Technology, innovation, and energy

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A child born in Cairo, Egypt immigrates to the United States at 3 years old and grows up in rural Illinois. He goes on to get a world-class education at public schools and universities in America, and gets in on the ground floor of an ambitious start-up in Redmond, Washington. The products he built there changed the world forever. At Microsoft, he was an executive leader on teams that developed Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer, helping to unleash a wave of technology so powerful that the world was never the same afterwards. Now, among other projects, he is an investor in clean energy startups, leading the first AngelList syndicate devoted to cleantech.

On October 5, Ramez Naam will keynote Fresh Energy’s inaugural fundraising breakfast, bursting with insights that with the right policy framework, another wave of technology innovation just might be genius enough to maximize our chances of overcoming one of humankind’s most daunting and intractable problems: climate change and fossil fuel dependency.

His 2013 book, The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet, lays out a vision that is both deeply practical, yet profoundly optimistic and visionary. His view that climate change and all of humanity’s resource and environmental challenges are able to be solved with innovation perfectly intertwines with the DNA of Fresh Energy’s practical and visionary work in energy policy and climate solutions.

Naam’s thesis is if we choose policies that foster innovation and deployment, the human capital of ideas, creativity, and invention have every possibility of beating back the worst consequences of a rapidly warming world. Naam understands that the window of opportunity for urgent climate action is narrow, and requires the kind of consensus that may seem impossible with our broken political systems. We still have an opening to avoid the consequences that are unmanageable while we strive to manage the consequences that are already unavoidable.

To drive innovation and new solutions, we must fix the market to include the costs for environmental damage, invest in long-term research and development, and overcome our innate fear of technology and change. We must also accept that education and expanding the human capacity for productive innovation globally is key to our success.

Yet the technological revolution that will change the world is well underway. In five recent short essays, Naam recently looked at five dramatic drivers of change. First, he asks, how cheap solar can get? (And the answer is, very cheap indeed). Then he looks at the declining cost and rising reliability of wind power. The third question he examines is how cheap energy storage can get  – and it turns out that too will get pretty darn cheap. And while many are asking if renewables can meet 100 percent of all of our energy needs, a first question is how far renewables can go with our current technologies and costs. And the answer is, pretty darn far. The final segment looks at “how cheap can electric vehicles get?” The truth is that driving electric will soon be the cheapest way to buy and fuel a car for everyone, everywhere.

So mark your calendars for breakfast with Ramez Naam, a fundraiser for Fresh Energy’s work to drive the innovation he envisions through practical policy solutions. Email Meggie LaValley to sign up to be a table captain or event sponsor.

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