The Global View

Some guys and Holy Grails: 5 rules for spotting ‘cleantech porn’

Do you remember that wonderful moment when the internet was invented? Or when mobile phones suddenly appeared everywhere?

Of course you don’t. That’s because these life-altering technologies didn’t spring up ready for market overnight, but evolved, often behind the scenes, for years before we were ready to use them en masse.

Viewed through the filter of our memories, technological progress tends to seem revolutionary, with one amazing innovation after another coming to mind as immediately game-changing. In reality, though, progress is more incremental, moving forward — or sometimes sideways into blind alleys — slowly over time. With that in mind, then, we offer these helpful rules for identifying “cleantech porn,” ie, news reports that play to our fantasies about clean energy more than they reflect reality:

  1. View anything described as a “Holy Grail” with great scepticism. (And, yes, we here at Greenbang have been guilty of that as much as anyone else.) Endless and cheap clean energy without any downside is indeed a Holy Grail … because it’s probably impossible, which brings us to the next warning sign of cleantech porn …
  2. Beware any “innovation” that violates the laws of thermodynamics. If someone claims to have found a way to get more energy out of something than was put into it in the first place, keep your wallet in your pocket. And if a startup announces it’s developed a perpetual motion device, run.
  3. Think twice about any breakthrough that promises to cut the cost of something by an outrageously wonderful percentage in the next few months. The R-Squared Energy Blog has a nice take on one such claim — a reported announcement from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that it could produce algae-based fuel for $2 a gallon — here.
  4. Watch out for Pigs in Space. OK, not pigs, but anything else space-based with claims to be commercially viable, affordable and ready to deploy in the near future. Yes, space-based solar energy, lunar colonies and Earth-orbiting hydroponic farms are possible, but they’re not ready to hold your breath for anytime soon.
  5. Be on the alert for “some guy” announcements. Not to denigrate garage-based tinkerers and part-time inventors … we’ve all heard of how Bill Gates got started. But, more often than not, “some guy” is not likely to discover the clean-energy Holy Grail (see Rule No. 1) that researchers armed with hundreds of millions in government or corporate funding are also searching for.

1 thought on “Some guys and Holy Grails: 5 rules for spotting ‘cleantech porn’”

  1. 5 rules that stem us evolving…….

    How do we evolve….

    We challenge.. is there a holy grail?

    We push the boundaries..einstein theories?

    We accept nothing..accept all things cost less than we think?

    We expect anything to fly..ask Armstrong?

    We as Brits are the Garage..ask the world where 84% of the worlds innovation comes from?

    The problem in the UK is we are frightened of what we can achieve…… sad really as we lead the world we just fail to realise it.

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