I have written a number of blogs on the Project Mechatronics website about a term I have coined “The Absolute Value of Technology”. It is simply the idea that we must always evaluate the economic merit of technology. Does technology offer an improved cost performance point, or is making a technology commitment going to cost money?.
So, for example, the flat screen television monitor has finally won the day. Even the 19″ CRT has finally given way to the new flat screen equivalent at prices below $200. And for the most part, the performance of the new monitor technology is superior to the CRT. Higher resolution and clearer images are intrinsic to the technology since it comes from the personal computer world which long ago surpassed the humble CRT’s 240 x 70 line scan image. By the way, some things we don’t know are how the technology will perform over time. And vendors are reluctant to talk about how the contrast ratio decays over time.
But that’s OK. Because we are willing to make the tradeoff for the convenience of image monitors that are only 3 to 4 inches thick and screen sizes that are 32, 42 and 54 inches wide. Great for watching movies and picking up all the nuance of the best camera work and graphics available..
The conversion of the monitor has rapid, widespread and without much economic upheaval. Why? Because the forces of the marketplace are natural and orderly. Just as audio cassettes gave way to CD’s. Yes Vinyl is still with us for the purist. but at somewhat of a premium. And as technology becomes inexpensive, most often with massive volume of units, the economic merit is established. Anyone still arguing over Beta format versus VHS? Of course not. DVD’s are cheaper, more stable over time and easier to operate. Only one electric motor is required. Anyone still arguing over 8 track tape versus cassette? (which only tells you how old I am)
But the notion of the Value of Technology is completely absent from the public pronouncement by government that we will have Wind Power, Solar Power and Better Cars. I am the biggest fan of green technology, but if it is not an economic benefit, than it’s going to cost money. That means trouble.
The government, federal or state, is going to have to collect taxes to pay for the technology with subsidies and incentive programs. Extra texas, by the way, because of course, they won’t cut their defecit budgets like you or I might have to in order to pay for the new toys. And it might even be justifiable if it were a matter of the temporary funding to reach economic quantities that will become cost effective. But that isn’t the case.
Recently, having found that they are running out of cash, the utility companies have begun to reduce their subsidy programs for solar power. This is causing anxiety among the solar cell manufacturers. If the present rate of sales diminishes, it will stall the progress of one of the few high growth industries in the US economy. Something we cannot afford. But how do you run a business that is based on 60-90 of the investment cost being paid for by others? You don’t. Not in a capitalist economy. Maybe that’s a bad assumption at this point.
Big wind power projects are suffering from lack of financing, but they have orders for equipment that are going to take 2 years to fill. So the short term is still rosy.
But solar and wind project take 9 to 10 years to break even without subsidies. And the reason you and I can’t put solar on our roofs is because its too expensive. But when it’s a political issue, no one want to deal with the facts.
So let’s see, the power industry generates electricity at less than 5 cents a kilowatt hour, charges more for it and makes a profit. Yes, California residents pay 23 cents a kilowatt hour. They’re special. But Texas residents pay 11.5 to 14.5 cents. So projects that generate power at 22 cents per kilowatt hour don’t make sense. No matter if the legislature passes a law forcing the utility company to build these projects. It just means someone else is going to have to pay for it.
I want green technology to win. But it has to pay for itself. Solid Tech is committed to solutions in solar tracking solutions that increase energy harvest by 30+%. Solid Tech has technology concepts for wind power that will pay for itself in 3-5 years WITHOUT subsidy programs. And we have advanced electric motor and drive-train solutions that will make electric cars more efficient WITHOUT spending millions of dollars on development.
Let me know if you are interested in finding out more and getting involved.