Link Deck #7: Innovative energy

Wind energy

Since the G20, climate change and carbon abatement has been put firmly back on the agenda for the Government (whether they like it or not). So we thought we’d devote this edition of link deck to some of the emerging ideas, technologies and strategies for moving to a lower carbon economy and addressing energy poverty in the world.

According to this report 1.3 billion people globally do not currently have access to reliable electricity and there are 2.7 billion without access to clean cooking facilities. Contrary to the Minerals Council of Australia’s assertions that “coal must be a major part of the solution to global energy poverty”, there is increasing evidence that “off-the-grid” energy can be a more economically and environmentally sustainable solution to combat energy poverty. While I personally believe that relatively ‘cheap’ coal will continue to be a part of the solution to delivering energy in the medium term at least in urban areas, building ‘poles and wires’ networks to regional and remote areas is inefficient and expensive.

This LinkedIn article by solar pioneer and founder of SunEdison, Jigar Shah, explains how distributed energy solutions, rather than centralised grid-based power will be the main factor in reducing energy poverty into the future. He makes the point that there is a much better business case for distributed solutions that are cheap, clean and put power directly in the hands of poor populations – not to solve climate change but out of desire to solve energy poverty right now.

The recently released report – World Energy Outlook 2014, from the (conservative) International Energy Agency (IEA) backs this assertion up, noting that we need to move away from large-scale electricity infrastructure to “initiatives that support local needs and build financial and technical capacity in communities”, and that solar, not coal, in both grid and off-grid settings is more economically and technically feasible solutions for the worlds energy poor.

And this article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) presents more interesting case studies of how communities are getting off the grid with the help of mobile technology.

A recent Radio National interview with leading Indian environmental campaigner, Debi Goenka, refutes the claim that the 300 million people in India without access to reliable electricity can afford to pay for coal fired grid-based power. He explains that with many people earning less than 50c per day, even if they were provided with grid electricity there is no way people could afford to pay for the service.

There are some amazing innovations happening right now in the “off-grid” energy sector.

This TED talk by Justin Hall-Tipping shows how we can use all sorts of materials and amazing technology to generate all the energy we need right where we are, cleanly, safely, and cheaply.

Young Taylor Wilson is one of the stars of the TED stage, having built a working fusion reactor in his parents garage at the age of 14.

Now Taylor believes until the technology of fusion can be worked out to scale, small modular nuclear fission reactors that can be buried underground are the way to solve the global energy crisis, and has won backing to create a company to realise his vision…

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Why ‘lean in’ when you can leap? How women are making ideas happen

why lean inThis post originally appeared in Women’s Agenda and is based on a number of interviews we did with women making ideas happen on Ideas Hoist.


Bev Wilkinson is a university student who is building connections between seniors and young people through storytelling. Hollie Gordon is a young graduate empowering youth and supporting communities through an online volunteering platform. Alexie Seller is a mechanical engineer helping to eradicate energy poverty in India through sustainable technologies. Rosie Thomas is a passionate founder of a youth-led anti-bullying organisation. Amanda Reed left the corporate sector in favour of founding an online platform to buy and sell disability and mobility equipment.

These are just some of the fascinating ideas from women we’ve profiled throughout 100 interviews of ‘Australians making ideas happen’ on ideas hoist.

Clockwise from the top left: Bev Wilkinson, Hollie Gordan, Alexie Seller, Rosie  Thomas, Amanda Reed.

Clockwise from the top left: Bev Wilkinson, Hollie Gordan, Alexie Seller, Rosie Thomas, Amanda Reed.

Approximately half of the social entrepreneurs and leaders that we have interviewed are women. They come from a wide range of organisations — including not-for-profit, social businesses, and technology and creative start-ups. Women are recognising gaps in the market where there is unmet need, and are stepping up to tackle some of our most pressing social needs and environmental challenges in innovative ways.

There is no disputing that women are under-represented in the boardrooms and executive levels of big business in Australia (and in most of the world). But maybe the lack of progress, as reflected in the statistics, partially represents a trend towards women choosing more accommodating and flexible types of organisations and career paths.

Is it possible that women are consciously rejecting leadership roles in ‘big business’ in favour of developing their own ideas and ambitions?

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‘Shut up and Listen’: how supporting small business can achieve real change

In his TED talk, “Want to help someone? Shut up and listen” (one of my favourites), Dr Ernesto Sirolli gives one of the most powerful and engaging calls to inaction that I have ever seen. While packed full of humorous anecdotes, especially concerning his time as a young man working for international aid organisations in Africa, Sirolli’s talk also plainly outlines the devastating effects of paternalistic attitudes to aid distribution. In his words, “Every single project they set up failed… everything we touched we killed”.

The famous story he tells in his talk (I strongly encourage you to watch or listen to the whole thing here, in his wonderful voice) and the inspiration for his book, Ripples from the Zambezi, is his experience in Zambia with an Italian aid organization. As he tells it:

It was a project where we Italians decided to teach Zambian people how to grow food. So we arrived there with Italian seeds in southern Zambia in this absolutely magnificent valley going down to the Zambezi River. And we taught the local people how to grow Italian tomatoes and zucchini. And of course, the local people had absolutely no interest in doing that, so we paid them to come and work… and sometimes they would show up. And we were amazed that the local people in such a fertile valley would not have any agriculture! But, instead of asking them how come they were not growing anything, we simply said, ‘thank God we’re here – just in the nick of time to save the Zambian people from starvation!’

And of course, everything in Africa grew beautifully and we had these magnificent tomatoes. In Italy, a tomato would grow to this size. In Zambia, to this size (think: melon)! And we were telling the Zambians, ‘look how easy agriculture is’. (Then) when the tomatoes were nice and ripe and red, overnight, some 200 hippos came up from the river and they ate everything. And we said to the Zambians, ‘my God, the hippos!’ And the Zambians said, ‘yes, that’s why we have no agriculture here’. (We said) ‘Why didn’t you tell us?’, and they said ‘You never asked’.

Enterprise Facilitation

Dr Sirolli became thoroughly disillusioned with the efforts of international aid programs after a number of years overseeing training and managing volunteers in various well-intentioned projects. He was in a position to see that projects were failing in their ultimate objectives to produce a sustainable and effective outcomes in the developing world, and noticed that the people involved in these failing projects weren’t telling anyone because they thought it must have been unique; one bad project in a program for the greater good… except that it was happening all over.

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