Innovators On the Edge of History

In my last article I talked about some people being on the wrong side of history. There is also a flip side to this – a world-wide movement of individuals, organizations and corporations on the edge of history. They are people who are working toward a more sustainable model of development, with emphasis on being clean, natural, renewable, and/or recyclable, as well as profitable. While the Canadian government is betting Canada’s future prosperity on the export of resources – primarily crude oil to China or the US – there is a danger of a boom and bust cycle. Australia, for instance, is already along this road:

Dylan Grcen global strategist for Societe Generale has a new report called Popular Delusions, arguing that the bull run in commodities that has enriched Australia is inflating a credit bubble, which itself is being inflated by a Chinese credit bubble.” (Inside the Bubble, April 28, 2012,  Toronto Star)

Occasionally, I like to scan for trends and innovations to share in this blog. Here are a few items that I found interesting.

Low carbon energy is the trend

England has launched a heating incentive program similar to the renewable energy incentive. “Heating equipment such as biomass boilers, solar hot water panels and heat pumps will be available under the scheme”. IKEA has announced a plan to use 100% renewable energy and “has installed 39,000 solar panels on the rooftops of its UK stores as part of its goal”.

Waste as a local fuel resource

SITA UK, a recycling and resource management company, “plans to build a series of fuel recovery centres across the UK to capitalise upon the growing market for refuse-derived fuels… It will use a process “which can convert various waste plastics, which are currently landfilled or incinerated, into low-sulphur hydrocarbon fuels … These facilities will primarily target the mixed plastics waste stream, converting end-of-life plastics (ELP) into diesel. SITA’s intention is to build ten plants in the UK to process 60,000 tonnes per annum in total of mixed plastic waste into diesel.

Energy will be electric, renewable and local

While the Canadian government is basing future prosperity on the export of oil resources, millions of dollars are being directed toward new forms of electric energy storage. The trend is toward electric energy in all forms of transportation including rail and ship as well as automotive. Most major auto companies have an electric vehicle design. An Alberta company, Motive Inc., has designed “Canada’s first biocomposite electric car”. Frank Stronach relinquished control of Magna International with almost a billion dollars in compensation to head up a new electric car company.

But more importantly, energy storage and distribution on demand will smooth grid power levels, and make renewable power sources far more attractive. General Electric announced a partnership in March with Arista Power to “sell systems that store electricity for commercial customers and release it when demand is at its highest.”  It combines wind and solar power with a nickel salt battery that has a 20 year life span.

Renewable power sources will be smaller, more efficient and affordable

I’ve written previously about a prize-winning low-profile rooftop wind turbine from RidgeBlade in England, which is now in the field-testing stage prior to commercial development. Still in the theoretical development stage is a wind turbine with no moving parts being developed by Accio Energy in the United States.

The cost of solar electric power has dropped dramatically in the past decade. China holds about 40% of the solar equipment market. Some observers are predicting “retail grid parity, when homes and businesses will be able to generate their own power more cheaply than they buy it from coal- or gas-fired plants through local utilities.”  This may be an option by 2015 in some jurisdictions such as California, Brazil and parts of China according to a report from New Energy Finance.

More local and renewable building materials

A major U.K. cosmetic firm, Lush, announced plans to build a manufacturing facility out of straw bales sourced from local farms. It has already completed the construction of a straw bale ‘cold room’.  Here in Innisfil, Poraver grinds and processes waste glass into special glass spheres of varying sizes that are used to manufacture a variety of lighter, better insulating construction components such as building panels, and mortars.

Individual actions make a difference

What’s the lesson for Innisfil? These trends will continue regardless of the political bias and lack of leadership in Ottawa. We can continue to build a resilient local economy based on local resources and talent as the best bulwark against an unsustainable oil economy, economic instability, and the damaging effects of climate change.

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