Clean Technology—A Force for Disruption?

The 2017 RIAA annual conference covered quite a few exciting topics. One event that generated a lot of discussion was a presentation by Professor Tony Seba . Dr. Seba is a world-renowned Silicon Valley futurist, known for his focus on clean energy. His presentation covered some of the ways that clean energy may become not merely a great investment, but a major disruptive force with the power to reshape the market.

As Dr. Seba and other thinkers have begun to warn us, clean energy is going to significantly change the look of our cities and the sorts of services that are offered in them. Combined with trends like autonomous vehicles, the whole landscape of city economies will shift. As a result, whole industries and all the workers and vendors who rely on them may be pushed toward obsolescence. The industries most at risk are not necessarily the ones you’d expect.

Here are some of the industries that are facing disruption in the next decade…

Petroleum Engineering

Clean energy’s disruptive potential has already been noted in the press. Earlier this year, the Financial Times covered the story of an English business in crisis. The company in the article develops fuel saving devices for petrol engines. When trying to pitch their latest device, they suddenly discovered that there were no auto manufacturers left in the world who were willing to devote development funding to petrol devices.

Instead, electricity and batteries have become the focus of every manufacturer. This change was not announced, and seems to have taken place almost overnight. Overnight, the options of tens of thousands of career engineers and researchers have been put in question. Even more troubling than that is the possibility that these changes are happening faster than universities can adjust to them. There is a real risk of students graduating with skills are may not be required in just a couple years.

Naturally, the same goes for the training and development involved in the extraction of these resources.

Gas Stations

The average gas station relies heavily on the profits that are brought in from petrol. Even if these stations switch to electric, they can expect nowhere near as many customers (many cities are beginning to install unmanned stations and poles for charging). This is a troubling disruption. Gas stations typically provide important services for travelers and are often relied on heavily for

general goods in rural areas. Without petrol to keep them afloat, it’s an open question what can fill this role.

Toll Roads

Roads are expensive to maintain, even when they aren’t traveled often. This is because vehicles only account for a small amount of a road’s daily wear and tear. The sun—and the constant expansion and compression its heat causes throughout the day—makes regular maintenance necessary.

With far fewer cars on the road, there are many toll roads that may lose the ability to manage their maintenance budgets. That leaves open the question of who is going to pay for them. Local governments and taxpayers alike may balk at the idea of taking on the cost, and many of these roads could simply close.

The Good News?

Many industries may see surprising disruptions as a result of renewable energy. However, wherever there is the possibility for change, there is also opportunity. In this case, moving forward means taking long-overdue steps to protect our world for the next generation.

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