Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Learning the right lessons from the Solyndra failure

The folks who claim that public intervention in the energy markets is not only bad policy, but possibly immoral and certainly should be illegal, are having a field day with the collapse of Solyndra. This is MOST unfortunate because any meaningful response to the end of The Age of Petroleum requires that thousands of Solyndras actually succeed.

The worst possible response to the Solyndra failure is, of course, political. Politicians are almost by definition technological imbeciles. These are people who amaze themselves if they can make a Powerpoint presentation work. Getting them involved with technology policy-making is almost a sure-fire recipe for bungling. Of course, the reverse is also true—there is possibly no group more inept at political discussion than a bunch of engineers.

And so the process of securing effective public funding for a technological mega-project like a conversion from living on our energy capital to living on our energy income seems institutionally hopeless. And using conventional political processes, it probably IS hopeless. Fortunately, we have plenty examples of what works both here in USA and in the rest of the world when societies decide to tackle large complex projects. As we in USA keep reminding ourselves, we once went to the moon for fun.

So the idea is to reduce a start-up funding problem such as represented by Solyndra to a repeatable formula. The venture capital mechanisms that bankrolled the dot-com boom are simply too small to handle a nationwide energy hardware upgrade. We are talking about the moon-landing times at least 10,000 here. Even the titans of Wall Street seem inadequate. After all, their BIG idea for the first decade of the 21st century was to involve themselves in petty real estate speculation.

The trick is to get governments involved with these sorts of mega-projects without having the process dragged down by pinheads like Michele Bachmann. The free-marketeers say it cannot be done and point to examples like Solyndra. I say it must be done because our very survival depends on it.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for an excellently written post about the most important issue facing our species right now.

    i find it mystifying how little commentary your posts excite, is the internet so full of top notch, judicious writing like this?

    whatever the reasons, i've been reading you for a few months, and the more i tune in, the more sense you make.

    i hope i speak for many other taciturn lurkers, when i say 'kudos' for your blog, its concept and execution are a necessary pleasure, and i hope you keep writing this fine, perspicacious line of thoughts, i appreciate it.