is this: With every progressive change to solve an old problem, generally a new problem is created. Human history advances by technology continually solving problems created by technology itself.
One of America’s newest and most inspiring economic initiatives has been the encouragement of the new green energy economy. During his campaign and since the election, President Obama has reiterated a commitment to invest in renewable energy and environmentally sustainable businesses and technologies, such as solar power, wind power and next-generation biofuels. He’s talked about all American companies, no matter what their product or service lines, getting into the game and once again leading the rest of the world into a new era.
So, take a closer look at this green revolution. Opportunities can present themselves in unexpected places, but they are presenting themselves now. Any business can take advantage of getting in on the ground floor.
Thomas Beck is business strategy executive with Teo (www.teotech.com).
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Edited by Stefania Viscusi