Earlier, I wrote a bit about traffic and the IoT. It's a big topic. The traffic problems of the developed and developing worlds seem so large, complex, and intractable to significant change in any reasonable timeframe.
Consider Mexico City. There are more than 20 million people in the metro area, of whom about 4 million ride the subway systtem every day. There are also about 4 million cars, all of which seem to be on the road at most given moments. The traffic there has been legendary for a long time.
Mexico City, like so many other metro areas in the developing world, does not have a highly advanced multi-lane highway system. (Crawl along Manila's EDSA or any number of main thoroughfares in the developing world and you have roughly the same experience.)
Yet, ask people in Los Angeles, or New York, London, or any other big place in the developed world, and you'll learn that a highly advanced highway system just seems to make things worse. Who doesn't thrill to the idea of banging one's way from the airport into mid-town Manhattan or North Michigan Ave. in Chicago early on a Tuesday morning?
Blink your eyes and experience the year 2040. The IoT has had 25 years of solid development, and all traffic problems have been solved. Driverless cars, flexible tolling, real-time speed control and re-routing, and tens of thousands of sensors kicking out gigabytes of telemetry and flow data in real-time have fixed all that. Gut-wrenching commutes are gone, road rage is as common as dueling, and we're all living together in a spirit of peace and harmony.
But go back to Mexico City or Manila. Or perhaps to Lima, Peru. Look at the mass of cars mingling with buses, trucks, and pedestrians in a widespread, continuous morass of humanity that seems impervious to technologically utopian dreams.
Then realize the car ownership is still a dream for most people there, one that they do not realy want to give up. Back in Manila, it seems the last thing the area needs is more cars—yet that is the dream of the millions of people striving to break out of a difficult life into middle-class comforts.
Unlike telco in the developing world, in which a lack of 20th century landlines allows many nations to skip over this step and move straight to mobile, it's hard to imagine societies skipping over the deam of automobile ownership in exchange for IoT-driven traffic.
Run the Numbers
Meanwhile, the overall picture of a comfortable life centers around electricity, not cars. This seems to be the truly big challenge.
World electrical consumption in the developing world runs at 3% to 5% of the developed world. Do the arithmetic and you quickly see that bringing all of the anticipated 9-10 billion people we'll have by 2040 into a comfortable existence is simply impossible unless we achieve vast new energy efficiencies.
My numbers show that it would tak about 500,000 megawatts of new capacity to bring the 3.5 billion people who live below the world's average income up to the average. It's important to note that this average is not that of the developed world; it lies somewhere around the average of Mexico and Brazil.
Putting 500,000 new megawatts of power online will require the equivalent of roughly 500 power plants at a cost of at least $1 billion apiece. The total investment of $500 billion may not seem so terrifying until we realize that, off of the spreadsheet and in the real world, there needs to be more than $10 trillion in new economic development in these countries to get these plants built.
How do we go about doing that? Looking at basic economics principles, what comparative advantage can exist in these places to create this new wealth? Alternatively, what massive new energy efficiencies can we wring with the IoT to address this challenge?
(This is the first in a series of articles on this topic.)