“E.T. Come Home”- The Future is in our Hands, and E.T is the Answer

Pilar FOTOToday’s guest post is from GW alumna, Pilar Rivera, GWSB BBA, ’96.  Ms. Rivera is a founding member of Alteeva, which implements innovative “Green” products and services leading to long-term sustainability, energy efficiency, and renewable energy usage.

Ok, some of you might ask, E.T? The 1982 movie about the Extra-Terrestrial? What does that green little monster have to do with Thomas Friedman’s book? E.T has everything to do with Friedman’s book because this is precisely what we need.

The idea is that E.T is going to become the next great global industry in a world where our earth is going to continue to be “heated” by global warming, “flattened” by an ever expanding middle class creating huge demand for energy and natural resources, and “crowded” by an uncontrollable developing world population growth. To deal with these three flaming fires, we need E.T not the Extra-Terrestrial, but something just as awesome; we need an Energy Technology (E.T) revolution. Hot, Flat and Crowded is a book about framing the Energy Technology revolution or as Friedman calls it the “E.T” revolution. The focus of the book is to gain energy independence from dirty, fuels from hell.

The book also makes clear the transcendental moment we are living in the United States. We are living a moment, when we as a country, can choose to understand, and take action on the imperative of leading the world in the efforts of Energy independence, or we can choose to turn our back, and hope that by ignoring the urgency of the matter it will go simply go away. The fact that we are still wavering and not leading the world to Energy independence leads me to ask, “Have we lost our groove in the USA? And can we still get it back?” What Friedman hypothesizes is that- if- we, the United States, take the lead in the E.T global revolution, much like we did in the I.T revolution we will not only get our edge and groove back, but once again become the leading country in the world. A country that is emulated, envied, and has the most: Energy stability, economic prosperity, national security, natural sustainability, and the healthiest people. However, if we continue on a path of complacency, ineptitude and political rhetoric we will have lost the opportunity to lead the greatest challenge ever presented to humanity in the last 200 years.

My conclusion after reading the book is that the solution to energy dependency lies in finding, incentivizing, pushing, producing, and consuming sources of abundant, cheap, reliable energy. Culturally we are a strong nation driven by challenge, by competition by winning. As a metaphor, look at American football, a game of irrefutable competition, strength, stamina, strategy. To become the leaders in the development of abundant, cheap, reliable energy we need to play a game of “green-football.”  If we were to play this “green-football” game against China, Europe, Japan, India  it would drive us to innovate energy technology solutions that would eliminate our dependence on foreign fossil fuels and thereby put us at the top of the race for leading in the green energy economy.  The problem is that we don’t realize that the game has started, we are loosing badly.

For example, let me share with you what I see happening in the world of Solar PV or Solar Photovoltaics as this is my area of expertise. I used to get envious, and upset when I’d fly over Germany, on a grey and dreary day. I would look out my airplane window and see roof after roof after roof wrapped up with the shiny panels that make up the Solar PV market in Germany. I would see miles of PV Solar Panels installed on German roofs.  As I stretched my neck to look further down I would always question how come Germany is so advanced and the US so far behind.  This is a good example that shows Friedman’s argument of the role our government’s inability to have a vision, and understand the imperative of framing the market in such a way to incentivize, and catalyze an entrepreneurial revolution much like it has taken place in Germany in the Solar Photovoltaic Solar market.

I agree with Friedman in his assessment that we are in a green race with Europe, China, Japan, Brazil, India to see who can invent clean technologies to allow mankind to continue living in a sustainable manner.  In this race we are definitely not winning and do not even have the second or third spot in the race.

The consequences of living in a Hot, Flat and Crowded earth is that we are killing ourselves slowly day by day. Global Warming is, and will cause our earth do disappear, rising middle classes from developing nations will simply not be able to consume at the levels the United States has consumed and unrestrained population growth will simply mean more people will have to fight for the “right” to survive under limited energy and natural resources. And thus, I believe gaining independence from fossil fuels for Energy production will address all of the effects of the three latent pillars of the book.

Friedman also makes it very clear that our dependency on fuels from hell is only going to be solved with innovation, and by stimulating millions of entrepreneurs to invent and unleash unimaginable ideas to deal with the issue of energy dependence and global warming.  I go back to why Germany is the number one country in the Solar Photovoltaic industry even though the United States invented Photovoltaics over 50 years ago, and Germany’s solar resource is as much as that of Alaska. Why are German Roofs and NOT American Roofs plastered with energy producing panels? The answer is simply the nation as a whole decided to be leaders! The country made the commitment to lead with a Government who framed policies to incentivize millions of entrepreneurs to innovate and create technologies to produce solar electricity. Thousands of jobs are being created in the process, and Germany, has left the United States in the dust when it comes to Solar Power. So too, are other countries wining the “green-football game” against the Untied States and it is time WE as a nation understand the imperative of being number one in the E.T Revolution.

This is what our nation is made off. However, the oil age is not going to end because we run out of oil as Friedman states, we will  have to reshape the market to move innovation in renewable energy forward, and invent all kinds of alternatives to oil.  Let’s get to work on our country and our planet.

By dealing with the issue of energy dependency the United States will regain its post as the world’s most admired, respected, envied leader. Why? Because this indeed is the biggest problem facing the world, and touches everyone. To solve it, innovation must be catalyzed by ecosystems of public incentives and capital wiling to participate in its success. The Untied States has ALL it needs to lead in this effort. Our country is rich in solar resources, wind resources, geothermal and endowed with all the natural resources necessary to put these industries to work at home. Furthermore, we have the research labs and Universities and human intelligence to execute on the E.T race, and additionally our venture capital and capital structure is set up to serve as a financial backbone providing the capital necessary to finance growth. So why are we not deploying E.T?  I don’t know… maybe we’ve just lost our groove!

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6 Responses

  1. Your blog is very insightful and hit on some very key point which are the fact that the USA is not seeing that by keeping innovation in the United States we are loosing our competitive advantage. How stupid… Read this by Thomas Friedman today and thought it was very appropriate to your blog. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/opinion/16friedman.html?_r=1&th&emc=th

  2. This article deals with a topic that continues to get a great deal of lip-service these days. This is is good thing for awareness of our current path is the first step in determining whether we like our destination. Perhaps the majority now agree that “dependence on foreign oil” is a bad thing. Fortunately, it seems that the persistent cries of some against our unsustainable and undesired destination have finally been heard by the masses.

    Despite this apparent success, our current challenge is no longer to agree that we are going in the wrong direction, but to decide on what to actually do about correcting this dangerous direction. So it’s not even more talk about the problems but the action-items, the actual deliverables, the solutions that we should be creating now.

    It is crucial to understand that since the problem seems to be dependence on “foreign oil”, we should be careful to also not replace the problem with a “new dependence on foreign technology problem”, such as for example solar panels made either in China or Germany.

    Subsidies might sound like the easy answer. Well, perhaps in the interim in order to “catch up”.. But let’s be careful not to solve this problem with redirecting subsidies from one area to another. I would prefer that, as a country, we focus on the development of technology and products that work on their intrinsic merit. In other words, let us invent energy solutions that people actually want to buy, and they will buy them. In droves. (perhaps in their Teslas, charged by the Sun, after taking long showers with water recycled in a closed system, with a good night sleep because their house was heated by energy collected during the day, after having a nice orange juice cooled by a refrigerator that released excess heat into the stove, etc.).

    • Great points of discussion.. .I agree that if we subsidize the wrong things (E.g giving tax breaks) we are not moving innovation forward, but rather putting a band-aid on a greater issue that is the need to generate as the blog entry states and Energy Technology Revolution. I am so ready for that good night’s sleep because my house is smart and is cooled by the soft breeze of my windows being open. BTW – Good Blog entry..

  3. I agree that we seem FDH (Fat Dumb and Happy), when it comes to Solar. I was having dinner with a German friend who mocks that in the USA we lost our “edge” and we think people look up to us. Bush really screwed the stew, and hopefully Obama will do something our energy dependence. WE spend over 22.5 BBBBBillion dollars on Foreign Oil in August alone, and send money to countries that hate our guts.. WHY? because there is no real policy directive. In Germany they have this thing called FIT (Feed-in-Tariffs) where the Govt. made it a law that utilities have to buy Solar Energy from those who produce it… Why is the U.S so lame? I don’t know.. I love this country, but come on get it together.

  4. Or, because, as Friedman himself pointed out, the government is the one who made green energy the worse option to begin with. The government felt it essential to protect our energy and job resources from the evils of the free market and therefore subsidized oil. Now that the fruit of their government regulation, subsidization, and taxation has come to bear, there should be no surprise that people would dig in their heels and want the government to get out of the energy market and leave it up to the private investors and consumers that gave us such car companies as Tesla Motors.

  5. Why? – Because our politicians are still thinking in “drill… baby drill!” which translates: keep the “status quo” and sent a trillion-dollar – year to countries that “hate” the US.
    Good! – sent this to Capitol Hill.

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