‘Innovation economics‘ is propelling a global hunt for inventions that can extend the frontiers of renewable generation.
First comes invention then comes prosperity. That’s the theory of ‘innovation economics,’ a relatively new doctrine that underlies today’s worldwide race to discover energy’s next game changer and is triggering some intriguing tinkering in renewable energy. Will one of these new technologies lead us out of our economic malaise?
‘Hurry up with your work.’ That was the message delivered to energy innovators by Arun Majumdar, director of the U.S. government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) at a Washington, D.C. gathering in November. ‘Let there be no illusion that speed is of the essence right now,’ Majumdar said at the energy innovation conference sponsored by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a public policy think tank.
Why the haste? The last 100 years brought us electricity, air travel, nuclear technology, fibre optics, wireless communication and more. Now the world needs the equivalent breadth and depth of innovation from the energy sector, but this time we don’t have a century to make the transformation. Dependent on a single fuel for transportation, the US is vulnerable from both a security and an economic perspective, particularly since it imports half of its oil – as does China. India also is an importer, as are Germany and Japan. ‘This is a global problem and people are looking for technological leadership in trying to solve it,’ Majumdar said.
At the same time, prosperity is arriving for large swathes of the undeveloped world, which creates new pressures and opportunities for energy innovators. Rural outposts have no transmission or distribution infrastructure, but they want electric lighting now, and they want it to be clean and affordable. Energy innovators are being called upon for quick solutions, and the victory will go to the swift, according to Majumdar.
Clean energy represents the ‘biggest business opportunity’ of the twenty-first century, Majumdar said, one that Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects to amount to a US$7 trillion investment by 2030. ‘The question is: Are we going to stand on the sidelines and buy all that stuff? Or are we going to innovate and make it and sell it to the rest of the world? That is the battle. That’s the fight.’
So how is it going on the battlefield? Are the energy innovators advancing? And will they prove that innovation economics is correct? Can we innovate our way out of today’s economic slowdown?
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