Energy Innovation Isn't Dead

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You could be forgiven for thinking that after the burst of attention given to clean technology in the wake of the oil price spike of 2007, innovation in energy has faded away as it has several other times in the last 40 years.

But you'd be wrong.

Sure, investment in clean technology has slowed and changed. It's hard to build companies around new, more expensive ways of making a commodity. And that's especially true given the natural gas boom that North America has experienced.

The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal in conversation with entrepreneurs shaping our future. See full coverage

Traditional solar and wind companies, particularly those that need huge amounts of capital early in their lifecycles are not getting the kind of funding that they were in four or five years ago. Venture capitalists are more interested in energy technologies that can take advantage of digital disruptions. After a brief love affair with steel and the hard stuff of electricity production, many have sought more familiar waters closer to consumers or Internet technology. The smart grid makes intuitive sense to many Silicon Valley investors.

All this is to say that tons of money continues to flow into clean technology. It's not enough to remake the entire energy system, but almost $5 billion in venture capital flowed into Ernst & Young's fairly broad category of clean technology in 2011. And the fundamental thesis that climate change and the end of easy oil will require us to create a less carbon-intensive energy system remains.

So, over the next few months, I'm going to take you to meet nine energy innovators who are out to change the way the world is powered. We're going to meet some of the most creative entrepreneurs in the world, the people who are building the pieces of tomorrow's energy solutions.

Up first, we'll meet Danielle Fong, co-founder of LightSail Energy, Corwin Hardham, CEO of Makani Power, and Ryan Wartena, founder of Growing Energy Labs, Inc.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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