Covering solar power, wind power, and electric vehicles obsessively for ~10 years, I have run across some fascinating observations regarding these technologies and the transitions we are going through — and then I’ve subsequently forgotten many of them. This article is centered around one of the coolest observations I’ve run across, which slipped my mind for a while but just came back to the forefront this week.
Technology Disruption Is Fun, But This Is Seriously Historic
When giving presentations and highlighting how quickly technology transitions happen once a disruptive technology is ripe, I often try to highlight how quickly new technologies can take over the market. It is something that’s very hard to comprehend day to day as technology shifts occur, but is much more apparent or dramatic when we look back 10–30 years.
However, throwing solar energy, wind energy, and electric vehicles into such comparisons is actually understating the transformation we’re going through. To live through the development and growth of technologies like the automobile, washing machine, computer, cell phone, and so on was pretty awesome, but there’s something that sets clean energy and electric vehicles apart.
Once upon a time, humans discovered fire. Can you think of anything in human history that happened before that?
Sure, some things must have happened before the first burnt breakfast, but fire goes way back — way, way, way back. Since the discovery of fire, we have burned things to produce fire, heat, and — eventually — electricity. We burn this, we burn that, we dig deeper for more stuff to burn, we look in the ocean for “black gold” to burn, etc.
All of a sudden, after countless generations of burning stuff for energy and light, we are entering a phase in human history where we can go beyond fire. Phase 2 of civilization (in an energy sense) is now beginning.
This point first landed in my head while watching a presentation from Envision Solar CEO Desmond Wheatley. (Unfortunately, the video has since been removed and I can’t find the presentation elsewhere.) While writing the above line, though, it just hit me that Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute also highlighted the shift in Reinventing Fire. Check out the book, watch Amory’s TED Talk on the subject, and learn from associated resources for some great information and entertainment.
Why This Is More Than Just Cool
This would be interesting simply for technological or historical reasons, but there’s an obvious reason why this is more than just “cool.”
Humans are running a funny experiment where we will eventually find out if we are warming the world so much that humans one day won’t be able to step outside in some regions. Literally.
There’s so much destruction from global warming that would lead to that era that, even if we did let the experiment run that far out of control, no human may be around to care.
We simply have to stop burning fossil remains (I’d rather not call them “fuels” at this point) if we don’t want to wreak total havoc on our civilization. The cost of not moving to renewables and electric transport is $∞ (in case that isn’t obvious to read, that’s the dollar sign next to the infinity symbol).
Cleantech is ripe. The transition is happening. Wind energy, solar energy, and electric transport win today on the marketplace — they are the better and more cost-competitive products. The transition could be happening faster, and it should be happening faster, especially with broader awareness, but it’s important to sometimes step back and realize the transition is underway, is unstoppable, and is a ginormous shift in human society’s lifeblood.
Didn’t get enough of my rambling? Below are presentations from 2019, 2016, and 2015 (respectively) that explain the transition at much more length. You can see how much changed and how much stayed the same from 2015 to 2019.
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