It is often said that the world we live in was shaped by the Second World War. Not so much the geopolitical landscape, though that too obviously, but more the technologies that define our lifestyles.
From jet planes to reliable cars and mobile phones to satellite, the technologies we take for granted all emerged during the Second World War and ensuing Cold War.
It is a common historical phenomenon that war, for all its misery and destruction, brings about golden periods in technological development. Consequently some commentators have already observed, tongue only somewhat in cheek, that what we need if we are to develop the technologies to solve the climate crisis is another great big war – some countries have even been working hard to oblige.
The manner in which military requirements could help accelerate the development of clean technologies was illustrated this week with the announcement that start up M2E Power is just eighteen months away from providing the US military with a battery that recharges by harnessing kinetic energy.
The inventor, an ex-soldier himself, recognised the back-breaking impracticality of soldiers carrying round batteries to recharge all the electronic kit they now carry and developed a version that constantly recharges itself as it is moved.
The solution will allow the company to tap into the massive defence market, but interestingly it could also make mobile phone chargers a thing of the past. And, perhaps most excitingly, because the innovation is based on an improvement in the efficiency of electromagnetic conductors it could deliver a major improvement in the efficiency of wind turbines and hydro power plants.
It might have been designed to help the military, but applied to the rest of society M2E's technology could help save the world by decarbonising the global economy.
Perhaps all we need now is for the military to demand an alternative to lead-based paints, an effective standard for sustainable palm oil and a UK-wide high speed rail network, because left to its own devices the market does not appear to be performing that well.
However, that is not to say that we must rely on the military is the only driver of invention and innovation. Humanitarian concerns can also lead to the development of mobiles that don't need mains recharging according to G24i, while a government that sets clear environmental targets and sticks to them might just deliver the "fourth technological revolution" needed to implement a low carbon economy.
Moreover, even voluntary green schemes can drive innovation and enhance environmental performance as long as enough players in the market choose to follow them. At least that's what Ofgem and the Walker Review on private equity will be hoping.
Have a good weekend,
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