Lighting a Fire Under Clean Tech
Yesterday, President Obama initiated several more steps to help the U.S. become an energy independent country. It is a task several U.S. Presidents have tried to accomplish in the past, yet we all know none of them have had any luck so far. I'm optimistic that we'll see progress in this area over the next few years and anxious to see how this will impact the clean tech sector.
Venture capital funding has taken a hit across the boards for all sectors over the past few quarters, though The New York Times noted today that investors put $4.1 billion into 277 clean tech start-ups last year, which is a 52 percent increase over the previous year. For any of those people out there that still haven't seen the light - this market is exploding.
Despite the uptick in start-ups, (and as I've said before, from what I've gathered), the challenge to commercialize renewable and green energy isn't necessarily about the technology - it's more about economics and changing policy. So President Obama's decision to introduce a $825 billion stimulus package last week to help green technologies merge with our nation's power grid will be warmly welcomed by many following the clean tech industry.
There is still room for innovation, though. Plenty of it. Yes, we need to change policies and our expectations for energy costs, but the demand for innovation will continue to exist. Henry Petroski, a professor at Duke University, wrote an interesting op-ed today in The Washington Post responding to a comment President Obama made in his inaugural speech about "restoring science to its rightful place." He clarified that what we really need is engineering - not science, to help bring real change to our energy mix.
"Most people who aren't scientists or engineers seem to think that science and engineering are the same. They're not. Science seeks to understand the world as it is; only engineering can change it."
He said steam engines were fully functioning before scientists could even explain how they worked. And 19th century scientists argued with engineers that steamships couldn't transport coal on transatlantic trips just before they actually did. Petroski went on to point out that if the Wright Brothers waited for the scientific explanation of aerodynamics, they wouldn't have lived long enough to make their famous flight.
Maybe it's just a matter of semantics, but regardless, he makes a fair point. Now let's hope engineers are finding themselves busy right about now. If anyone needs to be busy at this point in history, it's them.