Sustainability & Suits – WIREC 2008

The first Washington International Renewable Energy Conference was projected to be the “largest business to business and business to government conference and exposition ever held on renewable energy in the US.  It will be global in scope, hosting exhibitors, speaker and delegates from more than 70+ countries from around the world.”


And it was big, though not crowded.  In comparison to the hustle and bustle of the past few DC Green Festivals, there was no problem snaking through the aisles at WIREC.  The one aspect that kept the show from becoming an industry dog and pony show were the exhibits from governments that have put concrete sustainability policy into effect, like Germany (huge commitment to PV energy) and Sweden (carbon neutral by 2020).  The Swedish program is probably the most ambitious in the world, truly embracing the idea of waste=food through the program they’ve tagged Symbiocity.


With all the suits running around, one could be forgiven for confusing the green in Green Tech with dollar signs rather than sustainable technologies.  Nothing wrong with making money, (as an ideal it’s a reward for sharing your divinely inspired gifts with all your fellow humans) and the proliferation of three pieces is a definite indicator that the old guard finally sees the profit potential their financial models demand.  There is money to be made, and this crowd knows how to make it.


It came as a shock, then, that not all companies could see their product’s potential.  A123 Systems is on the verge of commercializing their PHEV conversion kit that more than doubles the mileage of the Prius.  Their nanophospate batteries are a favorite of hobbyists worldwide, who harvest them from DeWalt battery packs and use them in  all kind of applications.  This should excite the A123 folks; what company wouldn’t want a worldwide, open-source, enthusiastic development team that’s building brand recognition, loves their product and is finding new applications (hence new sources of revenue) at no cost to them.  Unfortunately, these enthusiasts may be unhappy to note that A123, at least as stated through their rep at the show, doesn’t much care for your efforts and sees efforts to use their product outside of their purview as a liability.  Not to mention that they’re also uninterested in selling their modules, as used in their PHEV conversion or as supplied to Think, separately to EV converters.  I could understand if they were worried about ensuring supply for their major buyers, but that was not the issue.  They have to plans to make the modules available to EV converters.


What would have happened if, at the turn of the last century, oil magnates like Getty or Rockefeller decided that they really didn’t want to sell petroleum for use in the new-fangled automobile, just for home heating.  Or maybe for large cars and ships, but not for motorcycles.  Not to mention if you’d like to research how to use gasoline to make fertilizer or a strange material called plastics, would their response be “that’s a little outside of what we’re interested in getting into at the moment.”


All those barons were interested in was making money selling their product to whomever wanted to buy it.  That’s what made them good suits and is the attitude needed to  push sustainable technologies to fore.  It’s perplexing to meet a suit that doesn’t quite understand that.


I’m willing to give A123 the benefit of the doubt considering they’ve sponsored the Killacycle and sell a development kit through their website to anyone who wants one.  It may have been a rep on a bad day and hopefully not a portend of a shift in corporate strategy.  They have an excellent product and hopefully they will eventually release it to every willing buyer.

About Suhas Malghan

This blog documents the design and development of environmentally sustainable machines and humane design practice in general; machines that work for humanity as well on the move as they do sitting still.
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