Shuttleworth should sell 'open energy technology' plan to Branson

By   |  September 27, 2006

Non-patentable shared “open energy technology” has the potential to have a profound impact on the reduction of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, in the same way that open source software has changed computers and the Internet.

Consider a shared international effort to create a clean rocket fuel, an efficient combustion engine, a wind turbine that is cost effective in developing countries, or even shared plans for production plants for these technologies.

Developing a shared open energy technology development platform, similar to SourceForge, would accelerate the growth of cleaner energy and fuel technology more than any other initiative, and thus impact significantly on greenhouse gas reduction.

The idea should be sold to influential players like Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Richard Branson and international bodies like the United Nations. Possibly the most ideal person to do it would be South African billionaire, Mark Shuttleworth, who is currently taking on Microsoft’s domination of the operating system market through the development of the open source operating system, Ubuntu Linux.

Shared technology free from intellectual property restrictions would rapidly accelerate the development of clean energy technology, while bringing down research costs, as they would be shared between organisations that benefit from the technology. It would also change the way that many businesses generate income from intellectual property royalties to production, which would stimulate the growth of small and medium sized enterprises.

This would have a profound impact on both development and empowerment in developing countries where financial resources available for investment in research are limited. This would also result in real technology transfer to and between developing countries, something that is often spoken about but rarely happens on a scale significant enough to have an impact.

The potential impact on job creation through the production of these technologies is enormous. For developing countries this could mean the growth of numerous local production plants employing many semi-skilled workers, resulting in funds that would otherwise be leaving the country to pay for imported technology going instead towards real empowerment.

Of course for large energy companies, this would be a significant threat to their restrictive monopolies and giant profits derived from them. Shared energy technology will undoubtedly diversify the energy sector and reduce their revenue as well as the political power that usually goes with control of the energy sector. But it is a well-published fact that diversification of the energy sector makes for more energy stability, something which is definitely good for the public.

For companies like Richard Branson’s Virgin however, shared open energy technology has the potential to accelerate the pace of development of cleaner fuels for both his airline and the future space tourism ventures. For those environmentalists working to highlight the health hazards of perchlorate from rocket fuel in food supplies, this would certainly be welcome. In time this may impact on Mr Branson’s reputation as the public become more concerned about environmental hazards.

Of course an online shared development platform would need to be a bit more powerful than existing open source software equivalents like SourceForge, requiring storage and collaboration tools for more types of documents like technical drawings. This is where Shuttleworth is the perfect player to initially boost the development of such a project.

It is vital to note that technology like nuclear, biotechnology and nanotechnology also bring with them considerable potential of risk. These technologies normally do or should carry strong restrictions and safety protocols on their development, making them less than ideal for open development. But these risks are already apparent in society anyway, and maybe the growth of shared technology would bring further focus on the ethical issues that are often brushed over in the rush for the commercial benefits of technology development.

As many countries are diverting public funds into research and development to mitigate and adapt to climate change, the question should be asked whether it would not appropriate to support technology that would be automatically available to the greater population. This is especially important in developing countries, and particularly in Africa, the continent that is the least equipped to deal with the impacts of climate change.

The idea of shared open energy technology fits together well with the growth of alternative business models like energy cooperatives, which are appearing more and more in the North America. The type of visionaries that are usually responsible for the creation of these organisations are likely to be supportive of the shared open energy technology concept.

Over the last year we have seen a massive change in consciousness about global warming, with many of the most influential people around the globe awakening to the fact that it is real and is having an increasingly profound impact on people and the planet.

Many have begun to come up with ideas to deal with the problem, and some have even begun to take action in some way. But it is clear that few of them, even the amongst the most informed, are convinced that the current trend towards action and the steps being taken are going to be nearly enough.

There is no doubt that shared open source software technology is profoundly changing things, and there is no reason to believe that shared open energy technology has the same, if not more potential.

If anything, this period in time is the equivalent of the euphoric apartheid changeover era in South Africa where people felt much better because things were changing. But as in South Africa, the reality of the scale of the problem will emerge, and it will become clear that there is no substitute for the equitable distribution of resources. It will become clear that only through real sharing will we make any real progress. The sooner we start doing this, the better.

Read more about Utility Cooperatives at Wikipedia

This article was originally published by Green Clippings.

Richard Weeden is the editor of Green Clippings, a weekly environmental news service popular with government, business, the media, NGOs, academics, the legal fraternity and the general public.

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