To be of any use, tech products need power from electrical outlets, stored chemical energy such as batteries and generators, solar collectors, kinetic energy like my emergency hand-crank radio/charger, or other means. As more global and local regions move away from fossil-fuel-based power to low-carbon renewable power, I wonder how my colleagues in the tech industry would weigh in on a debate about whether the low-carbon economy is good or bad for the tech industry.
Fleeing from Carbon
This month (June 2016) alone I learned about several U.S. state and municipal economies leaving carbon-based power generation behind:
- Massachusetts was rated first among all states for energy efficiency 4 years in a row — with plans to close the state’s last coal plant in 2017.
- Kauai County in Hawaii increased renewable energy on the grid from 9% to nearly 40% in only five years, and will accelerate to 100% based on approved and in-progress new solar with storage, hydro, and biomass projects.
- San Diego, California with its population 1.4 million is so far the most populous U.S. city to set a 100% clean-energy goal. Its bipartisan-supported climate action plan is legally binding.
- Greensburg, Kansas with its population of 777 is the smallest U.S. city to set a 100% clean-energy goal.
The list of international economies that have reached or soon will reach 100% renewable energy is too long to include here, but I’ll offer these highlights:
- Denmark’s goal is 100% renewable power and heat by 2035, and 100% renewable energy in all sectors by 2050.
- Aruba, an island off the Venezuelan coast, committed to reach 100% renewable energy by 2020, leveraging existing wind, solar, and biomass generation as well as researching ocean thermal energy conversion, geothermal power, and energy storage technologies.
- The German village Großbardorf has already achieved 100% Renewable Energy, and is working toward generating 400% of the village’s power need through renewables through a biogas plant and rooftop and larger-scale solar collectors.
Tech, Carbon, and Renewables
The question is, are these low-carbon economies good or bad for the technology industry? Let the debate begin.
Arguments for “Bad for the Tech Industry” may include:
- The tech industry grew quite impressively decade over decade when “on” meant burning carbon.
- Hydrocarbon industries – coal, oil, and gas – buy a lot of electronics.
- Given the variability of supply from solar, wind, and wave power, one worries that switching electronics “on” may not always result in “on.”
- Now for Some Arguments for “Good for the Tech Industry”:
- Electronic products fuel low-carbon technologies, from controllers to sensors to monitors to Teslas.
- Proliferating data centers are becoming too costly to run on carbon power considering the inherently limited amount of carbon, plus the rapidly declining costs of renewables.
- T he cleantech sector is growing wildly faster than the fossil-fuel industry.
It’s the Strategy
The debate can rage on, but it comes down to strategy. Electronics industry executives can note the unidirectional move to low-carbon and ignore it (business as usual), flow with it (put solar panels on the company’s roof), or proactively capture business by creatively enabling low-carbon economies faster and better than has the competition.
Their call to action is to tackle the variability of solar, wind, and wave power; invent even-distribution models for renewables; discover ways to drop the cost of renewables even faster than they’re falling; and innovate local generation-to-use systems. Market these solutions in every region that’s racing to reduce carbon, which will soon be everywhere, and embed eco-design principles into all of your company’s products, services, and operations to stand proudly as a microcosm of the low-carbon economy.