DistribuTECH keynote speakers focus on future of electricity

distributech 2016 keynote elp

(Photo: Michael Liebreich talks about renewable energy adoption)

The role of technology to shape our lives and the way we do business was on speakers' minds at the DistribuTECH 2016 Conference & Exhibition Keynote Session Tuesday at the Orange County Convention Center.

Speakers this year before a packed auditorium of more than 4,000 DistribuTECH attendees, exhibitors and delegates included David Pogue, Host of NOVA ScienceNow and Yahoo Tech Columnist; Michael Liebreich, Founder and Advisory Board Chairman of Bloomberg New Energy Finance; Buddy Dyer, mayor of the city of Orlando; and Linda Ferrone, President of the Orlando Utilities Commission.

The theme of the conference, now in its 26th year, is "focused on the future," and future technological developments and how they could change and even disrupt modern life was very much on the minds of those speaking at the keynote.

We are currently living in an era of plenty, Liebreich said, pointing out that natural gas, electric power and renewable energy as well as coal and gasoline are at or near historic lows in the U.S. and around the world.

"The U.S. has extraordinarily low gas prices, and we're going to see them globally. The coal price per ton is going down. Coal companies are going out of business. What is the great hope to stimulate demand? That is electric vehicles," he said.

He pointed out that the Washington Post predicted that electric cars will go down in price until they are within the reach of the average family.

"Unfortunately, they said this in 1915," he said, adding that there is still progress to be made before EVs are made practical for most families — which would be about $30,000 in price, and about 200 miles per charge in range.

Renewable energy continues to meet and even beat estimates of its growth, he said, and the reason for that can no longer be credited or blamed on government subsidies.

"When the oil price dropped, everyone told me investment in renewable energy would now stop, and what we can see here is nothing of the sort," he said, adding that 2015 saw $309 billion in investment for on-the-grid renewable generating capacity — even more than fossil fuel investment, which saw $252 billion in the same year.

"The days where you could refer to renewable energy as some kind of alternative energy are well and truly over," he said.

Another myth renewable energy is shattering is the notion that only rich countries can make us of it, he said. In fact, the opposite has been true in recent years.

"There is now more investment in renewable energy in the developing world than there is in the developed world. A big driver of that is not only China… but South Africa, Mexico, Brazil and others are investing more in renewables because it has become economically possible for them to do so," he said.

Where Liebreich spoke mostly on where energy will come from in the future, David Pogue addressed what we will be doing with that energy in our homes, in the palms of our hands and worn on our bodies.

"I think there has always been a generation gap, but I would posit that in the past few years it has widened" Pogue said." And the main reason is this. These phones. And I don't know why they call them phones, because as anyone with young children knows, calling people with it is the last thing they do with them."

Pogue demonstrated just what smartphones can do by playing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" for the audience on an app that simulates playing an ocarina, telling the audience that this app sold millions of downloads per month for a dollar each.

"What are you people doing sitting there? Get out there and write apps," he said.

He also discussed how our appliances and modern conveniences can now be networked onto the internet of things, which makes utilities more important in people's everyday lives and makes it possible to be present in your house even when you aren't physically there.

The smart thermostat made by Nest was an IoT success story, he said, adding that he had two of them in his house.

"I live in Connecticut, and it’s a snow day today. There's nobody home and by looking at my phone I can see they have it cranked up to 74 degrees — like I'm made of money," he said, showing the audience his phone's display.

He then took out his phone and turned the temperature down to 54.

However, he said the internet of things is limited because each "thing" requires a different app and is controlled through a different device.

"There's too many different things to learn. There's now an attempt to make devices that simplify and unify these things with internet of things hubs, but the problem is there are now about 40 of these devices, so things haven't shaken out just yet," he said.

New technology can be hugely disruptive — particularly if it is successful, he said, citing Uber, a mobile phone based service where ordinary people can get paid to work as taxi drivers, as an example.

"There's been protests about Uber. There's even been tire slashings… It's very disruptive, but you can't put the genie back in the bottle," he said. "This is the way it is now."

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