On April 22 – Earth Day 2016 – a record 175 nations agreed to keep this century’s global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius by signing the Paris Agreement, conceived at last year’s Paris Climate Conference (COP21). While unclear what country-level solutions will emerge, we know moving towards a low-carbon future is a critical component.
From a global perspective, what macro-economic factors must also be altered to encourage investment in renewable energy solutions? And once a price on carbon is assessed, how do entrepreneurs seize the opportunity?
Inspired by co-founders Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis, Singularity University’s framework for approaching climate change – one of humanity’s greatest challenges - blends the power of exponentially growing technologies such as artificial intelligence and synthetic biology with abundance thinking, the mindset that technology can create a universally abundant future. The faculty, made up of cutting-edge practitioners and thinkers who are experts in their respective fields, also play a distinct role in both defining our approach and inspiring the next generation of problem-solvers.
Take, for example, Gregg Maryniak, who is SU’s Energy & Environmental Systems Chair and a board member and corporate secretary of the X PRIZE Foundation. In ongoing conversations with Gregg, we discuss the huge entrepreneurial opportunities in energy technology. One obvious challenge is that we need economic incentives to switch from fossil fuels. To address this, Gregg recommends instituting a carbon tax, making renewables cheaper, increasing fossil fuel prices and leveraging solar subsidies as critical components in order to truly tackle climate change. With the perfect blend of economic forces, money could then be invested towards R&D in the biggest opportunity areas – namely energy storage and networks solutions - to push us towards a non-carbon economy.
While today’s entrepreneurs are competing against the old way of doing things – that 20-year-old coal plant is cheaper, and has 30 years of operation left – this should not be a deterrent. That is why I encourage a mindset shift, from linear to exponential. If we use old, linear thinking, we’re likely to create incremental fixes, whereas exponential thinking will get us to the energy storage and network solutions needed.
For entrepreneurs around the world – who might not have the opportunity to sit with the likes of Gregg Maryniak – what are the key discussions that must occur on climate change? Here are five tools that we teach everyday at SU, to help you better understand and find solutions to the world’s largest problems with a global point of view, where energy consumption in the developing world has the power to grow economies and elevate people out of poverty.
1. Be an exponential thinker and embrace abundance
Plan for scenarios that may happen on an exponential curve. The framework of abundance thinking emphasizes a world where technology can solve many of the world’s biggest problems to reveal hidden entrepreneurial possibility. In this case, it’s energy storage and networking solutions. Strive to bring extremely diverse groups together to catalyze these new ideas.
2. Leverage the power of accelerating technologies
Technologies accelerating on an exponential curve are the tools with the largest potential for scalable impact; the Internet of Things is rich with innovation opportunities. For example, Quantified Planet, a nonprofit founded by Maja Brisvall, is creating an open source community and data platform to collect environmental data to make smarter local decisions.
3. Test many possible solutions and be willing to fail
We need an ecosystem of ideation and experimentation that supports many new initiatives, and many new failures. This iterative process, known as rapid prototyping, is how entrepreneurs test and rapidly progress towards better solutions. Silicon Valley’s success can largely be attributed to the understanding that to find solutions faster, you need to fail faster. With climate change, we don't have the time to count on one big bet. We need to place many bets with lower opportunity costs, so they can fail fast without dire implications.
4. Look for supporting technologies driving the exponential curve
Some of the greatest innovation opportunities are supporting technologies that are driving exponential growth of renewable energy. For example, there is an ecosystem of technologies supporting the performance of photovoltaics (PVs). Otherlab’s project, Sunfolding, has created new solar tracking technology by applying high-volume manufacturing techniques to solar. By addressing the high cost of the actuation and control components, Sunfolding has reduced the price of PV systems and increased capacity, which will ultimately help the technology scale and become more widely distributed.
5. Take on the 10^9 challenge
In Peter Diamandis’ words, “If you want to create a billion dollar company, work on solving a problem that touches the lives of a billion people.” This is the 10^9 challenge in which entrepreneurs aim to create companies that use exponential technology to impact a billion people in 10 years.
Yes, we’re facing incredibly complex problems that require policy changes. But if we bring together the right people, frameworks of thinking, and technologies, we can solve global challenges.