It is absolutely amazing what they are doing; I watched in awe as they showed elementary school children how to power a fan by shining a lamp onto layers of raspberry puree and pencil shavings. This simple process is at the heart of DSC and its implications are tremendous:
1.It doesn’t use silicon so is impervious to price fluctuations and raw material shortages due to the semiconductor industry.
2. The photovoltaic medium is essentially an “ink” that can be “printed” on many different materials. This means that no longer are solar cells relegated to big, ugly, heavy panels. Instead they can be integrated into the windows of your house (transparently), the body of your car, or the fabric of your clothing.
3. The fabrication process is cheap and can leverage the skill/scale of major printers.
4. The cells perform well in diffuse light so you don’t need huge arrays in areas with massive illumination; they work in the rest of the world.
Since I just posted about my thoughts on sustainable energy in Africa, I might as well follow up with more musings on sustainable development there. Although most of my time in Kenya was spent in Nairobi, I also had a chance to explore Lake Naivasha’s industry and ecosystem. I met, for example, with the VP of Finance and Administration of Homegrown Ltd, a huge floriculture company specializing in roses, exporting hundreds of millions each year. A few things struck me from the encounter.
First, Lake Naivasha, the source of water for the entire local flower industry, is changing. It is drying up and its water is becoming more polluted. While this is partially due to natural cycles, it is mostly attributed to man. Homegrown and other florists in the Lake Naivasha Growers Group surprised me with their recognition of culpability and their proactivity in addressing the issue despite no government requirement to do so. For example, they have planted local shrubs along the banks to slow runoff and filter the water that enters the lake.
Second, Homegrown is committed to reducing its environmental impact through elimination of chemical-based pesticides. However, the need to reduce rose-eating pests remains. To strike this balance, Homegrown founded another company, DuduTech (“Dudu” means “insect” in Swahili.), which develops “pesticides” by using naturally occurring insects that prey on the pests. This includes predatory insects, parasitic bugs, and a host of other approaches that all have the same objective: neutralize the pests without introducing chemicals into the environment. Cool stuff.
Back in June I was in Kenya to learn about the business challenges they faced there–especially after all the post-election violence. It was a very eye-opening trip in many ways; I had the opportunity to meet everyone from the most notable dignitaries and business leaders to the poorest slum residents. Each of the meetings was very interesting, although I didn’t find the one with the executive director of Climate Network Africa to be very productive. She was full of climate change blame for the US/Europe, didn’t offer any constructive solutions, and demanded reparations for the damage that would surely come to the African environment. I found this unproductive for several reasons.
First, her supporting data were misleading. She drew facts and figures from several years ago, when the US and Europe were way ahead of everyone in carbon emissions. Don’t get me wrong; the US and Europe are still way ahead, but the gap is closing a little and the trends, which show developing nations like China overtaking them in the future, reveal that the problem must be addressed globally, not just in a few countries. She also used exclusively per capita carbon emissions statistics, which are irrelevant. The environment doesn’t care how many people are producing the emissions; it just cares that they are being produced! By her logic, the US could become a better global citizen just by increasing its fertility rate instead of reducing its emissions!
Second, she was all problem and no solution. Yes, we all know that the industrialized countries have been the greatest emitters, but it is unproductive to rehash this over and over and over again. Yes, we screwed up. No, we didn’t know the consequences industrialization would have until relatively recently but yes, we accept responsibility for it. Now let’s stop playing the blame game and all work together to find a solution!
Finally, her antagonistic “The West is evil” presentation isn’t likely to motivate any action. A large organization exhibits a collective subconscious that behaves in a very irrational, human way. Attacking developed countries is likely to induce defensiveness, not action. A collaborative approach would be much more constructive.