This guest post is contributed from Microsoft's Kat Willson, a member of the Environmental Sustainability team who works with Microsoft's partners to bring sustainability solutions to market.

Last week, we attended CERAWeek 2011 in Houston, Texas.  The theme for this year's conference was "Leading the Way: Energy Strategies for a World of Change" which focused on how the energy system will evolve to meet the needs of the growing world.  Our team was in attendance with leaders across the full spectrum of the energy industry; our partners and our customers participated in discussions of the challenges and opportunities that must be addressed in the next few decades if we are to support our growing populations. 

Building on our recent announcement with Alstom, we published a new whitepaper entitled, "The Central Role of Cloud Computing in Making Cities Energy-Smart", that presented Microsoft's point of view on the important role of information technologies in making our cities more energy-efficient and sustainable.  As Steve Ballmer shared with the CERAWeek audience on Wednesday, March 9, 2011, "We're excited about the partnership with Alstom.  We share a vision for transforming today's energy infrastructure by using the power of cloud computing to enable utilities, operators, transportation system managers, and individual citizens...to help participate in the power generation right on through to consumption processes."

Why cities?  According to 2009 population projections from the United Nations, cities are home to more than half of people in the world today, and will be home to nearly 70% of our population by 2050.  Since most of us will be living in cities, it follows that cities must be economically and environmentally sustainable in order to achieve the sustainability of our society as a whole.  Cities that use resources efficiently and minimize GHG emissions could be one of our most important assets.  Our cities are not energy-efficient yet; existing energy infrastructures cannot accommodate our projected population growth in urban areas.  With energy costs and GHG emissions increasing as populations grow, cities that do not become energy-smart are at risk of becoming too expensive to compete economically with cities that do become energy-smart.   

The evolution of urban energy infrastructures is already being enabled by the integration of information technologies that help manage the supply of and demand for energy.  Maturing cloud computing and data management technologies offer new opportunities to address energy management issues on a new scale: one that is needed in a world of increasing energy and environmental constraints.  The evolution of energy infrastructures won't be achieved without information technologies.  

Microsoft is working with technology leaders, utilities, universities and government organizations to evolve the energy infrastructures of our growing cities.  Microsoft's business model has always revolved around partners.  Our partners design, build, implement and service solutions across the breadth of Microsoft's platform to address specific customer needs.  No single company can address all dimensions of this opportunity alone.  Having a broad spectrum of solutions and addressing the many facets of these challenges will make it easier for customers to adopt these technologies, and ultimately accelerate the evolution of energy-smart cities.  Microsoft's diverse network of solution partners in the utilities, building, and transportation industries, are a testament to that philosophy.  Microsoft has successfully created and nurtured partner ecosystems to advance solutions for other industries, including manufacturing, healthcare and education.  We intend to do the same for energy management: develop a partner ecosystem that delivers a diverse portfolio of solutions to accelerate the evolution of energy-smart cities.