Agassi: Green future inevitable – it’s cheaper

Better Place founder says new solar panels are cheaper; industry experts express significant doubt about entrepreneur’s calculations.

Shai Agassi (photo credit: courtesty)
Shai Agassi
(photo credit: courtesty)
As renewable technologies continue to become more efficient and affordable, industries and entrepreneurs will inevitably switch to cleaner fuel sources – even if not for environmental reasons, Shai Agassi said Wednesday.
The founder and former CEO of the now bankrupt Better Place spoke at the Israeli Presidential Conference 2013 in Jerusalem on the panel “Is There Hope for a Green Tomorrow?”
“We will see a continuous installation of solar panels, just because it will be cheaper, not because it will be cleaner,” Agassi said and then presented what he felt was the new energy blueprint for the future.
Although understanding and promoting technological innovation in the future will remain important, equally crucial will be understanding the business side of the industry, he explained. A combination of innovation and business savvy will by default make for a greener future – simply because the option will be more profitable, Agassi said.
Both solar panels and electric car batteries are seeing dramatic gains in efficiency, and the future ability to drive electric vehicles with batteries powered by solar panels will reduce the need to import expensive and uncertain oil sources, according to Agassi. While an electric car battery costs approximately $500 per kilowatt-hour in capacity, he predicted that by 2020, the price would be reduced to $100 per kilowatt-hour in capacity. Therefore, to drive one kilometer would cost only one cent based on electric vehicle fueling, he claimed.
In response, however, industry experts expressed significant doubts about Agassi’s calculations.
Nonetheless, Agassi maintained that the world will become “inevitably green” simply because the world is “profit-driven in nature.”
While the government must tax solar energy production, if it does so in a manner that is too much, too soon, it could end up killing the domestic supply and importing instead, Agassi warned.
“The question for Israel is only one – will we let today’s interest drive policy or will we let innovation lead the way and become exporters of this innovation to the rest of the world?” he asked.
Although agreeing with Agassi in principal that innovation and meticulous business models are part of the solution for a greener future, Prof. Ernesto Zadillo said he did not think that “getting to the right place is inevitable.”
“We don’t have the right policies to price carbon, to tax carbon emissions,” said Zadillo, who was the 54th president of Mexico and currently serves as director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization. “Then your business model will take too long to be a viable model. If we don’t have the right incentives, then innovation will be slower or even stop.”
Agreeing with Zadillo’s comments, Agassi suggested that a possible global solution could be to create a “menu of innovation” according to which every country must proceed with – countries that implement more innovation will receive more credit against their carbon emissions than others.
“My response with that is good luck... ” said Etharin Cousin, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program.
In Cousin’s opinion, a critical piece toward achieving a “green tomorrow” will be an overhaul of the global approach to sustainability, particularly focusing on revamping the “entire value chain” of the agricultural system.
“We need to ensure that we build the agricultural system in those systems that will support the opportunity to provide availability and access to all people,” she said.
Innovation will be instrumental in this overhaul, as it is necessary to increase the quantity and quality of small farmer yields, introduce farming methods that require less water and decrease damage to land and soil, Cousin continued. Before even introducing any of these more advanced agricultural methods into many countries, however, the governments will first have to work on providing better infrastructure and support, she added.
“Challenging a development model, which for centuries depended on natural resources and the idea that environment didn’t matter, requires deep-seated change that cannot evolve over night,” said Prince Albert Grimaldi II of Monaco.
“Right now scientists are innovating for the new world we need to create. They must be able to depend on us for this difficult task.”