Themes of FiRe 2013: Power for the Future

By Brenda Cooper

If we’re going to survive our own growing population, mitigate and manage our way through climate change, and continue to use technical connectivity to grow prosperity throughout the world, we must find a better way to deal with power.

Future in Review is highlighting companies working in the energy space through its FiReStarter program. One of this year’s batch is ZincAir, which makes batteries to store grid-scale power. A lot of the power we generate today falls out of the system unused (think of the grid as supply and demand), and having better power storage can mitigate this.

It will also allow for more efficient microgrids, the modern, small-scale versions of a centralized energy system.  My favorite story about microgrids comes from a FiRe breakout session on energy: In some developing countries, you can’t build an above-ground physical grid because the parts would be pilfered.  But villages can and will protect systems contained inside their boundaries.

A second FireStarter company here is HEVT, which is building more efficient electrical engines for cars.  Part of getting away from oil is getting into cars that use different power sources.  HEVT is building better and more reliable electric motors free of rare-earth metals.  Another FireStarter, Electro Power Systems, is working to transform fuel cells.

Every year at FiRe, the audience is treated to a ground-breaking film.  This year that was Pandora’s Promise, directed by Robert Stone.  The film explores nuclear power through the eyes of environmentalists, transformed from anti-nuclear activists to believers that nuclear power may in fact save us.  I won’t say more about the journey from place to place, but the film will be out in June in theaters.

We are now already over 400 PPM of carbon in the atmosphere.  Depending on who you listen to, that means we are near, at, or beyond a tipping point for the health of our air and our oceans.  It’s a problem that needs to be solved, and FiRe is working on solutions and actions.