Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to Wired author Clive Thompson, everything is going terribly wrong these days for Silicon Valley. But they are living on the hope that in the future we might buy their software so we can use Bitcoin like blockchain systems to trade meagre scraps of power gleaned from our rooftop solar systems with our neighbours.
THE SUNNY OPTIMISM OF CLEAN ENERGY SHINES THROUGH TECH’S GLOOM
THE MOOD AROUND tech is dark these days. Social networks are a cesspool of harassment and lies. On-demand firms are producing a bleak economy of gig labor. AI learns to be racist. Is there anyplace where the tech news is radiant with old-fashioned optimism? Where good cheer abounds?
Why, yes, there is: clean energy. It is, in effect, the new Silicon Valley—filled with giddy, breathtaking ingenuity and flat-out good news.
Tech may have served up Nazis in social media streams, but, hey, it’s also creating microgrids—a locavore equivalent for the solar set. One of these efforts is Brooklyn-based LO3 Energy, a company that makes a paperback-sized device and software that lets owners of solar-equipped homes sell energy to their neighbors—verifying the transactions using the blockchain, to boot. LO3 is testing its system in 60 homes on its Brooklyn grid and hundreds more in other areas.
“Buy energy and you’re buying from your community,” LO3 founder Lawrence Orsini tells me. His chipsets can also connect to smart appliances, so you could save money by letting his system cycle down your devices when the network is low on power. The company uses internet logic—smart devices that talk to each other over a dumb network—to optimize power consumption on the fly, making local clean energy ever more viable.
Mind you, early Silicon Valley had something crucial that clean energy now does not: massive federal government support. The military bought tons of microchips, helping to scale up computing. Trump’s band of climate deniers aren’t likely to be buyers of first resort for clean energy, but states can do a lot. California already has, for instance, by creating quotas for renewables. So even if you can’t afford this stuff yourself, you should pressure state and local officials to ramp up their solar energy use. It’ll give us all a boost of much-needed cheer.
What I dislike most about renewables, aside of course from the fact they don’t work as a general power solution, is the assumption enthusiasts embrace of a future of scarcity. Who in their right mind would trade fractions of a kilowatt hour with their neighbours, if there was a plentiful supply of energy? Who will care about the energy household appliances consume, if energy is cheap?
The Silicon Valley bubble might be getting all excited about blockchain driven micro-economies trading slivers of energy. I’d rather have affordable home heat and light which works on demand, when I want it.