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Carlos Chambers on renewable energy, California's multi-billion dollar problem, contagious solar, Australia's heel dragging, bursting bubbles, Dilbert & more

Carlos Chambers on renewable energy, California's multi-billion dollar problem, contagious solar, Australia's heel dragging, bursting bubbles, Dilbert & more

Today's Top 10 is a guest post from Carlos Chambers who is a member of, and spokesperson for, Generation Zero, and a co-founder of software business Common Ledger. He is active on Twitter via @nzcach. 

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to david.chaston@interest.co.nz. And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 10 yourself, contact gareth.vaughan@interest.co.nz.

See all previous Top 10s here.

1 The beginning of the end?

It’s true that renewables continue to look like they have promising role to play in the transition to a low-carbon world. It may also be true that the renewables buildout is likely to outsrip the bulidout of coal and gas, over time, as the International Energy Agency’s graph shows.

But, the article’s second graph paints a much less optimistic picture, showing the amount of billions that needs to be invested to minimise climate change and avoid a temperature increase of 2 degrees. The red lines are the amount being spent, the blue are what needs to be spent.

The $200 billion deficit is not small. With global government support for solar fragmented and uncertain and private investment high relative to other clean technologies, but low relative to other technologies industries, the deficit may tell a bigger picture.

The race for renewable energy has passed a turning point. The world is now adding more capacity for renewable power each year than coal, natural gas, and oil combined. And there's no going back.

The shift occurred in 2013, when the world added 143 gigawatts of renewable electricity capacity, compared with 141 gigawatts in new plants that burn fossil fuels, according to an analysis presented Tuesday at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance annual summit in New York. The shift will continue to accelerate, and by 2030 more than four times as much renewable capacity will be added.

2 Renewable energy is not a toy.

Increasingly, the technology powering the renewable energy renaissance is making more sense. As this article points out, solar will increase its share of the American retail market 30x in the next five years.

I love solar because its such a logical energy source, the sun’s power, and a sensible thing to build a business model around. The rapidly decreasing up-front capital cost and reasonably low maintenance costs, as well as next to nothing cost for the operating cost of the generation process make it a win-win-win.

The article suggest efficiency is the key issue to bigger success. Is it really? It occurs to me efficiency is one part of a more successful solar equation, but the most important, least explored and highest potential impact way to move the needle is through a change in the systems and ways solar is deployed. Jigar Shah’s tweet puts it well “#Solar hype articles are all the rage, half truths are helpful but how technology is deployed actually matters”. Maybe then solar might have a shot at a more decisive role in limiting global warming.

GLOBAL investment in renewable energy, chiefly wind and solar power, rose by a sixth in 2014, to $270 billion. This was partly because of subsidies in the rich world, such as America’s 30% federal tax credit for solar projects. Under a system known as “net metering”, consumers with small solar installations can sell surplus power to the grid at the same price as they pay for power flowing in. But even if the tax credit is cut, as expected, solar electricity could displace 9.7% of American retail electricity sales by 2019, reckons Bernstein, a research firm—over 30 times the share today.

Renewables, excluding large hydropower schemes, now account for nearly a tenth of global power generation. On current trends they will make up a fifth by 2030. But it will take another step change in efficiency for them to play a decisive role in limiting global warming.

3 Drought, Climate Change and California’s Multi-Billion Dollar Problem.

Perhaps it’s ironic that California, the nerve centre of the world’s future-bound technology economy is feeling the constraints and effects of a changing climate, and as Governor Jerry Brown has implied, although just stopped short of actually saying, humans’ historic and causative relationship with it.

While the debate rages on the extent of causation and that relationship, either way Cali has some big climatic and weather changes coming. Can and will the new ideas, technologies and systems coming out of parts of that state be leveraged for the impending challenge?

Maybe the innovative state can be a test-bed for mitigation through new ideas - the conditions, now and into the future, seem to exist for this to be a genuine thing.

But a new report published Thursday by a nonprofit risk-analysis organization suggests that what California is currently experiencing will only get worse — with tens of billions of dollars hanging in the balance — if global greenhouse gas emissions aren’t soon curtailed and adequate adaptation measures aren’t put in place.

Short of such measures, the study — produced by the Risky Business Project, which is co-chaired by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and hedge-fund manager and environmental advocate Tom Steyer — suggests that California will likely face “multiple and significant economic risks from climate change,” over the 21st century.

4 Who knew solar is contagious?

Solar energy moves from house to house through “neighbour effects”. Almost like “network effects” with a neighbourhood twist.

Promising for an industry with typically very high customer acquisition cost. This makes sense - it’s not easy to stumble across solar panels and for them to end up on your roof at home or to make a large, lumpy, snap decision to purchase the required assets. While growing quickly, solar is still in the early phase of adoption, the technology a little foreign to many.

But, if Jack and Jill next door have panels and you can chat to them over the fence about their experience, that’s a more real potential driver.

Neighbour effects, powered by word of mouth. A novel truly distributed, face-to-face and grass roots sales model.

Solar power only generates about 0.4 percent of America's electricity. But it's expanding at a rapid rate, with a new rooftop system installed every four minutes, on average. There are lots of reasons for that, from lower costs to federal subsidies to innovative financing schemes.

But here's another unexpected factor: Solar power appears to be contagious. Yes, contagious. If you install solar photovoltaic panels on your roof, that greatly increases the odds that your neighbors will, in turn, install their own panels.

5 Australia, climate change’s bad boy, forgets wallet and won’t pay up.

If you told an average Australian that their country is now doing less than China to curb emissions and climate change - and I intend to on my next trip there - how would they react?

Increasingly Australia’s actions suggest the question is not one of developed versus developing economies but a question of a developed country outlier who is not pulling their weight.

With international negotiations coming up next year in Paris and wider growing international support for urgency around curbing emissions through emissions trading schemes.

As they say, you only know who is swimming naked when the tide goes out. Surely the Australian would say that they don’t want to be nude in front of all their other friends.

The world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters, including China and the US, have questioned the credibility of Australia's climate change targets and "direct action" policy in a list of queries to the Abbott government.

In the latest sign of diplomatic pressure over Canberra's stance on global warming, China accused Australia of doing less to cut emissions than it is demanding of other developed countries, and asked it to explain why this was fair.

6 It puts the technology on the body.

By the end of 2015 will we be moving from bluetooth in our ears to Oculus Rift on our faces? Just see how the technology merges with the brain.

Here are 50 wearable technology innovations and products for the year ahead.

7 The next tech bubble is about to burst.

This is a well written opinion piece on questions us people who work in tech enjoy asking and discussing right now - is there a bubble? Will it pop? If so, when? If so, who’s going to be first to die? If not, which companies are the next unicorns?

Best to read and make up your own mind. I liked a friend’s simple, clear, but frustratingly shallow advice to companies - a bubble is a market correction, and if you’re doing things correctly then you should be okay. Keep doing things right.

While an opinion piece I include this because it’s well researched with good links to some of the theories which make up the background on the bubble debate.

8 Software and the sharing economy are (still) eating the world.

I’ve previously shared things on sharing economy (see what I did there?) noting that in many areas - accommodation, transport, food - historical obsession with property rights and ownership of assets is fast being replaced with sharing economy and access to those same assets.

Of course, the next interesting questions are what are the rules which govern or need to be created to govern these new businesses and economies and their suppliers and consumers?

This a16z podcast sits down with some of the heavy hitters in that industry to explore these questions - you may have heard of AirBnB or Lyft. If you like thinking about how to make purchased assets more efficient, turn cost-centres into profit centers or empower large numbers of micro-entrepreneurs with new business models and tools and then this is a must listen.

It has long been the case that technological change outpaces changes to policy and law. Beyond important safety measures, some regulations take the form of complex processes or workflows that simply don't apply to startups doing different things -- or, that involve prohibitive fees, time, and other resources that startups can't afford. For companies like Airbnb, Instacart, LocalMotion, Lyft, Teespring, Tilt, and others on the frontlines of the so-called 'sharing economy' -- What's working? What needs to be changed? This segment of the a16z Podcast shares founders' perspectives and experiences [from a previously recorded live roundtable conversation] on what startups need to be able to innovate in this (and other areas!) in the current regulatory environment... Especially as software continues to eat the physical world.