Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD
The biggest problem we face in dealing with the large-scale societal issues challenging America is the fact that the solutions involve a mix of technological skill and political will. Going to the moon is a perfect example. We have the technology, our GDP is sufficient, and America has the skillsets and can easily create the manufacturing infrastructure required. But we don’t, because there isn’t enough societal pressure behind that initiative to get it off the ground (pun intended). We have the skill, but not the will.
That applies to every single task we face that involves more than one household. As a representative democracy our society has the advantage that every person’s voice can be heard in the debates that steer our development as a country. Ideas can be presented, debated, and voted upon with making America a better place for its citizens the ultimate goal. In the case of national issues such as our power infrastructure, we should be evaluating and implementing the best technologies.
However, we unfortunately do not have a level playing field when it comes to the debate on the future of the grid and America’s energy infrastructure. Adding noise to the signal of honest debate is the corrupting factor of money, power, and influence from legacy industries and the interests that dominate them. The debate over America’s future gets diverted or bogged down in partisan arguments over technology investment and development, which should have no party or ideology.
Any research & development money spent in the country, properly managed by the government agencies dispensing them, will benefit America, regardless of the political affiliation of the parties involved. Sadly, this does not happen. Political excess on both sides of the aisle, coupled with legacy technology inertia (part of the reason cell phone service stinks in the USA) and moneyed interests stirring the pot result in a hodgepodge of non-intuitive, shortsighted, and often combative rules, poor development, and a regulatory environment where little productive gets done.
The problem with that is that we no longer have the luxury of being able to pick and choose what technologies fail or succeed in the marketplace. A world of restrictive supply chains and distribution bottlenecks that enabled monopolistic business practices is migrating towards an open-source world of zero marginal costs where a kid in Bangalore with an old laptop can go toe-to-toe with a Fortune 500 software company in the world market. This goes triple for core technology development, as proprietary IP will be the only true value in the future marketplace.
The choice America faces is a simple and stark one; we can either get our acts together and examine our national energy infrastructure and the technologies, software, and methodologies required to create the next generation Grid, ensuring that it lasts as long as the last one did while providing the best and highest levels of functionality and reliability, or we can sit here 10 years from now and point fingers at one another over why America’s energy infrastructure is in such bad shape and who “lost” the renewable-energy industry.