IBM, Smart; Forbes…

Nissan smart roads

Nissan smart roads

Infrastructure

IBM’s ‘Smart’ Moves
by Andy Greenberg
Company revamps its infrastructure offerings just as the Senate is expected to approve billions in IT spending.

First came the lofty pronouncements. Now, comes the products–and the timing couldn’t be better.

Since November, IBM Chief Executive Sam Palmisano has been making futurist statements about the need for a “smarter” national infrastructure, using information technology to upgrade the nation’s roads, electric grid and health care system in a bid to increase their efficiency; to make America more internationally competitive and to create thousands of jobs.
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Warning to fellow writers: I sent a query to the Silicon Valley editor at Forbes about a year ago, re: HoloGenomics.

He declined, saying it wasn’t the sort of thing they do very often.

Except he did — on the same subject, a few weeks ago.

I asked the editors at Forbes how they were going to make this right.

Thus far, their worships have not deigned to reply.

I also proposed a piece on why the old media are dying …

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Dream on!

Bridge to the Future

Bridge to the Future

I was watching the News Hour a few days ago. Two economists were talking.

One was a thoroughly dismal character (no doubt a lot of fun at parties), who saw only boondoggles coming out of Obama’s economic stimulus package — more bridges to nowhere.

The other was more optimistic, reminding listeners that previous programs had given rise to marvels of modern engineering, such as the Golden Gate Bridge — investments in infrastructure which continue to pay dividends today and which are also totally bitchin’ cool.

That got me to thinking: Given what we can do in the 21st century and given the crying needs before us, isn’t this an excellent opportunity to dream big — to envision a bold, beautiful, sustainable future that we and our posterity can take pride in?

We can do this.

We can make it better.

Hey! Ho! Let’s go!

Rev up the auto industry

Fisker Karma Plug-in Hybrid Sedan

Detroit 2008: Fisker Karma Plug-in Hybrid Sedan

Dear PJ,

I hope you didn’t think I was trying to get your goat in re: Obama and the auto industry. Being a banker and financial wizard, I somehow suspect your sympathies lay with McCain — for whom I have a lot of respect — but I strongly feel as though his fatalism regarding our auto industry was precisely the wrong tack to take.

Because our entire economy runs on wheels, as it were. Perhaps more importantly, our cars are a great source of pride to Americans and to simply give up in the face of foreign competition seems a singularly un-American, dispiriting prospect.

On the other hand, reviving the industry and going on to lead the world with cool, clean-running cars — that is something millions of us could get on board with and could go a long way toward providing the kind of leadership and momentum we clearly crave at this uncertain hour.

Anyway, those are my considered thoughts on the issue, for what they’re worth.

From today’s WP :

A Friend in Need

Mr. Obama needs to show the auto industry some tough love in helping it weather its troubles.

BARACK OBAMA made clear yesterday that the American automobile industry will have a friend in theWhite House starting Jan. 20. At his first post-election news conference, Mr. Obama, who had supported more federal aid for Detroit during the campaign, echoed talking points the industry has been using to seek more aid from Congress. He described carmaking as “the backbone of American manufacturing,” and noted that its current “hardship” extends to “countless suppliers, small businesses and communities throughout our nation who depend on a vibrant American auto industry.” Mr . Obama wants his aides to come up with new ideas “to help the auto industry adjust, weather the financial crisis, and succeed in producing fuel-efficient cars here in the United States.”

Hemorrhaging cash, Detroit wants an acceleration of an already approved $25 billion government loan to retool for greater fuel efficiency, plus $25 billion more to help the automakers ride out the financial crisis. This would, indeed, be a bad time for a sudden shutdown of the industry; including related businesses, that could eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs, with tragic effects for communities across the Midwest. Still, the industry is no longer quite as pivotal to the American economy as it once was; and many other businesses are also hurting, including many whose workers make less than Detroit’s unionized workforce. Even with a bailout, U.S. carmakers will have to shed workers by the thousands. As for improving the fuel efficiency of the U.S.-made fleet, the best way to do that would be to permanently raise federal gas taxes. Alas, higher gas taxes seem to be politically impossible at the moment.

Solar goes kuh-ching!

Let it shine

Let it shine

FREMONT, California — Solar cells have been converting sunlight into electricity for years, but scientists have been much less successful at turning that technology into money.

Now, in a staid Bay Area office park, a converted hard-drive factory with a shiny new façade has begun churning out unconventional solar tubes that could change the economics of solar power.

The highly-automated factory belongs to Solyndra, a three-year-old company that has received $600 million in venture capital and $1.2 billion in orders for its new modules, which look like curtain rods. Those big investors are betting the company’s unique product will soon blanket commercial buildings across the world.

Instead of the standard panels mounted on racks that have dominated solar for the last 20 years, Solyndra’s cylindrical solar modules collect sunlight more efficiently across a broader range of angles and catch light reflected off the roof itself. The solar cells also contain no silicon, which has been a costly component of most solar systems.

Targeted at a highly specific market — office and big-box rooftops — and with signed contracts in hand, the company, along with a small cadre of other well-funded solar startups, are racing to turn their scientific and engineering marvels into profitable businesses.

The scramble, the money, and the size of the prize — a big slice of the trillions of dollars made in energy — remind the company’s founder, Chris Gronet, of his earlier experience in the industry that became the basis for the information revolution.

“We think the solar industry or market look very similar to the way semiconductor manufacturing was 20 years ago,” Gronet, Solyndra’s CEO, told Wired.com. “We say, ‘Wow this is familiar. We’ve been through this before.'”

SciAm

Oui

Green Jobs Now

Join us and tens of thousands of Americans of all backgrounds for an unprecedented National Day of Action calling for Green Jobs Now: Build the New Economy. 

On Saturday, September 27th, the We Campaign, 1Sky, and Green for All will hold events across the country to send the message that it is time to Repower America with 100% clean electricity within 10 years and lift people out of poverty.

September 27th is only one week away, so sign up to host or attend an event today! It’s easy and it’ll be fun.

The solutions to our climate crisis are simple. Make the switch to clean, renewable energy, end our dependence on fossil fuels, and revitalize our economy. With energy costs and utility bills increasing unchecked, and millions of green collar jobs at stake, there is no time to waste.

We’ll be there on September 27th to say it’s time to Repower America with Green Jobs Now. Sign up today and join us!

From your mouth to God’s ear

The Wrong Energy Agenda

Conservatives should rethink their solution to our energy problems. Instead of more drilling, it’s time for small-scale enterprises, argues guest columnist Byron Kennard

In response to the nation’s energy problems, Republican politicians are calling for extensive and rapid deployment of large-scale technological solutions: drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; offshore oil development; construction of scores of new coal-fired and nuclear power plants; and development of clean coal technologies (coal-burning power stations equipped with carbon capture and sequestration gizmos).

To meet the rhetorical standards of an American Presidential campaign, this large-scale technology agenda has been distilled into a single mantra: “Drill more, drill now.” (Does this sound to anyone else like the business plan for a dentist?)

Large-scale technologies are, by definition, centralized. What’s more, their social and economic effects are centralizing. Deploying more large-scale technologies means we will become even more dependent on remote energy sources. Why do conservatives, who are philosophically committed to decentralized, small-scale approaches, opt for just the opposite when it comes to energy technology?

It’s not as if there were no small-scale technological solutions already available. There are plenty, indeed, starting with dramatic increases in conservation and efficiency, both of which can pay off hugely simply because Americans are such big—and needless—wasters of energy. This calls for thrift and prudence, both old-time virtues by any standard. Plus, increased conservation and efficiency will save consumers and businesses tons of money, which ought to please conservatives.

Small-Source Energy

On top of this, hundreds of new clean and renewable-energy technologies are flooding the market, most of them small-scale. These make possible the “distributed generation” of energy; that is energy generated from small sources on-site—solar, wind, fuel cells—and used nearby, maybe even in the same building. How much more decentralized can you get?

These small-scale technologies are not being produced by tree-hugging, anti-growth fanatics, or big government regulatory zealots, or closet socialists. They are coming from entrepreneurial small businesses whose owners are every bit as likely to be Republicans as Democrats.

Republicans profess to love entrepreneurship. But entrepreneurship has much more to do with small scale enterprise than large. Big businesses are seldom entrepreneurial, and entrepreneurs are seldom found in big businesses. We can afford to fail on the small scale but not on the big scale.

The Entrepreneurial Edge

This has been true throughout history. Tinkerers working in garages created the Industrial Age, remember? Their modern day counterparts, working on computers, are creating the post-Industrial Age. In this new era, little businesses are running rings around big businesses. Entrepreneurial small firms actually produce five times as many patents per dollar as large companies and 20 times as many as universities, according to the National Small Business Association, a trade group.

Contemplating this, one would think that entrepreneur-loving conservative politicians would be in seventh heaven. But don’t look for them there. Where you’ll find them is in bed with big business, cozily scheming to maintain the status quo.

Big businesses are exceptionally fond of the status quo, and not just because of the manifold subsidies they enjoy. Another reason is they don’t know how to get their hands on all these emerging small-scale technologies. These innovations are so numerous, so varied, and evolving so rapidly that no one can stay on top of them.

Innovative Speed

Indeed, the quickening pace of innovation puts big systems more and more at a disadvantage. No matter how quickly and how often big systems retool, something better comes along even before they finish.

Since big businesses don’t yet know how to control these small-scale technologies, or—most important—how to make money off them, they are content to pat them on the head, comment on how cute they are, and observe that in 20 or 30 years, when they grow up, such technologies might indeed be an option.

Let It Shine, IV

‘Major discovery’ from MIT primed to

unleash solar revolution

Scientists mimic essence of plants’ energy storage system

Anne Trafton, News Office
July 31, 2008

In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn’t shine.

Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is prohibitively expensive and grossly inefficient. With today’s announcement, MIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy.

Requiring nothing but abundant, non-toxic natural materials, this discovery could unlock the most potent, carbon-free energy source of all: the sun. “This is the nirvana of what we’ve been talking about for years,” said MIT’s Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT and senior author of a paper describing the work in the July 31 issue of Science. “Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon.”

Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera’s lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun’s energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.

The key component in Nocera and Kanan’s new process is a new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water; another catalyst produces valuable hydrogen gas. The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water. When electricity — whether from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source — runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.