The Chinese are pushing to the fore in the global race to develop and market clean technologies. The New York Times of the 30th of January warns that the western world may become as reliant on Chinese clean technologies as we are now dependent on oil from the Middle East.

We have seen it before in fields of high technology as well. Japan, formerly a low cost, low quality producer of electronics and cheap cars became the global leader in many areas of advanced technologies.

In an article in The Washington Post of the 2nd of August 2009, CEO of GE Jeff Immelt, and venture capitalist John Doerr warn of this threat and argue that there is a need of large scale government investment in the US to make the US a leader in this field, like it has been in many high tech fields, such as IT in the past.

Not surprisingly, the uncontested global leader in the sustainability area, Al Gore, launches a similar argument in his latest book “Our Choice”:

“The turning point came in 2009. The year began well, with the inauguration of a new president in the United States, who immediately shifted priorities to focus on building the foundation for a new low-carbon economy.”

Yes, there is definitely a need for large scale development programs in the clean tech area. Yes, there is a need for a political focus on these issues. Yes, business in the western hemisphere needs to stand its ground, and in order to to this there is a need for large scale managed programs and large scale implementation of green technology. These programs need to start soon, or China, and perhaps India, will take the leadership in many fields, where we still have an opportunity to take strong positions.

The solution is not haphazard technology development. No, we need well managed programs of technology development and implementation in order to make this possible. These programs need to be built on analysis of the needs and opportunities, high level strategies for technology development and implementation, planned programs and projects with clear goals, and tight management of the development and implementation phases of these programs.

Global Energy Transformation Institute is today one of the clearest advocates of such programs on the global scene. The idea is to develop US and European capabilities that will be on par with, or stronger than, those of China and other Asian economies in many clean tech fields. Following a demand from many business leaders and politicians whom we have spoken to in the past few months, Global Energy Transformation Institute will launch a sponsorship program, that will strengthen the abilities of this organization to strongly lobby to increase the competitiveness of western industry in clean tech areas. Support Global Energy Transformation Institute, support US and European clean tech development, and support a more promising economic outlook in the decades to come.

Why complicate things?

I sometimes get the impression that people who work with sustainability, sustainability economics, development of new energy technologies, or developing networks in the area of sustainability or energy technology development think that creating transformation strategies, plans and manage change from the perspective of high level goals creates unnecessary complications. Everything seems to work very well for everybody at the moment, when people who are interested in contributing to sustainability can take intiatives in the ways that they prefer. There are so many people who are interested and getting involved, and so much enthusiasm, even over quite modest progress.

Well, the current situation is definitely a step forward in many ways. However, we have precious little time at our disposal to achieve large scale transformation of energy systems. When people take initiatives in a co-ordinated fashion there will be duplication of effort, projects where large resources are spent with limited results, and perhaps worse, there will be necessary activities that nobody thinks about starting up, because they are not very obvious.

In order to drive Global Energy Transformation forward in a resource efficient manner, we need goals, organization, and structure. The different initiatives need to become coordinated and managed towards high level goals, and we need to minimize large scale duplication of effort, and large scale waste of resources on unnecessary activities.

At present a large number of technologies for renewable fuels are developed by different teams of R&D people at universities and at companies, without any idea of which fuels we will use in the future. This is going to be settled along the way through competition.

As I mentioned in a previous posting this is similar to building a tunnel through a mountain from two ends without agreeing about the direction of the tunnel, the width, whether it is going to be a railway tunnel, or a road tunnel etc, before starting the construction.

Planning and coordination is not a way of curbing enthusiasm and reducing the free spirit. It is a way of making sure that scarce resources are being used in a wise manner. It is a way to ensure that we achieve results in a timely fashion.

Is there not enough competence already?

In recent conversations with energy experts and business leaders I have been asked the question of whether there is not already enough people and competence involved in the development of new energy technology and in efforts to change energy systems.

My response to this is that there is not, and that the available competencies are not yet appropriately organized and managed.

In order for large scale energy systems transformation to take place, a very large share of the population, and a large share of all businesses, need to become involved in these efforts. At present mainly experts in various areas are involved, and there are few large scale programs and projects in progress.

Also, the experts that are involved are not organized and managed in such a way so that the different competencies can contribute to the overall result. In order for this to happen we need very specific goals for technology development and for the production of renewable energy from various sources at different points in the future.

Different competencies need to become organized in projects that aim at achieving the goals that are to be set. In the present situation, people with different competencies have very different views of the need and the opportunities to transform energy systems, and economists, sustainability experts, engineers in various technology areas, and peak oil experts approach the issues related to energy transformation in very different ways. They need to start to communicate with each other within specific projects with particular goals.

In addition to this, a new category of experts need to become involved. Those are the “change management” experts, who possess the tools that are necessary to drive large scale energy transformation toward Global Energy Transformation. There are at present very few people in the energy debate and in actual energy projects that approach the energy transformation from a change management perspective.

This all needs to change, and people need to develop who understand the different issues related to sustainability, economics, technology, Peak Oil, and change management. In the recent book “Overcoming Overuse: Energy Transformation for a World Gone Fad” we outline this challenge and call for a new category of experts to emergy, which we call “Homo Transformabilis”.

In the United States oil billionaire and philanthropist T. Boone Pickens is lobbying the “Pickens Plan”. This is a bold plan to reduce the dependence of the US on imported oil, and to increase once more the use of indigenous energy sources. Mr. Pickens argues in favour of a large-scale implementation of wind energy for electricity production.

The communications material that is made available on the Pickens Plan web site states: “The Great Plains States are home to the greatest wind energy potential in the world.” At a cost of as little as 1 trillion dollars, the states ranging from the Texas panhandle to North Dakota could produce 20 per cent of the electricity used by the US. The annual cost of imported oil is between 500 and 700 billion dollars.

According to the Pickens Plan, wind energy could replace US natural gas for electricity production. In order to show his belief in the plan, T. Boone Pickens himself makes large investments in the expansion of wind energy production in the Texas panhandle. The natural gas that is saved could then be used as a fuel for vehicles, which would gradually, as the production of wind electricity expands, replace imported oil in this area.

The Pickens Plan is an example of the bold thinking that Global Energy Transformation is all about. We need leadership in energy transformation, and the combination of bold ideas and substantial financial resources in one resourceful person is clearly a winning match. Let’s only hope that Mr. Pickens receives all the support that he needs for his scheme, and that people in similar positions in other countries follow his lead. The Pickens Plan is one of the first bold steps towards large scale energy transformation. Let’s celebrate and support it! Here’s how you can help:

Global Energy Transformation High-lighted by Library

Planning of Large Scale Transformation is Common Sense

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to present Global Energy Transformation at a seminar in Malmö hosted by the organization SNS (a Swedish organization that promotes debate about important issues in economics, society and politics). The other presenters were Jacqueline McGlade, Director at the EU Environmental Agency (EEA) in Copenhagen, and Klas Eklund, senior economicst at the bank SEB, adviser to the Swedish government, and myself representing Global Energy Transformation Institute. Some 70 persons were attending the seminar, prominent journalists from the region ( e.g. Per T Ohlsson (Sydsvenska Dagbladet) and Nils-Eric Sandberg (free lance), representatives from the City of Malmö (e.g. Environmental Director Katarina Pellin) and representatives from international companies like EOn, Alfa Laval, IKEA and a number of companies from the region.

While the previous presenters focused on climate change and the international disagreement at COP15, I spoke about Peak Oil and the pressing need to transform energy systems on a large scale. At the beginning I pointed out that, during the seminar the global economy would be consuming 10 million barrels of oil, or 1000 barrels per second. The magnitude of the transformation of our large scale energy systems will require not only more funding (e.g. in the form of a new fund that was decided at COP15), but also managed projects that aim at developing exactly the technologies and renewable energy sources that we need in order to offset the impending decline in oil supplies.

I also mentioned the examples of previous large scale transformation projects, such as the Apollo Program, the transformation of US industry to war production during The Second World War, and the Marshall Plan. I received the question how I believed that a global transformation project may become organized. My reply was that we should not aim for global programs. Instead we need to start up national, regional, and EU based programs in different countries, naturally also in countries outside of Europe. There will also be a need for transformation programs in industrial sectors, and in clusters of companies that cooperate, such as companies that will have to drive change together with their suppliers and other business partners. All of these programs will identify needs to coordinate efforts with other programs, which, eventually, will lead to the integration of programs into increasingly large units with different forms of coordination. A higher level of planning and management may seemingly go against the widespread belief that the market provides the most efficient organization mechanism.

However, while reflecting on this afterwards it is obvious and a matter of common sense, that if two countries want to build a tunnel through a mountain to unite the two countries they will want to plan a number of aspects of the projects so that both countries work to the same plan from the start of the project:

– The direction of the tunnel so that the drilling teams meet half way.
– The width and height of the tunnel, so that vehicles that enter from one end can drive all the way through.
– Whether it is going to be a railroad or road tunnel.
– If it will be a railroad tunnel, the countries need to agree about the width of the tracks, the signal systems, whether it is going to be electrified or not, etc.

If these issues are allowed to become settled by the market forces, during the construction project and after the tunnel has been taken into use, it will be a waste of time, money, materials, and competence.
If we in Europe or globally, in a similar way, start a number of different projects in different places, where some countries focus on biogas, some on ethanol and others on electric vehicles, biodiesel or other fuels, we make a mistake similar to that of two countries who try to build a tunnel together without agreeing on the basics before starting the project. Furthermore, vehicle manufacturers, fuel producers and fuel distributors and other players, may invest large sums of money in different alternatives, and the coordination process will be costly, time consuming and disorganized. As in the case of tunnel building, planning a large scale transformation of European transport infrastructure is not socialism, it is common sense.

Big ideas, big “projects”, big men and women

At a recent visit to London I took the opportunity to walk among the imposing buildings and monuments of the government’s quarters in Westminster. I was impressed by the number of statues of important men and women, who have been involved in building the United Kingdom, and realized that the effort of Global Energy Transformation is an endeavour comparable to many of the great achievements in human history.

This effort will require the efforts of great political leaders like Churchill, Disraeli and Lincoln (Lincoln’s statue is located near Westminster Abbey). The efforts will require scientific geniuses like Newton, great thinkers like Hume and Mill, and reformers like Gladstone.

First and foremost, the effort to transform global energy systems will need to be driven by determined individuals, who are able to see further than the short term profitability of individual technology development projects and new products.

It is time now for the individuals with the ambition to lead the world through this challenge to step forward and show that they are in command of the situation and convince us that they will be able to find a way forward.