There is a challenge afoot, and it's sponsored by Statoil. The world depends on energy, but everyone is facing the reality that this energy is unevenly distributed and difficult to produce. With so many people in the world and so much of a dependence on energy, the challenge will ultimately come down to finding a solution that is workable on a lot of fronts. These different fronts may even sometimes contradict each other.
The Energy Realities Competition
This year's Energy Realities Competition has a threefold focus:
1. Skills for innovation – taking a closer look at innovation skills future energy innovators will need to rely on.
2. Diversifying our energy mix – The world's population continues to grow as the resources we currently rely on disappear. We can't just turn the switch and all use solar energy, but we must also do a better job at diversifying energy sources...especially with existing technology.
3. Ensuring access to energy in developing countries – 1.5 billion people have no access to electricity today, in order to ensure the propsperity of future generation, we will have to eliminate this number.
The Competition is all about allowing ideas about these extremely complex topics to come from anywhere and anyone.
The ultimate goal of the Energy Realities Competition is to create a discourse between individuals the world over. Rather like the most massive brainstorming session ever organized, the Competition doesn't care where an idea comes from. After all, an amazing and world-changing idea could come from the youngest child, the poorest individual or someone with next to no formal education. These energy issues belong to everyone without distinction.
The challenge of global energy is a big one, but it can be surmounted. This competition has the goal of opening new discussions and generating real actionable solutions to something that we will all be dealing with for the rest of our lives.
Let's look at some of the challenges an energy thinker has to face. The diversity of thought for a public challenge aims to nullify the effects of these common roadblocks.
Resistance to Change
Human beings are resistant to change. When something works, it's assumed that the current way is going to continue to work. Unfortunately, this bias tends to hinder people when progress is necessary. As of this moment, around 20% of the world's population doesn't have access to electricity. While this is in part due to a lack of personal initiative, the fact is that in order to expand energy companies need to provide power to absolutely everyone. As well, in order to advance the general cause of society, everyone needs to start from a basic level that encourages and facilitates positive growth.
The largest challenge that any power-related idea is going to have to overcome is the human bias against changing what is already working for most people. If you're able to read this, you're alive today and you have access to power. If a large change happens, your status as one of the "haves" could fall under threat, and this is scary to a lot of people. Because of this fear, you have to step outside of your own mindset and work to see things from other people's points of view.
How much will it actually cost to implement a solution to the energy problems in this world? If a solution saves a dollar a day but costs a thousand dollars to implement, there are individuals who couldn't afford this and governments that wouldn't appropriate that level of funding in spite of the long-term savings. Thinking in terms of cost effectiveness is a major part of any kind of energy solution.
Even the best energy solution is only viable as long as it preserves the ecosystem. Destroying your biosphere to power your XBox is not a good way to go when facing the energy challenge. There are finite resources in this world, and often an energy solution involves allocating and dedicating several of those resources for an indefinite period. Since people can't live without some resources, ie land, water and air, how a solution treats those types of resources is critically important to making it reasonable to go with.
Sustainability is about more than the environment itself. In order to be sustainable, a solution to the challenge of power has to be something that can last for a long time. Beyond the depletion of resources, there must also be the capacity to produce and distribute power that is reliable and can be counted on. Sporadic power is effectively non-functional power.
One other aspect that comes down to the human perspective is whether an energy-related idea can be replicated in different areas. Beyond the geography and physical makeup of an area is the culture of its people, and cultural issues need to be addressed in order for an idea to gain traction. If an idea works well for Anglo cultures but not for others, it's not replicable without an imperialist mindset.