The Japanese government decided two weeks ago to undertake the biggest ever investment in solar with a plan for 100GW to be installed by 2015. This is in four years more than four times what Germany installed in 25 years! This policy decision is backed up by huge capital outlays provided by the government and a string of private investments including high profile commitments from Masayoshi Son, the founder of Softbank and one of the leading shareholders of Yahoo. This political decision combined with a strong business support from a select group of entrepreneurs will be the greatest boost in modern history to renewable energy.
At the same time, several major American solar companies filed for protection and shut down assembly lines adding to the doom and gloom in the US. The much heralded solar power industry that was part of a greening of the economy and the greening of jobs is clearly suffering. In a press release, Solyndra - the latest to fold after Veeco a month earlier - which had received over one billion dollars in venture capital funding and over half a billion dollar in government guarantees, stated that it could not compete with bigger overseas rivals. The company claims that cuts to generous solar subsidies in the number two market of the world, Italy stalled development of solar projects and led to a global glut of solar panels sparking a 25 percent drop in prices.
Experts go on to claim that "Chinese firms that have received billions of dollars in low-cost loans from state banks and have access to a well developed domestic supply chain for solar manufacturing" are root causes of the trouble for the US solar industry. However, one and a half billion dollars in VC funding and government guarantees is quite a generous outlay of cash. The real reason why Solyndra and Veeco had to fold is the choice of technology and the lack of a competitive business model. The copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) belongs to the thin film solar cells, competing with Cadmium Telluride (more toxic) and amorphous silicon. And yes in that narrowly defined game amongst three, CIGS is the best.
Moreover, the claim to success was spurred by a perceived shortage in Silicon which would drive up the prices, only to replace one material (Si) in limited supply with another few (In, Ga, Se) in short and uncertain supply, very difficult to handle, requiring lots of energy. Three years later, Silicon is cheaper, so that first promise did not hold up. When it comes to the Chinese, they only are 10-20 percent cheaper, thus efficiency and technology should be able to make up the difference, or? The bottom line is - it did not live up to the expectations.
The CIGS technology was the wrong bet. Instead of looking for variations to the same theme, it is time to change the rules of the game. The substitution of one material with another simply will not do the trick. Thin film technologies are too expensive, have too many manufacturing problems to resolve and cannot compete against simple and yet fundamental innovations like Solarus AB (Sweden) which bundles PV, concentrated solar using both sides of the silicon wafers (what a simple but profound invention), generate heat from the cooling, while providing combined heat and power (CHP). This three in one approach is three times more efficient in output than the most efficient stand-alone PV - wafer, silicon, CIGS, thin film whatever, at a fraction of its cost. With less than one percent of the funding of Solyndra, Solarus competes with nuclear in kWh and has a decentralized manufacturing philosophy, using many recycled materials that can be locally sourced.
The game is not technology alone, it is about an innovative and competitive business model. So it is not right to blush the Chinese, blame betting on the wrong horse of technology and sticking to an outdated business model that solely focuses on one core competence, and nothing else. Perhaps too much money could have been another core problem. After all any entrepreneur flush with cash is not an ideal change agent. Entrepreneurs often succeed without money and experience charting innovative pathways to the future with what they have.
As water scarcity increases, the push for recycling water gets a boost. While there is a certain logic in recovering water, the problem is that pharmaceuticals have made their way into our drinking system worldwide. While we do not yet understand the precise effects on human health, animal studies suggest that we are heading towards a new crisis. After intake and metabolism, drugs, antibiotics, and synthetic hormones for birth control end up into our surface and drinking water. Worse, many of the compounds are so persistent that 1,000's of tons flow annually into the sea, then accumulate in the fish we eat. When it comes antibiotics, we dispersing a multiple, since more than 50 percent of the world's consumption is not for making people healthy, but to grow cows fat faster. We thought it were only the heavy metals the fish absorb that should us worry.
Drugs are known to cause reproductive, mutagenic, and teratogenic effects in water life. Prozac residue causes male mussels to spawn; anti-hypertension drugs impact the reproduction of crayfish and crabs. The infiltration of antibiotics and anti-bacterials increases the resistance of bacteria. This has serious implications for treating infections in the future. Anti-tumor drugs used in chemotherapy are known to cause mutagenic and teratogenic effects. There is increasing evidence of endocrine disruption in wildlife even when only exposed to trace levels of synthetic hormones. Painkillers, like Ibuprofen and even nicotine are not removed during the drinking water process. We thought we finally handled the adverse effects of second-hand smoking by prohibiting smoking in public places. Now it seems that we are all smoking anyway - through our drinking water!
The conventional water treatment plants are incapable of removing pharmaceuticals. Studies demonstrated that coagulation, sedimentation and filtration eliminates only 10-12 percent of the active ingredients. This accumulates in sludge, which is often recycled as a soil additives, exposing our food chain once more to unwanted ingredients which can continue to cause havoc for years to come. Activated carbon filtration and ozone treatment can remove up to 75 percent removal. However, this still exposes the population to the remaining 25 percent. As water continues to be recycled - and re- recycled entering into closed loops, and consumption of both prescription and over-the- counter drugs increases, society and the ecosystems on which our life depends are overly exposed to a broad cocktail of pharmaceuticals. It would not be a surprise that whole sections of the population start suffering from mood swings and shifting sex behavior.
Officials in Philadelphia discovered 56 pharmaceuticals in treated drinking water. Nearly 20 million residents of Southern California are exposed to anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety drugs. San Francisco's drinking water contains a synthetic hard to break down sex hormone. Unfortunately, bottled water is filtered drinking water in a wasteful plastic container, and most water bottlers do not test for pharmaceuticals either. Even our home filtration systems only reduce - but cannot eliminate drugs. Your only salvation is your own well from your own watershed. This is available to very few indeed.
It is time to revisit health care and the search for effective medicine. Undoubtedly, in the wake of these legitimate concerns, traditional and natural medicine becomes more relevant than ever. The vision of the Bhutanese constitution to guarantee traditional medicine to all citizens now sounds like a visionary decision. As we are spreading medicine indiscriminately throughout the environment and society, it is urgent to provide new shelf-life guidelines to the pharmaceutical industry. Just like it took decades to realize that plastics do not disintegrate and build up of massive junk islands in the Pacific Ocean, pharmacological products do not degrade and thus accumulate in water bodies - with one major difference - those mood swing chemicals and chemotherapy residues are invisible to the human eye. It is hard to make the gross impact visible.
The typical response from the concerned economic interests is that there is no scientific proof that humans are affected. The problem is that when the full proof is delivered, then it is too late and remedy will be impossible. Actually, it is not the effect of one pharmaceutical product, it is the cocktail that does irreparable damage. Therefore it seems that three parallel initiatives are needed. First all medicine needs to include a trigger that secures the disintegration of the complex formulations after intake. Instead of only discovering new drugs and invent new delivery methods, research must identify triggers to disassemble these man-made molecules the moment they leave the human body. Second, water treatment must be equipped to measure the presence of pharmaceuticals in waste water. It is not possible that every city is now obliged to install a reverse osmosis facility that effectively removes 95 percent. Such an end-of-tube solution dramatically increases in costs that should never have to be borne by the tax payer.
Perhaps we should finally focus on tackling the root causes that lead to this massive consumption of pills. Time has come to search for a happier and less stressful life. Whereas the first two solutions can be decided by any responsible government, the third one is a decision we have to make, before it is too late.
Durante décadas la economía mundial se ha sometido a la ola de la globalización. La fuerza incansable de construir economías de escala más altas, de producir a costos marginales siempre más bajos, forzaba las industrias a estandarizarse, cortando gastos pasando la producción a terceros (Outsourcing) e imponiendo una disciplina feroz de compras y suministro mediante Gestión de Cadena de Suministro, limitando el número de proveedores a unos grandes, eliminando todo exceso de ejecutivos, forzando fusiones y adquisiciones, sacando capa por capa todos los excedentes para ofrecer a los inversionistas mejores rendimientos y mejores precios a los consumidores, reforzando el poder de compra que les permitiera formar parte de la clase media. Ese proceso de la globalización suponía un impacto gota a gota (trickle down) a una sociedad que nos conduciría al final a la aspiración de riqueza.
Observando la realidad de la economía globalizada, me parece que el único fenómeno sostenible de la globalización es la pobreza. Aunque uno podría reclamar que la economía creció y el mercado se expandió, la realidad dura es que nunca como hoy en la historia tanta gente en números absolutos vivió en la miseria absoluta. Muchos opinan que se necesita el control de la explosión de la población como uno de los factores centrales para llevar una distribución equitativa de la riqueza y lograr el desarrollo social para todos en la tierra. No considero viable reducir la capacidad de responder a todas las necesidades de todos al manejo del factor “ Control de la población”. Se necesita más, y el cambio más crítico y el menor debatido es la necesidad de cambiar el modelo de negocio.
Nuestro sistema económico está motivado por la eficiencia, sin considerar suficiencia. Nuestro mundo de negocios está inspirado por la ambición, no por la necesidad. Los riesgos -causados por especulaciones con el pretexto de generar liquidez en el mercado financiero o por la energía nuclear, propuesta como fuente energética básica y barata- son sin excepción asumidos por los ciudadanos para el rescate financiero y las garantías del estado, cuando los beneficios son acumulados por pocos. La brecha entre los más ricos y los más pobres nunca ha sido tan enorme.
La Economía Azul propone que respondamos a las necesidades básicas con lo que tenemos. Ha llegado la hora de que paremos de consumir más que la capacidad regenerativa de nuestra tierra. Y aún más, tenemos que adoptar innovaciones y técnicas diseñando cascadas de nutrientes, materias y energía tal como lo hacen los ecosistemas, que nos permitan salir de la trampa de la escasez y podamos acceder al mundo de la suficiencia para todos los seres vivos, no solamente los seres humanos.
Amory Lovins y sus colegas expertos en política energética del Rocky Mountain Institute han comprobado que la humanidad llegó al pico de producción y consumo de petróleo en el 2007. Eso implica que llegamos al máximo nivel de extracción de combustibles fósiles de la tierra y que de ahora adelante tenemos que aprender a vivir con reservas en disminución. La reducción del consumo y la búsqueda de fuentes renovables se impone. Ahora que llegamos al punto de no retorno y el acceso al petróleo ilimitado se terminó, el empuje para globalizar más tiene que confrontarse a la misma realidad. Llegamos al pico de la globalización! Eso implica que las empresas que han sufrido una transformación brutal como actores globales, tienen que prepararse a una recesión en sus dinámicas fundamentales de crecimiento. Los ganadores de esta nueva realidad son las pequeñas y medianas empresas, inspiradas por millones de emprendedores que están dispuestos a responder a las necesidades básicas de todos con aquello que está localmente disponible.
Este cambio permite el diseño de un mundo de negocios competitivo donde el libre comercio y la libre inversión internacional no sean los elementos claves para el éxito económico. El nuevo modelo de negocios ofrecerá oportunidades al emprendedor local capaz de crear coaliciones -agrupaciones de actividades sociales y económicas- con múltiples ingresos y beneficios que rebasa la camisa de fuerza y mantra del negocio central y la competencia básica como precondiciones de un mundo estandarizado y globalizado determinado por el concepto abstracto del flujo de caja descontado.
Un alejamiento del modelo del Harvard Business School obliga a la gestión de la empresa a enfocarse en un solo producto o proceso simultáneo, asegurará que los Davids derrotarán a los Goliats. David lo logrará no porque tenga un acceso privilegiado al mercado mundial de capital, trabajo, energía o minerales; lo conseguirá en primer lugar porque la lucha en pos de la globalización ha dejado los Goliats con tantas debilidades, que son hoy en día muy vulnerables. A diferencia de la lista del Fortune 500, pocos emprendedores aspirar a reemplazar los gigantes; ellos se satisfacen con el 2-3 por ciento del mercado local que podrán mordisquear de la torta de mercado de sus formidables oponentes.
El nuevo paradigma facilitará la llegada de sistemas descentralizados de producción y consumo que son hoy en día técnicamente viables, compitiendo en todos los sectores de la economía, incluyendo la minería, la agricultura, la agricultura forestal, la siderurgia, la generación de energía, pulpa y papel y muchos campos más. El portafolio de 100 innovaciones descritas en La Economía Azul y sus éxitos emergentes en las cuatro esquinas del mundo, no es un casos aislado, pero parte de una nueva tendencia que resumo como "El Fin de la Globalización".
Aunque la penetración completa del nuevo modelo de negocios en nuestro tejido social y económico podría requerir un par de décadas más, ya está conformando su fortaleza competitiva, impulsado por las necesidades y los recursos locales. Eso formará una nueva sociedad que generará empleo, donde lo mejor para salud y el medio ambiente sea más barato y donde se acumule el capital social simplemente siendo más productivo y más competitivo. Después de todo, eso es lo que esperamos del Homo Economicus: hacer mucho más con mucho menos.
Governments are bankrupt. The financial management of the state's household has not only derailed, bailing out banks, subsidizing uncompetitive industries, and generous hand-outs are risking to enslave the citizens of industrialized nations into excessive taxation for decades to come. We seem to forget that the trillion dollar spending sprees of the past years associated with massive national budget shortfalls all have to be paid back by the citizens.
It is the addiction to subsidies that drains economies, diverts resources from productive and social objectives, while it distorts our view of competitiveness. While energy is critical, we have clearly have lost touch with reality. If and when energy is widely subsidized, from nuclear to coal, fossil fuels and renewables, then we are not making it cheaper, we only delaying payment! What appears as a discount is only a temporary reprieve. And, payback time will include interest, and interest on interest. How come? Because our governments spend more, much more than they can reasonably earn as income.
The culture of subsidy has evolved from a temporary measure to a permanent addiction. Coal in Germany has been subsidized since 1965, and this drain on the state budget only ends in 2018 - 53 years later. The political measure to soften the social impact of the demise of coal mines turned into a permanent revenue stream for the corporate world with the associated cost passed on to the tax payer. Is this the route solar and other renewable energies should take? Let us be transparent: solar and wind energies need subsidies since these are not competitive. The forced return of 8 percent on investments for 20 years -the norm in Germany- generated a huge demand for silicon wafer panels, but it did not build up a creative and innovative solar industry which mainly imports its components and panels from China.
Imagine the latest solar systems that offer both electricity and heat, that concentrate light onto a wafer more than three times, using both sides of the panel, cutting wiring to 25 percent. Only 8 units produce enough ambient heating, cooling, hot water, purified water, and electricity for a household of five in Sweden, at a cost of approximately 1.5 cent per kW/hr. At this rate, solar needs no subsidy. The faster these innovations are adopted by the market the quicker all energy subsidies will become obsolete, releasing money to support the good - like meaningful labor and absolute resource efficiency, pensions and the social sector, or funding the exit from an overly risky nuclear energy.
The trilogy of disasters in Japan: earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power demonstrates the total failure of technology. The fury of nature, caused by moving tectonic plates annihilated every single defense that the most prepared nation in the world had established. Japan is facing black-outs and eats radiated food. The worst imaginable did not only happen, it could very well happen again, especially if many dismiss the failure of nuclear power and declare their pursuit of disaster in an unknown future.
Japanese society, stoic and heroic is rediscovering the human capacity to respond to the basic needs with what we have. Deprived of drinking water, heating, cellphones, internet, cars, roads and even their homes the Japanese show the world how even the worst can bring us to discover the best in the simplest. A roof, a candle light, a blanket, reflections on the past, reconciling pain with hope that the future will be better - together, trusting each other even those we did not know before.
On the other side of the world, the Bahrain Government enlisted the Saudi forces to quench an uprising of the majority of the population with casualties unaccounted for. Ivory Coast, a nation that elected an opposition leader to the presidency, faces a defiant outgoing president, unwilling to give up his post. He even ordered to shoot at unarmed women demonstrating on the street killing several. The West stays put with threats limited to words, and Bahrain does not even face a boycott of any sort. The word is that the American President is out to mend relations with the Saudi King.
At the same time, the West deploys its war planes in Libya without even knowing who the opposition really represents and what it stands for. The West shows its fury over a leader who all policy makers have embraced in recent years, and who was next to South Africa the only one to voluntarily dismantle his nuclear weapons plan. While the West turns a blind eye to Bahrain and Ivory Coast, it picks fights that clearly serve self-interest and not the wishes of the majority of the local population. If the pretext is the protection of the local people, why is there no protection in Bahrain or Ivory Coast - and so many nations where torture and oppression is the standard.
How will our children judge the double moral our politicians display? I hope our children will remember how Japanese society overcomes the worst predicament it faces since the second world war, and urges our policy makers to behave with dignity on high moral grounds on every occasion, not only the ones that serve their ego, power bases or constituencies.
The aim of this blog is to present a fresh look at realities around us. Whereas I do not pretend to present the truth nor a definite position, I do wish to push the reader to think beyond the obvious. After all, time has come to dramatically improve the plight of millions, and that requires more than the predictable. Sometimes it forces us into spheres of discomfort.