A slew of recent articles indicates that a new cleantech industry segment has emerged: Green Thievery. Last week I read an article by Stephanie Simon in the Wall Street Journal's October Energy report that describes solar panel theft as one of the industry's latest phenomena:
"Five times in the past year, Mr. Lagatta, the director of maintenance for a school district in northern California, has rushed to a campus to respond to reports of a brazen theft. Five times, he has looked up to the roof and despaired to see 20, 30 or 50 solar panels missing, ripped off the top of school buildings overnight."
The same day that I read Stephanie's article, I also opened my digital edition of MegaWatt Daily and read about how New York Governor David Patterson proposed raiding Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) funds to balance the state budget. In short, the governor wants to use $90 million in RGGI allowance revenue to help reduce a $3 billion budget deficit for 2010 and $2 billion for 2011. As background, RGGI is an initiative in which 10 Northeast states agreed to cap CO2 emissions and hold auctions for electric power generators to bid on emissions allowances. The proceeds are supposed to "support low-carbon-intensity solutions, including energy efficiency and clean renewable energy, such as solar and wind power." But, in the name of green thievery (or maybe just green reprioritizing since "thievery" is a harsh word in this particular context), NY state may raid some of those funds.
My first reaction was disappointment and frustration — whatever happened to the collaborative mentality that sparked so much green innovation? Start-ups used to come together amicably at conferences and events to brainstorm about the possibilities their technologies held (I swear, I've been to these). Now, much of the dialogue in the media shows companies trying to one-up each other's efficiencies, microstructures, costs, etc.
But, a conversation I had with the team I work with at 1366 Technologies following Obama's talk on cleantech at MIT introduced new perspective on this thievery issue. Aside from the fact that the thievery is sad and frustrating, does it not also indicate that real money is now involved and that the industry has proved its value (monetarily and conceptually)? As clean technologies demonstrate their validity, green thievery will increase. So the thievery is somewhat of a positive because it indicates that the cleantech industry is indeed "legit." Now the question is this: can we make cleantech adoption widespread enough and affordable enough that the need to lift 50 solar panels from a school's rooftop disappears? Now that we've arrived at validity and the thievery that underscores this validity, let's pour our energy (pun intended) into adoption.
Contributed by Susan Wise. Follow her @swise