Advent Of A Sustainable Economy


There is a symbolic movement of our times that is promising a new lifestyle. A lifestyle that is not only transforming the vision of the future but changing the way we do business and invest. It is a possibility where the energy is produced and consumed sustainably, the environment is clean, and all of nature is in its healthy state. I know this could sound very idealistic when we are constantly bombarded by bad news. But if we look deeper the sustainable revolution has inspired and compelled governments and corporations to make goods and services such as clean power, extend green tax credits and encourage local recycling mandates that affect our day to day lives. This trend has also resulted in a new race to create better and more efficient cars and buildings which consume less energy and resources. New and advanced methods of growing food, and developing medications with organic ingredients are influencing nutrition and health care sectors as well. More humane procedures, like using fewer chemicals and minimizing animal testing’s has been advocated by consumers and activists alike. Even Local counties and schools are encouraging their constituents to recycle and conserve, this has resulted in many of us reusing shopping bags, using public transportation paying a premium for locally grown organic food and driving a fuel-efficient car.

But then we must also pay attention as to who are joining the movement to “LOOK” good and who are actually participating to” DO” good. Green washing is another technique where many may use to fit and conform into the new trend. Following the investments and the money chasing green projects is one way to keep abreast with what’s happening in the world of sustainability. As an entrepreneur or consumer pputting your money where your heart is another way to ensure the brightest idea will not get anywhere with the wrong funders. Don’t get intimidated by traditional start-ups and their glamorous image. You are not in the business of looking good, you’re in the business of doing good! And this is particularly what makes you stand out from the crowd. Invest in your purpose, put your heart and mind to nurture that big idea. Slowly, but surely, you can get the ball rolling further than you would have ever imagined.

Many VC monies may come with lots of strings attached and loss of creative liberty to steer businesses in the right direction hence not getting get stuck on the idea of VCs and cash in the bank but with key partnerships and  resources instead could be essential. People, skills, relationships that bring the right mix together to co-create things which at the end of the day may increase capacity to help move businesses further that otherwise would have been paid for. The right partners will embark on a journey with you because they believe in what you do and will give time, skills, networks and passion. That may be worth a whole lot than just cash!. If we must need to go the traditional route and go for the big money – VCs, grants etc – being picky about who we are pitching to may be critical. Research the VC’s or foundation’s history of giving, their pre-existing conditions and their relationship with their beneficiaries. Before pitching, try to meet with them informally and see if you click on the same things. Do you trust that person after you have left the meeting? Would they be an enjoyable teammate? Do you want to share more with them and value their advice, beyond just the business side of things? If your answer is yes, then go for it. Investments will come pouring.

In short align your values and stay true to yourself, your mission and your vision.  Never compromise and never lose sight of the purpose of your business, organizations or projects. Be authentic in everything you do!  Authenticity reinforces your purpose. Funding will only make it flourish. But if the Mission of sustainability is not there then there is nothing that can flourish.

Curated By Naved Jafry & Garson Silvers

Advertisements

The Argument For and Against Fences Vs Immigration

borders 4 borders 55As years go by from one political cycle to the next, immigrants seems to be that easy target for any attention/thrill seeking policy maker to place all blame on. Foreigners seem to be now blamed from everything under the sun. Things are so bad that even local terrorists groups now place fault on foreign terror groups as the root of all the troubles. Some say that walls and fences work and give its populace a strong sense of security but many academics and people on the ground suggest otherwise. Nevertheless there are always two or more sides to every story.

borders and fencesborder 7

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, 40 countries around the world have built fences against 64 of their neighbor. The majority have cited security concerns and the prevention of illegal migration as justifications. In the Middle East, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria as well as the associated wave of refugees have prompted most countries to close borders. By the end of this year, when it completes its border-wall with Jordan, Israel will have surrounded itself entirely. In Asia, too, walls and fences have proliferated, generally designed to prevent illicit movement of people and goods rather than to seal disputed borders, though Kashmir remains a highly-militarised example. Soon the EU will have more physical barriers on its national borders than it did during the Cold War. However some proposals for border fences are less plausible than others. In 2013 Brazil announced a “virtual” wall, monitored by drones and satellites, around its entire, nearly 15,000 km- (9,000 mile-) long border. It began work on the Paraguayan and Bolivian sections this year, which are hot-spots for smuggling. But sceptics point out that much of Brazil’s border runs through rain forest that is impassable and hard to monitor. Even given easier terrain, high-tech border security often fails. The United States, which has several times fortified its border with Mexico, and Saudi Arabia, which has shuttered five of its borders since 2003, have struggled with proposals that were either too expensive or didn’t work (or both). For most countries, barbed-wire or electric fences, combined with ditches and buffer zones, are the reality. Thankfully, in contrast with the Cold War, transgressors of Europe’s new borders are no longer shot.

borders 91But history has proven time and again that when a society is governed with good rules, even diverse groups of individuals can come together and create amazing things, case in example the San Diego, Boston and Silicon Valley’s ability to make significant technological advances for the benefit of the world, while homogeneous societies such as Burundi and Somalia remain far behind. Imagine if America was never discovered and settled by immigrants. What the world would look like now?

borders 33borders

This opinion is contributed by Celso Pacheco & Naved Jafry

Military Innovations That Can Change The Future

military innovation main pageWe may have a love hate relationship with the Military, but just over three decades ago mad science projects within the military literally transformed the world we live in today. When a group of researchers with military money set out to test the wacky idea of making computers talk to one another in a new way, using digital information packets that could be traded among multiple machines rather than telephonic, point-to-point circuit relays. The project, called ARPANET, went on to fundamentally change life on Earth under its more common name, the Internet. Currently $3 billion is split across 250 programs that may have national security implications but, like the Internet, much of what the military funds can be commercialized, spread and potentially change civilian life in big ways that its originators didn’t even conceive. Here are our top picks for what we called the future of everything.
Atomic GPS
military innovation quantum gpsThe Global Positioning System, or GPS, which DARPA had an important but limited role in developing, is a great tool but maintaining it as a satellite system is increasingly costly. A modern GPS satellite can run into the range of $223 million, which is one reason why the Air Force recently scaled back its procurement. DARPA doesn’t have an explicit program to replace GPS, but the DARPA-funded chip-scale combinatorial atomic navigation, or C-SCAN, and Quantum Assisted Sensing, or QuASAR, initiatives explore a field of research with big relevance here: the use of atomic physics for much better sensing. If you can measure or understand how the Earth’s magnetic field acceleration and position is effecting individual atoms (reduced in temperature), you can navigate without a satellite. In fact, you can achieve geo-location awareness that could be 1,000 times more accurate than any system currently in existence, say researchers. The British military is investing millions of pounds in a similar technology. Researchers associated with the project forecast that they will have a prototype ready within five years. The upshot for quantum navigation for any military is obvious. It arms them with better and more reliable situational awareness for soldiers and equipment and better flying for missiles. Perhaps, more importantly, a drone with a quantum compass wouldn’t require satellite navigation, which would make it much easier to fly and less hackable. The big benefit for everybody else? Future devices that understand where they are in relation to one another and their physical world won’t need to rely on an expensive satellite infrastructure to work. That means having more capable and cheaper devices with geo-location capability, with the potential to improve everything from real-time, location-based searches to self-driving cars and those anticipated pizza delivery drones. The most important civilian use for quantum GPS could be privacy. Your phone won’t have to get signals from space anymore to tell you where you are. It would know with atomic certainty. That could make your phone less hackable and, perhaps, allow you to keep more information out of the hands of your carrier and the NSA.
Terehertz Frequency Electronics and Meta-materials
military innovation meta technologyThe area of the electromagnetic spectrum between microwave, which we use for cell phones, and infrared, is the Terehertz range. Today, it’s a ghost town, but if scientists can figure out how to harness it, we could open up a vast frontier of devices of that don’t compete against others for spectrum access. That would be a strategic advantage in a time when more military devices use the same electromagnetic spectrum space. Research into THz electronics has applications in the construction of so-called meta-materials, which would lend themselves to use in cloaking for jets and equipment and even, perhaps, invisibility. On the civilian side, because THz radiation, unlike X-ray radiation, is non-invasive, metamaterial smart clothes made with small THz sensors would allow for far faster and more precise detection of chemical changes in the body, which could indicate changes in health states. There’s the future doctor in your pocket.
A Virus Shield for the Internet of Things
military innovation internet of thingsCISCO systems has forecast 50 billion interconnected devices will inhabit the world by the year 2020, or everything from appliances to streets, pipes and utilities through supervisory command and control systems. All of that physical and digital interconnection is now known as the Internet of Things. The High Assurance Cyber Military Systems program, or HACMS, which DARPA announced in 2012, is trying to patch the security vulnerabilities that could pervade the Internet of Things. The agency wants to make sure that military vehicles, medical equipment and, yes, even drones can’t be hacked into from the outside. In the future, some of the software tools that emerge from the HACMS program could be what keeps the civilian Internet of Things operating safely. This breakthrough won’t be as conspicuous as the Internet itself. But you will know its influence by what does not happen because of it – namely, a deadly industrial accident resulting from a catastrophic cyber-security breach. (See: Stuxnet.). Without better security, many experts believe the Internet of things will never reach its full potential. In a recent survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project about the future of physical and digital interconnection, Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, who was instrumental in the success of ARPANET, said that in order for the Internet of things to really revolutionize the way we live it must be secure. Barriers to the Internet of Things include failure to achieve sufficient standardization and security. HACMS could provide the seeds for future security protocols, allowing the Internet of things to get off the ground.

Rapid Threat Assessment
military innovation rtpThe Rapid Threat Assessment, or RTA, program wants to speed up by orders of magnitude how quickly researchers can figure out how diseases or agents work to kill humans. Instead of months or years, DARPA wants to enable researchers to “within 30 days of exposure to a human cell, map the complete molecular mechanism through which a threat agent alters cellular processes, This would give researchers the framework with which to develop medical countermeasures and mitigate threats. How is that useful right now? In the short term, this is another research area notable primarily for what doesn’t happen after it hits, namely pandemics. It took years and a lot of money to figure out that H5N1 bird flu became much more contagious with the presence of an amino acid in a specific position. That’s what enabled it to live in mammalian lungs and, thus, potentially be spread by humans via coughing and sneezing. Knowing this secret earlier would have prevented a great deal of death. In the decades ahead, the biggest contribution of the program may be fundamental changes in future drug discovery. If successful, RTA could shift the cost-benefit trade space of using chemical or biological weapons against U.S. forces, this could also apply to drug development to combat emerging diseases.
Overall the future points us in a direction where all of this power, and all of this hype, emerges from a source almost unfathomably small with major implications. The next of things in military innovation in a few short years could leapfrog current technologies from present day computations as humans evolved from jelly fishes.

This article is curated by Celso Pacheco & Naved Jafry

Why The Army Should Stay Strong

army strong top_10_active_duty_armiesAccording to the 2012 and 2014 defense plans the U.S. Army will no longer size its main combat forces with large-scale counterinsurgency and stabilization missions in mind. This is world view, we believe is a major conceptual mistake that may eventually decimate our Army and will cause increasing harm to our sacred founding principles with time if we buy into the idea. The active-duty Army is already below its Clinton-era size and only slightly more than half its Reagan-era size. Reductions to the Army Reserve and Army National Guard have been almost as steep. None need grow at this juncture, but the cuts should immediately stop. As of chart shown above, we already now rank below Pakistan and North Korea in numbers and with the leap frogging of technological advances our opponents may soon have the strength to make us irrelevant on any ideological or military battlefield.

This may seem to many as far fetched but if history has taught us anything it may be just truer than ever that an ounce of precaution could be far better than a pound of cure. To maintain counterinsurgency and stabilization capacity, as well as a robust deterrent against possible threats such as the NATO by the Russians, South Korea by North Koreans, the Muslim world by Political Islam, Southeast Asia by China and most importantly the elephant in the room, a possibility of a South Asian Nuclear War.strong army political instability

According to Michael E. O’Hanlon from Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, A nuclear confrontation would be devastating in South Asia, enormously disruptive to the world economy, and highly dangerous to the whole planet (particularly with the prospect of loose nukes afterwards). An Indo-Pakistani war remains a real possibility today. There have already been three or four, depending on whether one counts the Kargil crisis of 1999, and it is remarkable that there have not been more. If the nuclear weapons threshold were crossed in the future, a foreign military role could become much more plausible, particularly to reinforce a ceasefire. To date, Delhi in particular has eschewed any foreign role in diplomacy over Kashmir or related matters. But in the aftermath of the near or actual use of nuclear weapons, calculations could change dramatically such a world could be characterized by a far different political psychology than today’s. The path to war could begin, perhaps, with a more extremist leader coming to power in Pakistan. Imagine the dangers associated with a country of 200 million with the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal, hatred of India and America, numerous extremist groups, and claims on land currently controlled by India. Such an extremist state could take South Asia to the brink of nuclear war by provoking conflict with India, perhaps through another Mumbai-like attack.

Why could nuclear weapons be employed, even after 70 years of non-use globally? Even if it was the provocateur, Pakistan could come to fear for its own survival in this type of scenario. Having aided a group like Lashkar-e-Taiba, with its extremist anti-Indian views, Pakistan would have given India ample grounds for retaliation. Even a limited Indian conventional counterattack, perhaps influenced by its so-called Cold Start military thinking, could quickly put Islamabad, Lahore, and other Pakistani cities at risk. In such a situation, Pakistan might well see military logic in the use of several nuclear weapons against Indian troops, facilities, or other tactical targets. It is not even out of the question that Pakistan could conduct some attacks over its own territory. If the weapons were detonated a kilometer or so up in the air, the effects of the explosions could be catastrophic to people and military equipment below, without creating much fallout due to dirt and rock upheaval that would later descend on populated areas downwind.Beyond their immediate military effects, such attacks would signal Islamabad’s willingness to escalate. Despite the huge risks, there would be few better ways of making a threat to attack Delhi credible than to cross the nuclear threshold in tactical attacks. Presumably, Pakistanis would have to assume the possibility of Indian attacks against Pakistani armed forces. But that might be a risk the country’s leadership would be willing to accept, if the alternative seemed to be defeat and forced surrender after a conventional battle. It’s not clear whether Indians would interpret such a finely graduated nuclear attack as a demonstration of restraint, particularly if any of the Pakistani attacks went off course and caused more damage than intended. Thus, the danger of inadvertent escalation in this kind of scenario could be quite real. It might not even take nuclear attacks by Pakistan to cause nuclear dangers.

A role for U.S. troops?
strong army US deployments scenerios
If such an Indo-Pakistani war with nuclear implications began and international negotiators became involved, it’s imaginable that an international force could be proposed to help stabilize the situation for a number of years. Kashmir might be administrated under a U.N. mandate and protected by a U.N.-legitimated force, with an election eventually determining the region’s future political status. The fact that nuclear conflict might have occurred by this point would have raised the stakes enormously for both sides, making it hard for any leader to accept a simple ceasefire absent a credible political process. The mission could last a decade or more, time enough to allow for a calming of tensions, for political transitions in both countries, and for Pakistan to clamp down on terrorist groups.
India in particular would be adamantly against this idea today. But things could change fundamentally if such a settlement, and such a force, seemed the only way to reverse the momentum toward all-out nuclear war in South Asia. American forces would likely need to play a key role, as others might not have the capacity or the political confidence to handle the mission. It is estimated that an international force numbering into the low hundreds of thousands of troops could be needed for an extended period.
Is such a scenario likely? Hardly. Is it crazy or implausible? we don’t think so. Could we really sit it out if it happened? we fear not. Can we design the future American Army without factoring in such possibilities? In fact, it would be a big mistake. As we consider questions from the imminence of possible sequestration this fall on the proper size, character, and cost of the U.S. military under our next president, such considerations must factor clearly in our minds. We may not have an interest in ugly stabilization missions, but they may have an interest in us. In fact we argue that In many cases, the needed response may entail not just trainers and drones, but brigades and divisions.

This opinion piece is contributed by Celso Pacheco Jr. and Naved Jafry

army strong front

After Global Warming

climate change dualityFrom opening up of new, shorter and faster shipping routes, to access to key rare earth mining opportunities and the regeneration of forests and farmlands, it seems that not all is dull and gloomy for many climate change observers. If rainforests and the earth’s organisms are going to have a fighting chance of recovering their biodiversity and ecological complexity, these rare species and their priceless genes need to be ready and able to step into the new world. It might to be too late to save the world humanity knows and loves. But it still can do its best to make sure that the new one is just as good, better and/or resilient someday.

I know it is even taboo to talk about embracing climate change but an interesting experiment has caught my attention to look at a different perspective. A experiment conducted by Klaus Winter, a plant physiologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute tried to conjure the future. He planted seedlings of 10 tropical tree species in small, geodesic greenhouses. Some he allowed to grow in the kind of environment they were used to out in the forest, around 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Others, he subjected to uncomfortably high temperatures. Still others, unbearably high temperatures—up to a daily average temperature of 95 F and a peak of 102 F. That’s about as hot as Earth has ever been. It’s also the kind of environment tropical trees have a good chance of living in by the end of this century, thanks to climate change. Winter wanted to see how they would do.

climate change bowlThe answer came as a surprise to those accustomed to dire warnings that climate change will turn the Amazon into a desert. The vast majority of Winter’s seedlings didn’t die. In fact, most thrived at significantly warmer temperatures than they experience today, growing faster and larger. Just two species succumbed to the heat, and only at the very highest temperatures. The trees’ success echoes paleontological data, which hints that warmer temperatures can be a boon for tropical forests. After all, the last time Earth experienced average temperatures of 95 F, there were rainforests in Michigan and palm trees in the Arctic. That doesn’t mean climate change won’t affect tropical forests of today. It already is. And it definitely doesn’t mean humans needn’t worry about global warming. Climate change will be the end of the world as we know it. But it also will be the beginning of another.
Mass extinctions will open ecological niches, and environmental changes will create new ones. New creatures will either naturally evolve or even be created or revived by us to fill the vaccumes. What this new world will look like, exactly, is impossible to predict, and humans aren’t guaranteed to survive in it. (And that’s if civilization somehow manages to survive the climate disasters coming its way in the meantime, from superstorms to sea level rise to agriculture-destroying droughts). Still, experiments like Winter’s offer a glimpse.
A Warmer Forest and New Farmlands

climate change agriculture
Adapting to a warmer world will be long and painful process for the rainforest, and many species won’t make it through. Even so, “there will still be tropical forests in 2100,” says Simon Lewis, a plant ecologist at University College London and the University of Leeds. They will probably even contain many of the same species ecologists know today, including some of the trees in Winter’s experiments.
It’s the relationships between those species, and the role each plays in the ecosystem, that will change—and, in turn, transform the entire forest. “The forests that come out of this change are probably going to be much different than the kinds of forests we have today,” says Christopher Dick, an evolutionary geneticist who studies tropical trees at the University of Michigan.
Winter’s data hints at one such change in forest structure. The three species that did the best under the highest temperature regime were the coralwood tree (Adenanthera pavonina) a species of fig tree called Ficus insipida, and the balsa tree (Ochroma pyramidale). Each is what Winter called “pioneer species,” fast-growing trees that can quickly move into cleared areas and take over. (F. insipida ups the ante, beginning life as vine that climbs up dead trees—and also living ones, eventually strangling them.)
These kinds of species are vital to a healthy rainforest, helping it regenerate after destructive events like a flood or the death and collapse of a large tree (when those things fall, they take out everything around them). But a mature rainforest needs the species that show up later, too. Those tend to be larger and longer-lived, stabilizing the forest and serving as ecological linchpins for insects, birds, monkeys, vines, and the rest of the ecosystem for decades or even centuries. And it was those so-called “climax species” that suffered the most under higher temperatures in Winter’s experiments.
That suggests that as climax tree species die in a warmer forest, they won’t be replaced. “One would expect that tropical futures of the future would be dominated by those nimble species that can disperse very well,” Lewis says. Pioneer trees that will put down roots anywhere, vines that grow into every nook and cranny, small rodents that reproduce quickly and scurry far, birds that can fly over vast swaths of land and aren’t too picky about where they nest. But that’s a small subset of the thousands of species found in tropical forests today. Without the rest of them, the rainforest will be a much simpler place.

An Acidic and Open Ocean

climate change shipDisturbingly, scientists have observed something similar happening in the ocean. Much of the carbon dioxide humans release into the atmosphere is eventually absorbed by the sea, gradually making the water more and more acidic. This process of ocean acidification can wreak havoc on marine invertebrates, dissolving their shells and then their fragile bodies.
But just like in the tropical forest, “there are always the winners as well as the losers of climate change,” says Ivan Nagelkerken, a marine ecologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia. To get an idea of which species might thrive under ocean acidification, he headed to two places where underwater vents already spew carbon dioxide into the sea: Vulcano Island in Italy and White Island in New Zealand. “These CO2 vents are natural laboratories where you can get a peek into the future,” Nagelkerken explains.
As in Winter’s experiment, that future was far from lifeless. But the kind of life it supports has Nagelkerken worried. Carbon dioxide vents can occur in any marine ecosystem, from coral reefs to kelp forests to seagrass plains. But no matter where you are, life in the most acidic pockets looks strikingly similar. Immediately around a vent, all ecosystems “transform into systems that are dominated by turf algae—very short, fleshy algae with very little structural complexity,” Naglekerken explains. What’s more, “we did not observe a single predator on those vents.”
climate change articAs a result, the food web is dramatically simplified, the number of fish species drops, and the ecosystem becomes “much less valuable and productive.” Small grazing fish that love turf algae will probably excel in the acidic oceans of the future. But as they take over, “everywhere will start to look like everywhere else,” Nagelkerken says.
The new, homogenous ocean won’t be good for humans. The fish that are likely to thrive in the oceans of the future—small, adaptable species such as gobies and blennies—are, simply, not fish people like to eat. And even if human tastes evolved, those fish wouldn’t fill us up; most gobies clock in at fewer than 4 inches long. Humans like to eat big predators, like tuna and marlin—exactly the kind of species that had disappeared from the CO2 vents Nagelkerken studied. As ocean acidification restructures marine ecosystems, the first to go will be the fish that people rely on for money and food.

A New Evolutionary Order Of Things

climate change man
Of course, Homo sapiens may be the ultimate generalist, nimble enough to survive in almost every environment. We may be just like cockroaches or crocodiles and I would think we’ll stick around. We’ll see the disaster we’ve created.” But the recovery? Maybe not. For the oceans to adapt to the new climate and regain a level of productivity they enjoy today, “it’s not going to be in a few generations,” Nagelkerken says. “You could wait around for 10,000 years.” Similarly, we might be long gone by the time the Amazon looks anything like the complex forest of today. The flip side of mass extinction, however, is rapid evolution. And if you’re willing to take the long view like, the million-year long view there’s a ray of hope to be found in today’s rare species. The Amazon, in particular, is packed with plant species that pop up few and far between and don’t even come close to playing a dominant role in the forest. But they might have treasure buried in their genes.

Rare species especially those that are only distantly related to today’s common ones have all kind of traits that we don’t even know about. Perhaps one will prove to thrive in drought, and another will effortlessly resist new pests that decimate other trees. “These are the species that have all the possibilities for becoming the next sets of dominant, important species after the climate has changed. That’s why at that point I suggest as humans we may either have to adapt to an unpredictable and uncomfortable future or guide the change we may see fit.

This opinion is contributed by Garson Silvers and Naved Jafry

DANGERS TO THE FUTURE PROGRESS OF SUSTAINABLE TECHNOLOGIES

solar 2Solar perovskite cells, patterned with gold electrodes, await tests that
measure their efficiency at converting sunlight into electricity. (Plamen Petkov)

In the 1950s vertically integrated giants such as IBM and AT&T evolved its telecommunication and semiconductor businesses by having their global network of suppliers compete for its business at every step of the value chain including and not limited to redesigning components and dramatically improve the performance and cost of electronics. But if you look at how clustered sustainable technologies supply chains in China work, it demonstrates that it will only reinforce the industry’s focus on today’s technology, rather than allow competition to drive tomorrow’s advances.

For instances the next generation technologies of solar and LED are developed at a slower pace in laboratories all over instead of today’s promising technologies such as the solar perovskites that could beat silicon on efficiencies and costs many folds if ramped up to scale production. But the more the solar/LED industry concentrates and calcifies in China, the harder such a disruption will happen. By subsidizing its domestic manufacturers, China also subsidizes clean energy deployment around the world. But this sort of argument by pro-deployment activists suggests that China’s dominance in solar/LED manufacturing is a boon to the world. In the near term, they may be right as the solar deployment is booming around the world, fuelled by cheap Chinese panels. But in the long term, today’s silicon/LED technologies will not displace even a substantial fraction of fossil fuel energy. This near-term/long-term disparity stems from the economics of electricity grids as solar’s/LED’s value declines as its penetration on the grid increases.

solar ledTo look into this view a little deeper there are two reasons why dramatically superior technologies will likely not emerge if the solar/LED industry remains concentrated in China. Firstly, Chinese firms are more likely to pursue incremental process improvements and cost reduction e.g., optimizing factory layouts, strengthening supply chains rather than product innovation. Some might argue that this is a dated caricature of a newly dynamic Chinese innovation complex which benefits from lavish state-funded laboratories (cf. Chinese “State Key Labs”) and improved coordination among universities, research institutes, and corporations. Still, fundamental technology researchers in China are struggling to close the gap with Western counterparts, and most major manufacturers have displayed little interest in seriously funding alternative technologies. The second reason for pessimism is that if innovation flourishes only in a Chinese-dominated industry increases, vertical integration will eventually stifle disruptive change. For example China dominates not only the panel manufacturing business, but has consolidated the entire upstream supply chain within its borders, from polysilicon to solar cell production. Where the supply chain is not formally vertically integrated, it is de facto monolithic, simply by virtue of colocation in massive industrial centers like the Yangtze River Delta Economic Zone.

solarFrom 2006 to 2011, venture capitalists invested over $25 billion in clean technologies and lost over half their money needless to say, VC interest in new solar start-ups today is minimal. But there still appears to be a silver lining when large U.S. companies can play a crucial role in driving innovation in solar and sustainable technologies. Firms like Applied Materials and Dupont still achieve levels of quality that the Chinese have been unable to replicate (in solar cell production equipment and materials, respectively), giving the United States a toehold in the solar supply chain. Moreover, two large solar panel makers First Solar and Sunpower are American and employ more advanced technologies than their Chinese competitors. And SolarCity, a downstream residential solar installer, recently acquired an innovative solar technology company and will produce its own panels in Buffalo, New York. These American solar players are far more amenable than Chinese counterparts to exploring new technologies for commercialization, and they have the sector expertise, manufacturing prowess, and project pipeline to bring new solar technology to market where VCs failed. State incentives such as those that attracted SolarCity to New York, can support American companies to drive local economies. I would strongly recommend more federal research funding to be aimed at fostering partnerships between major American firms and cutting-edge research in universities and national research laboratories. Ideally we can look forward to a time when sustainable technologies such as solar is an industry waiting to be disrupted in the US and eventually worldwide.