Andrew B. Hargadon: Recognizing Global Opportunity

Andy Hargadon is director of the University of California at Davis" Energy Efficiency Center, which works, he says, to "commercialize existing technologies." As he points out, the trick isn’t to invent new clean technology, but to get people to use it. "When electricity first got its foothold and was replacing coal gas for lighting," he says, "the real breakthrough came not with the lightbulb but with the first mass-market systems. What Thomas Edison did really well was to put electric light into a business model, which enabled it to get adopted and diffused quickly."

These comments are distilled from a Q&A interview with Hargadon conducted last May:

The last 30 years of the greenhouse gas debate have been about the Earth burning, with the idea that we need to address it by turning down the thermostats, wearing more sweaters, and just stopping doing things. But basic marketing says that won’t get anywhere. While we think about how to curtail those activities, we need to keep our eyes open for new opportunities that come with those changes.

If you frame the debate as stopping a loss versus starting a gain, you have very different reactions. The psychological term is to switch from a loss frame to a gain frame. People are more willing to take risks and do things to capture a gain.

One of the worst things we can do is to simply hope that technology will get us out of the problem. The New York Times" Thomas Friedman has written about the need for an energy Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project changed the world, but it wasn’t voluntary on many people’s parts. It was easy for 30 scientists sequestered in Los Alamos to literally drop the bomb.

Kyoto is a very thin wedge compared to what we really need to accomplish. Kyoto is nice as an effort and a gesture. The real change that has to happen is for energy to become a strategic advantage, and for our energy dependence to be seen as a liability.

As we watch countries like India and China developing, we have to accept that there’s going to be greater energy demand and greater volatility in the energy markets, which will produce scarcity. Companies must recognize that energy is a strategic input that needs to be managed as such. Normally there is an uneasy relationship between business and conservation of any kind. Businesses that recognize the need to control/reduce/maintain energy use could be good allies for conservationists.

Here in the U.S., energy’s been subsidized so long that we’ve never really recognized the cost. We’re incredibly efficient at producing energy, so companies treat it as part of the environment that doesn’t need to be managed. The Chinese, though, realize that how they treat energy now is going to affect what they’re capable of doing in five to 10 years. So they’re right now very open to adopting energy-efficient technologies. And they’re leapfrogging us in a number of areas. We have to watch out. —Jim Motavalli

CONTACT: UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center, (530)848-949, http://eec.ucdavis.edu.

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