Real infrastructure for the future- hydro power

In case you wonder, I’ve been busy lately speaking in other cities about the future of the web and advertising- plus, short-handed at the office. It’s put me behind on my reading of Wired magazine- which I highly recommend.

So, while our “leadership” is talking about merged 911 centers, and the silly “ballpark village” as the end all and be all of “economic development”- here is what we should be looking at for capital projects in the near future: cheap hydro-electric power micro plants built into the low damn rebuilds and a possible white water park.

Why, well this article shares one of the main issues of the server farms needed for cloud/petabyte computing that the whole Internet economy is dependent on:

Wired 14.10: The Information Factories
If it’s necessary to waste memory and bandwidth to dominate the petascale era, gorging on energy is an inescapable cost of doing business. operations VP Dayne Sampson estimates that the five leading search companies together have some 2 million servers, each shedding 300 watts of heat annually, a total of 600 megawatts. These are linked to hard drives that dissipate perhaps another gigawatt. Fifty percent again as much power is required to cool this searing heat, for a total of 2.4 gigawatts. With a third of the incoming power already lost to the grid’s inefficiencies, and half of what’s left lost to power supplies, transformers, and converters, the total of electricity consumed by major search engines in 2006 approaches 5 gigawatts.

That’s an impressive quantity of electricity. Five gigawatts is almost enough to power the Las Vegas metropolitan area – with all its hotels, casinos, restaurants, and convention centers – on the hottest day of the year. So the annual operation of the world’s petascale search machines constitutes a Vegas-sized power sump. In the next year or so, it could add a dog-day Atlantic City. Air-conditioning will be the prime cost and conundrum of the petascale era. As energy analysts Peter Huber and Mark Mills projected in 1999, the planetary machine is on track to be consuming half of all the world’s output of electricity by the end of this decade.

Google’s Hölzle noticed the high electric bills after taking his post in 1999. At 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, power dominated his calculus of costs. “A power company could give away PCs and make a substantial profit selling power,” he says. (At The Dalles, the huge protuberances on top are not giant disk drives, climbing to the rooftop for a smoke while the RAM below does the work, but an array of eight hulking cooling towers.)

The struggle to find an adequate supply of electricity explains the curious emptiness that afflicts some 30 percent of’s square footage. Why is the second-fastest-growing search engine one-third empty? “We ran out of power before we ran out of space,” says search operations manager James Snow, a ponytailed refugee from an IBM acquisition. Not only does the Verizon facility lack a cheap power source, it struggles to get any further power at all; designed for the more modest needs of Internet switching, the building has already maxed out the local grid. Consequently,’s Sampson has followed Google’s trail to the Columbia River, where he’s scoping out properties. Perhaps by moving farther up the river into the Washington headwaters he can get even cheaper power than Google will get in The Dalles.

With the local power company more interested in paying off the top-execs maybe we should be looking into muni-power to throw back onto the grid? Why shouldn’t we be generating power to run our street lights, municipal facilities, and even sell some back to DP&L. Dennis Kucinich understood this long ago when he refused to sell off Cleveland’s Municipal power plant and the powers that be drove the city into bankruptcy to teach the boy mayor a lesson.

It’s called power to the people- and it could be a key competitive advantage for the region in the years to come. Not only do we have bountiful clean water, we could also have good clean, cheap power. And with some of our dams starting to show signs of aging, we could be building new ones- with hydro-plants right in front of the old ones to slowly phase out the aged ones before we have to face a catastrophic failure.

What do you think? Just another crazy idea from Dayton’s masked man? Hi Ho Silver- away….

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