Five questions for… Dennis Posadas

Dennis Posadas

Dennis Posadas

Renewable energy versus fossil fuels: the debate rages on, worldwide. At stake is nothing less than the protection of our planet from the ravages of climate change. But the costs involved in making the switch to clean energy are daunting. How do we pay for solar and wind energy? Do we scrap all our gasoline-driven autos and turn off the lights? How can we move forward?

We talk to new author Dennis Posadas about renewables, the “party” atmosphere of climate change and why his new book Greenergized is suitable for your in-laws.

1. What inspired you to write ‘Greenergized’ and what do you hope the book achieves or changes?

First of all, thank you for this opportunity to connect with the Greenleaf community. It is both a pleasure and a privilege to address all of you today from the Philippines. I hope you liked my YaleGlobal oped which was reprinted on the blog last week.

Greenergized began as a story that I wrote during my short stint in government as deputy head of a commission tasked to enact science and technology legislation. We had just come out of the 2008 oil crisis and many countries, including the Philippines, had found the impetus to pass clean energy/renewable energy legislation.

I was not a stranger to fiction business fables – my book published in 2009 was a business fable. I seem to be comfortable with the fictional fable genre – it’s not too long, not too direct and I find it enjoyable to write.

I wrote Greenergized because I saw how well-intentioned people, in trying to push for low carbon/sustainability/green solutions, tend to make it into a party atmosphere. Take Earth Hour celebrations – we seem to think that turning off our lights for an hour worldwide is an achievement, we give ourselves a pat on the back, then wonder why coal plant capacity has increased “despite our efforts”.

I feel a business fable is not threatening to those turned off by climate jargon.

We need to push for clean energy solutions to mitigate climate change, but we should realise that there are serious issues involved. The cost and efficiency of solar; the intermittency of renewable sources; the impact on the grid; and other engineering issues dictate that we all understand the possibilities and limitations of these sources and act accordingly in a sober manner.

It is not about picket signs rallying for renewables – it is understanding what they can do now, what it takes to get where we want to go, and actually moving there.

I felt (and still feel) that a business fable would not be threatening to people turned off by “climate-speak”. This includes our parents, kids, in-laws – who may not share our enthusiasm for this topic – but who we need to infect with our passion.

2. Who or what has been a major influence on your view of clean energy/climate change?

I can name John Topping Jr as a major influence and mentor. On climate science, Dr. Mike MacCracken, former Clinton era head of the U.S. office of climate change.

Here in Asia, the father of the Philippines’ climate movement Sonny Alvarez.

My own background as an electrical engineer was also significant, helping me to understand renewable energy’s promise and shortcomings.

3. Can you tell us your three favourite books?

Plenty, but in general these sit on my desk ready to be picked up at anytime: Evan Thomas’s biography of Robert F. Kennedy; a compendium of excerpts from Ernest Hemingway’s novels; Robert McNamara’s “mea culpa” on Vietnam In Retrospect, as well as The Nightingale’s Song by Robert Timberg; some books by Seth Godin, Michael Crichton, Thomas Friedman and others.

4. What, in your opinion, is the biggest obstacle on the road to a greener economy?

I think we have to accept the fact that if we are to move forward, we have to accept a slightly higher electricity bill to allow renewables to come in and jumpstart the industry. The politically correct thing for some people to say is to wait until prices are right – but I don’t think prices will be “right” if we don’t take the plunge, just like we did with PCs and mobile phones.

When I graduated from college in the early ‘90s as a power industry engineer, there had been some research in our university on solar and other renewable technologies. But a lot of us ended up working for the chip industry because that was where the growth was. If an industry, like the renewables industry, cannot make a sale – then it withers and dies. If an industry is able to sell, it is able to hire and keep good people who work on cost and performance goals.

Just like anything good, it’s not a party – it’s going to be a real headache for some.

There is this measure, the Feed-in-Tariff, which I talk about in Greenergized. It will raise prices of electricity somewhat because renewables will be competing against fossil sources that have been around since the turn of the 20th century.

But note that it won’t really make as much impact as critics claim. The percentages of renewables in the mix are so low, it is sort of like mixing a drop of expensive scotch into a vat of cheap scotch and then claiming that the blended vat price has increased significantly.

On the fossil fuel end, subsidies, economies of scale and the fact that we do not charge what economists call “externalities” (e.g. health and climate impacts) to the price per kilowatt-hour make these fossil sources cheap. So I argue in the book that we ought to remove fossil subsidies and even put in a carbon tax to pay for these externalities.

Either a feed-in-tariff or putting in a carbon tax will increase electricity prices.

So it’s not a party – it’s going to be a real headache for some. Just like anything good, once economies of scale have taken place, prices of renewables will stabilise. We don’t have to go overboard on this – there is a way to temper these increases so they become a slight inconvenience and not something that stops business and the economy in its tracks. But we have to make that first step.

5. What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on two low carbon projects. One is a waste-to-energy project in the Philippines, and the other is a project on reducing black carbon (e.g. soot) in public transport.

Book wise, nothing concrete yet, but I’d like to write some short stories just to keep the keyboard clacking.

With thanks to Dennis Posadas.

greenergizedDennis Posadas is an Asia-based fellow of the Washington, DC based Climate Institute and a technical consultant for clean energy projects. He is the author of Jump Start: A Technopreneurship Fable (Singapore: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009) and Rice & Chips: Technopreneurship and Innovation in Asia (Singapore: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007).

Although the importance of climate change is hard to overstate, it nevertheless consistently fails to engage at the level that it so patently needs to. This is what has led technology expert and seasoned commentator Dennis Posadas to approach the issues in a new and intriguing way. Greenergized is a much-needed route into the issues surrounding the most serious debate our generation faces. And it pulls off the brilliant trick of being highly readable at the same time.

Greenergized is out now. To find out more head over to our website.

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