Electrifying the Future
by Vanessa Crowe, Sustainable Communities Coordinator
Hosted by Energise Ōtaki, Award-winning business journalist Rod Oram visited Ōtaki to talk about the town's place in the worldwide Energy Revolution. I attended the evening discussion which was introduced by representatives from Energise Ōtaki and Ōtaki College. A business breakfast was also held the following morning. Both events had excellent turn outs with over one hundred people coming to the evening talk and 86 at the breakfast.
Rod began by saying his talk was about “electrifying the future”, with a disclaimer that though this was a dreadful pun, it is apt as, “the future is electrifying in the exciting sense”, with regard to the scale, speed and complexity of change that we are about to see. He explained for the most part we presently have large power companies providing energy to consumers, with some efforts being made to help reduce demand by encouraging households to become more energy efficient through home improvements and insulation. However to meet the challenges that lay ahead we need radically rethink the supply side of our energy system.
The technology used to generate and distribute electricity is changing very fast. Rod envisions that we will move away from big power companies distributing to everyone, towards a system where consumers are also a part of the supply side too. Interestingly what is happening in electricity aligns with what is happening more generally in economics and business. ‘Post Capitalism, A Guide To Our Future’ by Paul Mason highlights initiatives such as Uber, Wikipedia, Air bnb which operate according to similar new economic models.
Rod showed that we have overshot the biophysical limits of the planet not just on climate change, but also on biodiversity as well as phosphorous and nitrogen emissions. Species are now becoming extinct at 100 times their natural rate. Through artificially fertilising our soils we are pumping more energy into our system than what we can sustain. A picture of the earth upside down by the Apollo astronauts, provided another visual pun to support his suggestion that we need to turn things on their head and find ways to link ecology, economies and ethics together so we can change our relationship with each other and our relationship between us and the planet.
Rod reiterated that while the issues are global the solutions need to be local. He used the Doughnut Economics model developed by Kate Raworth to explain how local communities where individuals are helped, valued and encouraged to contribute their energy, insight and creativity are key to establishing sustainable economic development.
“Paris will help but we can only get this right if we build it out neighbourhood by neighbourhood, street by street, town by town, region by region”
From a Kāpiti perspective it was heartening to hear that small towns and local communities will play such an important part in future sustainable economics. Referring the work of Energise Ōtaki, Rod said Ōtaki is exactly on track towards developing smart energy systems, doing absolutely the right things through learning fast, experimenting continuously, knowing where you are going with room to manoeuvre.