Tech Startup Growth
15th January 2021
James Brayshaw, Winshaw
At the start of the Industrial Revolution, nobody would have imagined all of this! A snapshot of any home reveals a staggering array of technologies and materials which 150 years ago would have been utterly unimaginable and yet this is everyday life. The extraction, production and transportation technologies which make life happen are completely invisible in the thousands of individual objects and services we take for granted. But the earth is keeping score and it is now accepted by governments and corporations that what life may look like in another 150 years time will absolutely depend on human beings playing a stewardship role.
It’s so difficult for us. For humans, distraction is an art form, we hate uncomfortable truths particularly ones about our own fragility and mortality. And our consumption of energy has followed a familiar and all too human trajectory; delight at what we can achieve, ignorance of the consequences, arrogance that we can manage any consequences later, denial la-la-la-la and then latterly talk, endless talk. Only very recently have we arrived at action or at least we hope we have.
Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of history and from individual behaviour through to global legislative programmes, change is coming. Media coverage can encourage us to see the climate and energy debate in terms of simple oppositions; Big Oil versus Extinction Rebellion and certainly there is comfort in being able to sit in one camp and dismiss the other. But the blame game advances no one and, of course, constructive solutions will involve all stakeholders; governments, scientists and engineers, oil and gas majors, banks and pension funds as well as environmental campaigners and pressure groups.
Tech companies are going to be the backbone of this action phase as tech is able to span the practical and the philosophical, the macro and the micro. It is through technology that we can both imagine what the future could look like and then build the tools to make it happen. Tech is the invisible thread which weaves between nations and corporations, between institutions and individuals and as a species we are in the market for unifying threads!
Which brings us to COP26 where no doubt all of this will be put to bed over sea bass and Chablis. Markets are already pricing in an accelerated decarbonisation timetable but who will be the economic winners and losers? Lithium is under attack as white oil. Wind, solar and other renewable energy sources come with systemic challenges particularly at scale. Nuclear is a difficult sell politically and while geo-thermal and bio-mass technologies will play a part, there are again practical and costly deployment hurdles.
Perhaps this is why dismissing oil as a soon-to-be redundant source of energy is premature. Oil companies have influence and cash both of which are important levers in any power struggle. Post Covid, money talks and it will be hard for policy makers to follow through on their green promises without wider societal (taxpayer) support, especially when we consider the monumental energy density and relative low cost of fossil fuels. So watch out for an intensified power battle at a domestic level, as well as globally between the USA, Europe and China. When it comes to both raw materials and green energy technology, this is a new arms race.
But who will prevail? The winners in the Green Economy will be those which back the most effective technologies and those with the political clout to roll the technologies out on an epic scale.