London, UK [RenewableEnergyWorld.com] In renewable R&D laboratories around the globe, researchers are constantly refining their products to yield that vital essential percentage point of efficiency – along with a host of other qualities such as durability, reliability, and a lower price. Sometimes, with this ceaseless quest for improvement, it would be easy to think that only the best is good enough.
As I listened to some of the speakers at Renewable Energy World Asia, held in Bangkok in the first week of October, I started to ponder on that. Referring to the realities of making renewable energy projects viable in Southeast and South Asia several speakers, quite independently of one another, explained a common quandary. That the price of top-quality, high-performance equipment — as imported from Europe or Scandinavia, for instance — can make a potential project nonviable.
On the other hand, equipment manufactured in the region (most probably in China), even if it may sometimes come with a lower spec, is more likely to be affordable, and to enable a project to go ahead. So it is likely to be favored even if the energy yield may be lower throughout the entire project lifetime than it would have been with equipment of a higher standard. This leads one to ask: isn’t it surely better in the long run, in terms of energy independence, carbon emissions and the rest, for a less-than-perfect renewable project to go ahead than for a state-of-the-art project not to be built at all?
This is very tricky ground, and requires a lot of provisos — such as that the equipment in question complies with certain minimum quality standards, and that the investors and operators are fully aware of what they are getting for their money.
Renewable energy equipment manufacturers, across many technologies, have spent years helping establish, and then complying with, standards to ensure that markets are not tainted by a cheap supply of poor equipment, purchased in good faith, which then fails to perform. For that is damaging all round. And yet surely there’s a level at which ‘good enough’ is appropriate.
Businesses and households regularly make purchasing decisions, and often expediency and budgets dictate that a low-end model is ‘good enough’. Too often though, low-end implies a product that may have a short life and will rapidly be scrapped. That’s not the answer. Perhaps what’s really needed is a re-evaluation of what ‘best’ really means. Sometimes, perhaps it’s not so much that ‘only the best is good enough’, but that ‘good enough’ is actually ‘best’.
Simple, good design which delivers over time with minimal environmental impact, even if it’s not always the top performer in terms of speed or output — that’s surely the sustainable solution. And one which can be rolled out at scale in a wide range of markets. With the massive growth to be delivered in renewable energy, appropriateness is more important than ever — there’s no shortage of work for those R&D departments in meeting the wide range of needs across different markets.
On a personal note, it’s time for me to sign off as Editorial Director of Renewable Energy World magazine. It’s been a privilege to work on this publication since I co-launched it in 1998, to work with so many excellent and supportive contributors, to meet and correspond with so many readers around the globe and with so many businesses in the field. I’d like to send my personal thanks to all of you.
I’m happy to say that, alongside other projects, I shall still be involved with Renewable Energy World, though on a less day-to-day basis, and I look forward to meeting and hearing from you still.
P.S. It’s almost conference season again, and the Renewable Energy World team looks forward to seeing you at the many events we’ll be attending — and especially at our own Renewable Energy World Europe event in Amsterdam, 8-10 June 2010. Click here for more information.