Think of this as Volume 16, Number 19 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
These are tough times for the renewable energy business. But it's always darkest before the dawn.
People are writing about a “green tech crash” but that's after the fact. Most U.S.-based green tech companies are flat on their backs and the few that continue to trade, like First Solar (FSLR), are down so far it looks like up.
What the green bears are fearing is an end to federal subsidies of the space between now and 2014. They assume that, since the space was subsidized in 2009, and needed to be subsidized, it must always need to be subsidized, that it lives on subsidy and can't exist without it, that it will disappear without subsidy.
All the TV analysts are agreed that the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare, is going to be struck down by the Supreme Court.
The attitude is based on oral arguments in which all five conservatives asked skeptical questions, including the presumed “swing vote,” Anthony Kennedy, who seemed to see this as a basic question of liberty, the freedom not to participate in the market.
But here's my prediction, for what it is worth. The law will be upheld. Most likely, by a 6-3 vote.
The reason is basic. Without this law regulating insurance the government has no control over one-sixth of the economy, short of taking it over, which it is otherwise in the process of doing. The current law is a Republican solution, first proposed by Richard Nixon a generation ago, and implemented by Mitt Romney less than a decade ago.
Think of this as Volume 16, Number 11 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
Turns out it takes two things to spur a tech revolution.
One is capability. The other is cost.
Health care resisted automation for decades after the PC. It only began succumbing (and it's a continuing struggle) after costs got so out-of-control that care became unaffordable for increasing parts of the middle class.
It didn't matter to doctors that PCs and networks could distribute data faster than their secretaries. Automation threatened their control of the customer. Not just the retention of the account, but the choices they made on treatment, their autonomy. Their power.
Some types of technology were acceptable. Systems that made it easier to get paid, new machines, these were readily accepted. But collecting and moving patient records didn't really start until the 2009 stimulus provided the money and set a firm deadline for the industry – about 2 ½ years from now. And even now progress is agonizingly slow, with doctors, clinics and hospitals making, not tech choices, but business choices. The winners in the Electronic Health Record market turn out to be the insurers and hospital networks, who are enhancing their own control over both patients and physicians.
Education has been much the same. Even after the Internet, and wi-fi, broke the cost barrier for networked education, principals and administrators have resisted technology fiercely, for the same reason doctors did.
It's about control. If kids have network access, they can learn things that aren't in the textbook. They may even learn that teachers are engaging, not in education, but in political indoctrination, enforced from on high. The smart ones might resist and get away.
The same is true, doubly true, in higher education. Even though networks make it possible for anyone to learn anything at any time, credentialism has locked kids into rote classrooms taught by unsympathetic drones at ridiculous prices.
Teacher-controlled education is as unsustainable as doctor-controlled health care.
Think of this as Volume 16, Number 5 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
For digital activists, the Obama Administration has proven a bitter disappointment.
Rather than seeing the growth possibilities in unfettered access to the Web, the Administration has focused instead on the national security threat, and has been captured in turn by copyright extremists.
It's a slippery slope, but it's one liberty must navigate. It's one America itself has been navigating, sometimes with mixed results, since its founding. With the rise of the Internet, and its global impact on growth in every country, it's one we all must navigate.
Let's be clear here, because I'm hearing a lot of whinging from my side of the aisle. Activists for an open Internet are not powerless in this fight. Far from it. Because in our hands is growth – economic growth, human growth, intellectual growth. When people are forced offline, when they merely feel less than free, that has a profound, negative impact on growth.
It doesn't take a formal boycott. The action against SOPA/PIPA was merely an overt example of what happens every day, in billions of places around the world. By simply refusing to submit, by withholding the weapon of growth from governments, people demonstrate real power.
On the other hand, government must play a role as both guarantor of liberty and maintainer of order. We can't let the Internet be so open that a foreign government can hack it down. We can't let people steal from our own people and hide from justice. That's anarchy, not liberty. It may seem like a Randian paradise, but it will quickly end as all such paradises end, either in the dictatorship of the Moneytariat or a Somali wasteland.
Both sides must admit that there is a balance to be struck, but right now no one is standing in the middle and saying so. Thus we blunder on.
Think of this as Volume 16, Number 3 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
Want to know the historical importance of the SOPA-PIPA fight? To learn that you must travel deep underground, to the world of political tectonics and what drives us.
Economically, what happened in the early years of the Nixon Era was that two key economic interests divided.
Manufacturing, mainly based in the Midwest, took political power throughout the Kennedy and Johnson years. Technology, companies like Intel and Hewlett-Packard, both based in California, gravitated toward the Republicans. And it was this divide within the business community that ultimately proved crucial, as the New Deal moat was destroyed in the 1972 Nixon landslide, validating the creation of “fiat currency” to solve tech's natural tendency toward deflation.
This sort of thing had happened before. Each one of our political crises began when one industry seized power and, in time, other industries objected. It was the final triumph of the new economic order, the validation of a new set of myths and values in succeeding elections, that eventually resulted in each New Thesis, each new Age of American politics.
From the Age of Jackson to that of Lincoln. From the Age of Lincoln to that of Teddy Roosevelt. From the Progressive Era to the New Deal. From the New Deal to the Nixon Era.
From the Nixon Era to the Obama Era. It's not the leaders who create their times. They just ride the waves and take the credit. It's economic change that drives the train, under the surface.
One of my big predictions is that “crossover,” the point at which solar energy becomes the cheap energy, will be achieved around 2016.
What I may have failed to mention is that's a moving target, not so much in time as in place.
There are multiple variables, and not all are within the industry's control. Yield, production cost, installation cost and channel cost can be controlled, but many other factors can't be:
Expected production will vary depending on where a panel is placed, on the intensity and regularity of heat and light striking it.
The value of that production will depend on the cost of local grid energy, on the price of the alternative.
The value of that production will depend, in part, on the local grid itself. How far away are the customers, how efficient is the grid at handling inflows. Is there a grid?
Government policies can impact value in two ways. Subsidies like feed-in tariffs can improve the outlook, taxes can reduce it. In the U.S. this means the environment can vary from state to state and town to town.
Democracy won the Cold War because it could adapt more quickly to change than communism.
But it doesn't adapt as quickly as the Internet. No system of government can. (To the right, Hasbro's "Monopoly man" trademark.)
Markets can. Sort of. Markets have taken advantage of Internet technology to move very quickly in the Internet age. Too quickly. What has happened is an arms race, in which those with the best technology, the classiest algorithms, and the fastest executions skim the cream of every trend.