Thursday, November 23

Can't have it both ways? We need it more than two ways!

As the Australian Federal government tries to push through its nuclear energy agenda, I was catching up with an Australian renewable energy startup that's not only setting up a new HQ in Silicon Valley, it's actively discussing a major pilot program for one of the world's biggest technology companies.

Federal Minister for Acting a Complete Twat for Photo Opportunities, Ian Campbell, was criticising State governments for reacting against the proposal to install 25 nuclear power stations in Australia, saying, "They can't have it both ways... You can't say 'I care about climate change' on the one hand, but say 'We're not going to even look, even have a debate about nuclear' on the other."

You absolutely can, Mr Campbell, as long as you then say, "Let's have a debate about all the possible energy generation alternatives - coal, gas, nuclear and renewables. Not just nuclear. An inquiry that limits itself to considering nuclear energy only is a sham." ...or words to that effect.

Sham strategies for the energy industry have long been policies for governments of all persuasions in Australia. Too much attention is paid to supporting industries in return for guaranteeing jobs and export income , burning some of the world's worst-polluting coal and running some of the least clean power stations in the western world so that by this decade, we're in the position of having a carbon footprint far in excess of our tiny population.

It's a difficult environment in which to setup an alternative energy startup, and yet my good friend Max (not his real name) has been developing a world-first, ground-breaking solar technology for many years, getting by on the smell of an oily rag and infrequent, insufficient drabs of grant money.

Their pilot scale generation plant has proven the technology has a real future as a supplement for existing power station generation, and now is the time for commercialisation.

Except... (If you're in the startup business, you already know what comes next) they haven't been able to attract any investor support or government interest in Australia. So someone from a Silicon Valley VC firm contacts them out of the blue, and a few weeks and a few plan trips later, there's a short-form deal in place, and the company's relocating to Palo Alto, CA before Christmas.

That was a couple of weeks ago, and already the VC has them in to see one of the world's largest technology companies. It has a problem because its huge server farms draw a lot of power, and electricity in California is expensive, in short supply and famously unreliable. Plus, as a large international company, they'd like to begin reducing their carbon emissions.

So my friend and his team go in to meet the operations and facilities heads of the company, to do a quick introduction meeting, show the powerpoints, etc. My friend's hoping that maybe they can win some small support for their dream of building a pilot-scale generation plant in the US. Before the diet sprites are even warm, the discussion has progressed waayyy beyond that, and by the end of the meeting, the company is arranging to send my friend's team and their own senior execs down south to a possible greenfields site that they think just might be ideal for building a full-scale plant.

Just to recap: what we're reading about here is one of the world's largest technology companies, looking at investing in its own private national power grid, and considering driving all or part of its generation using a green, renewable, revolutionary technology from a tiny little Australian company that I guarantee nobody outside of the renewable energy community here has ever heard of.

And instead of homegrown technologies like this even being considered by Australian governments and industry as a possible means of reducing Australia's carbon emissions, the whole company will go offshore, taking its IP, its future earnings and some incredibly bright minds with it.

Wish I could disclose who the friend is, who the startup company is, and who the giant US technology company is, but I can't at this time. Hopefully I'll be able to soon.

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