Nov 25, 2008

Barriers to innovation and change: wind power (1)

Margaret Wente’s column in today's Globe and Mail “Who could object to wind power?” is a dead-on analysis of some of the institutional barriers facing the deployment of alternative energy technologies, in this case a proposal for a large scale wind farm along the shores of Lake Ontario. Just because a technology is labelled renewable and environmentally benign does not mean that it will be adopted wholeheartedly by society. Wente identifies some of the critical economic and social barriers to the broader acceptance of wind power: costs relative to the yo-yo price of oil (down to $50 from a high of $140 per barrel this summer), hidden subsidies, the variability and unpredictability of electricity produced from wind, questions with regards to possible negative impact on bird flight paths, and NIMBY - not in my backyard. In fact, it was the last factor leading to a citizen’s protest in Toronto that prompted Wente to write the column.

In my view this is not a big oil or pro-nuclear conspiracy, but a normal and expected reaction to the introduction of new technology that causes change. If we are to move to a sustainable society, based on a significant reduction of per-capita energy consumption and the deployment of noncarbon-generating energy sources, these are the kinds of barriers that are inevitable. They should be recognized early on and addressed fully if we are ever to arrive to our end goal of a sustainable future. That is a key question facing our study.

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