Monday, November 16, 2009

It's the infrastructure, stupid!

In "Mind, Language, and Society" philosopher John R. Searle writes:

When confronted with an intractable question such as is presented by a clash of convincing default positions, don't accept the question lying down. Get up and go behind the question to see what assumptions lie behind the alternatives the question presents.
Here he talks about the mind-body divide that separated dualists, such as Rene Descartes and Dalai Lama, and materialists, such as Daniel Dennett.

A similarly strong "question the assumptions" approach has to be taken by inventors when they face widely accepted trade-offs. For example, when people take for granted that high quality goods have to be expensive, we should be able to investigate why the expense. Before Henry Ford, reliable cars had to be very expensive. After him, reliable cars became affordable to his workers. Today, "green" energy (whatever this means) is almost universally assumed to be expensive. The greener, the more expensive.

To me, this sounds absurd. Green energy should be cheaper because it comes from sources, like the sun and the wind, that cost us nothing. The main driver for the cost seems to be the desire to plug these renewable sources into the existing highly inefficient, highly inflexible infrastructure built for a different type of energy generators. There's a simple mismatch between modes of existence of the old and new energy sources. No wonder the "green" approach doesn't scale, which causes higher expenses for the same amount of energy delivered.

Ideal infrastructure for green energy is no infrastructure (the ideality principle). Therefore, new generators have to be paired with local consumptions, so that the "new" electricity doesn't have to incur expenses inherent in the old power transmission architecture.

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tags: infrastructure, system, source, problem, tradeoff, quote, dilemma, energy, greatest.

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