Today in Cleantech

IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative keeps marching on, and its latest stop is the city of Corpus Christi, Texas. Big Blue is helping the Gulf of Mexico port city with software that monitors water, roads, airport, parks, and utility infrastructure, with the goal of tying those disparate city services into a single view for more efficient operations. It’s similar to “Smarter Cities” initiatives IBM has underway in about 300 cities around the world, from capitals such as London, Stockholm and Dublin and major metropolitan areas such as Amsterdam and Sydney, Australia to smaller cities like Dubuque, Iowa, where IBM is helping revamp water and energy management. Cisco is another IT giant with smart city aspirations. The networking gear giant’s Connected Urban Development initiative has projects including networked schools in Portugal, energy efficient apartments in Spain, and an “EcoMap” of the carbon emissions from energy use, waste management and transportation patterns in San Francisco.

How Bandwidth Caps Hurt Your Mac & What Apple Can Do About It

Bandwidth

As a responsible Mac user, I usually feel immune from most Internet threats…except for one. Using my Mac exactly as Apple (s aapl) intends it to be used sometimes renders my Internet connection virtually unusable for up to a month, and costs money to fix.

Could this happen to you? It depends on whether your Internet provider has a bandwidth “metering” policy (or “cap”). These caps are one of the most controversial topics for Internet users in 2009, and can put a significant crimp in your Internet use. Recently, Congressman Eric Massa (D-NY), who represents the Rochester area, introduced the “Broadband Internet Fairness Act” (H.R. 2902) (PDF). Massa got involved soon after Time Warner Cable (s twc) unsuccessfully used Rochester as a test market for metering. Under this bill, the FTC would have veto power over such caps and thus allow them only under certain agreed-upon scenarios.

In my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas, the standard level of cable Internet service has a limit of 3GB of bandwidth per month. Overage is charged $2 per GB. Downloading a single movie from the iTunes store will blow through an entire monthly limit, and even the cable company’s most expensive “premium” service only allows 50GB of bandwidth. In 2009, that’s not really much bandwidth at all.

Once you’ve hit your limit, you have to severely restrict usage until the next month, or face a large bill. Your Apple TV remains stale without its new content, your iMac stops downloading podcasts, and your iPod weeps because it’s sick of the same old music you had last month. Read More about How Bandwidth Caps Hurt Your Mac & What Apple Can Do About It

Are Smarter Gadgets Really Good for the Planet?

RFID_midnightcommWith the explosion of low-cost chips, from Intel’s Atom processor to low-power Wi-Fi sensors, just about everything is “getting smart” these days. There are known environmental benefits to this kind of cheap-and-easy digital intelligence, many of them heavily promoted by IBM as part of its “Smarter Planet” initiative. There’s the smart grid, of course, which adds data-rich intelligence to the energy system, but there’s also smart water, smart transportation (including rail, electric vehicles and traffic), and even smart garbage. It’s what Intel regularly describes as the “2 Percent, 98 Percent” rule — that operating IT contributes some 2 percent of global carbon emissions, but IT can be used to minimize the other 98 percent.

But there’s a slightly brownish tinge to all this greener-through-IT talk. The widely cited 2 percent figure only looks at the energy impacts of IT equipment as it’s being operated, not as it’s being manufactured. That’s what’s known as embedded, or embodied, energy. And depending on who you ask, manufacturing can be a major piece of the puzzle — between 75 and 85 percent, according to some research. In 2005, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, an environmental watchdog group for the high-tech industry, estimated that a single fab could consume as much energy as a 60,000-person city. Which begs the question: Will semiconductor manufacturing outweigh the environmental benefits of the “smarter planet”? Read More about Are Smarter Gadgets Really Good for the Planet?

IBM + Sun = Good, or Bad, for Green?

Ever since the Wall Street Journal reported last week that IBM was in talks to buy Sun Microsystems for $6.5 billion in cash, the tech media has tried to dissect every potential reason for — and outcome of — such a deal. But little mention has been made as to how it could affect the two companies’ green initiatives. IBM and Sun both have jumped into the green IT fray over the last few years, albeit from different angles. So would a combined company double their efforts in the world of green IT, or halve them?
Read More about IBM + Sun = Good, or Bad, for Green?