"...A new analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance compares the roughly $45 billion of global government subsidies for renewable energy (mostly tax breaks) to the $557 billion of subsidies for fossil fuels in 2008 alone. That 12-to-1 ratio of dirty-to-clean subsidies..."
The title of Winston's latest blog post is appropriate, but not specific enough. Luckily, this short, readable post does more than most commentaries with titles like this (read: most are more fluff than substance). With the skill of a ninja (yes, that's right, I just made that bizarre analogy), he slices apart two common arguments against the growth of the clean energy sector: (1) supportive subsidies for things like renewable energy are a perversion of the free market economy (see statistic above) and (2) this kind of transition to a green economy hurts economic competitiveness and translates into job loss.On point #2, he reminds us that peak oil implies, well, that the only direction from here is, sooner than later, downwards. The implications for the long-term trajectory of job creation and economic growth in traditional fossil fuel sectors should then also be, well, not upwards. Notice the movement of oil giants like Exxon to make big bets on alternatives like algal biofuel (yes, "big" is not so big relative to their core business now, but $600 million is not chump change). Moreover, he highlights that the choice of no action is indeed a choice, even if the options before us are both seemingly unattractive -- (1) make serious investments to dramatically change industries' and consumers' use of energy (while still delivering the "cold beer and hot shower" factor of which RMI Chief Scientist Amory Lovins reminds us)...OR...(2) face what most scientists consider fairly planet- and life-altering changes to the planet within our children's lifetimes.
- SOURCE: Andrew Winston (August 17, 2010). "Going Green for the Economy." Harvard Business Review. View website.
So what's the "so what" factor from this post? I'm not sure, but my cold beer is getting hot and my hot shower is waiting for me upstairs after today's bike ride to work.
"...if the [piezoelectric crystals] were placed under a 1/2-mile stretch of road 2 inches beneath the blacktop at a cost of $500,000, they could produce enough electricity to power 250 homes..."
- SOURCE: Theunis Bates. (June 2010). "Supertiny Power Plants." Fast Company. View website.
These unique crystals, usually made of ceramics, "give off a small charge when squeezed, squashed, bent or slapped." A variety of smart entrepreneurs are hoping to use these clever crystals to change the way we think about energy production. Business getting in early on the action include Innowattech, Powerleap, MicroStrain and Pavegen Systems, among others.
The article goes on to mention other settings where these crystals could turn vibration into alternative, clean energy. Floor tiles at stadiums ($75 per square foot) could provide power to LED scoreboards. Vibrations from a helicopter's propellers could power devices, which now rely on batteries, to monitor the chopper's parts for damage. Movement associated with the act of breathing could recharge pacemaker batteries. Applications in sidewalks could power street lighting. Finally, use of the crystals in railroad tracks could be promising -- 300 cars passing over a 1-kilometer section of these crystals could produce enough clean electricity for 150 homes.Notice that for the most part these applications involve true distributed energy. That is, the energy is consumed very close to where it is produced. Given the relatively small, but very consistent amounts of electricity produced by these crystals, and the obvious loss that comes with longer distance transmission lines, this makes sense.What all of this says to me is that the majority of us now know very little about the many ways that will be used to produce alternative power in the future. Let's hope that these new technologies are sufficient in number and in scale so that they make a real dent in the climate change dilemma instead of simply being fodder for entertaining blog posts (although I hope the latter is true, too).