August 21 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Technology Year: General Rating: 5
It seems like everyday we’re greeted with yet another energy-saving device that is not only more efficient, but cheaper to boot. A quick romp through the Future Scanner using the terms “energy” and “efficient” bring up more articles than you could digest in a single sitting. There are nano-crystals that increase thermoelectric power by 40%, low-cost super-efficient solar cells that may put current solar panels in the same bin with the 8-track, and even a dye that could increase solar efficiency by over 50%.
So with technology accelerating at such a fast pace, why do we spend money on soon to be outdated technology?
In California’s push towards responsible energy, they’re planning to build two solar power stations whose total wattage production will come out to a breathtaking 800 megawatts and will cover an estimated 12.5 square miles of land. This is part of the ground work the Golden State is laying in order to have more than 20% of its energy come from renewable resources. But are they wasting their time?
With new advancements being made on a daily basis in energy production as well as consumption, how do we know that the money being spent isn’t wasted. For instance, if California spends $10 million on a solar array covering an estimated 5 square miles and producing 350 megawatts of energy, how do we know that five years from now $10 million dollars won’t get us twice the power in half the space?
A perfect example of how the U.S. is hurting from investment in early technology is Internet speeds. Since the U.S. laid the groundwork for the Internet, we shouldered the cost of evolving from 14.4k modems to the current speeds of today. Because other countries were late to adapt, they benefited by starting with the latest technology available (much like cellphones have by-passed traditional land-line phones in sub-Saharan Africa due to its low cost). The result of our evolution? The U.S. now ranks 15th place in Internet speeds worldwide. All those years of laying cable and not fiber-optics has cost us dearly.
The iPhone is another example of where people jumping on the tech train jumped on a little too early. The new release (out less than a year than the former) so out dates the old iPhone that it’s practically a totally different machine. It has faster internet speeds, the ability to download helpful applications, GPS, and better audio quality. Those that waited benefited tremendously. Yet maybe next year the next iPhone will blow this one out of the water.
Truth be told, it’s not fair to look at the situation from just one perspective. Someone has to shoulder the cost of using early technology to lay the groundwork for the future. More importantly, global warming won’t take a vacation for a few years so we can get our crap together — time wasted now is added decades in the future. So in a way, we have no choice. We must invest in the technology now or else face the consequences of continuing our polluting ways. And what says if we wait five years that a few years after that the technology won’t be outdated as well.
A possible answer to this issue would be to develop technology that is designed to be upgraded. Instead of having to replace vast amounts of electronics, creating waste and costing billions, maybe future technologies will have the ability to be improved by just a few replacements or tweaks. Development in replaceable infrastructure is the key.
In the end, we won’t know if tomorrow a new technology will make everything we’ve bought useless. We just need to realize that even the latest hybrid on the market will be put to shame by even better vehicles just years from now, so there’s no reason not to invest today in our future.
Image: Finnur Magnusson (Flickr,CC-Attribution)