Why CleanWeb Will Not Beat CleanTech
Car-sharing apps, crowdfunding project platforms, teleconferencing: what do they have in common? These three challenge traditional ideas and avenues of how humans travel, develop projects, and communicate. All three involve information technology in order to overcome difficulties and achieve their individual goals. The underlying concept behind the success of all three, according to a new idea, is cleanweb.
“ Cleanweb” is a category of clean technology that leverages the capability of the internet, social media, and mobile technologies to address resource constraints.”
This is according to a post by Sunil Paul, Founding Director of Spring Ventures as well as co-founder and chairman of the Clean Economy Network. A narrated version of the recently released presentation, Why CleanWeb Will Beat CleanTech, defines cleanweb as the growing intersection between cleantech and infotech. It seems poised to becoming an integral part of the ongoing environmental revolution as traditional models of economy, resource use, etc. are being restructured to address current challenges.
Paul further discusses what is cleanweb and how it is not only applicable but desirable in many areas of modern living today including transportation, finance, renewable energy, and many others. Not only capable of dramatically reducing carbon emissions across many areas but of empowering whole communities and networks of people to efficiently use resources, cleanweb seems like an idea whose time is near, if not already come, in the environmental revolution.
But is cleanweb, as they say, better than cleantech?
According to Paul himself, cleanweb is a category of cleantech, in that it shares a common attribute with cleantech in addressing environmental challenges such as efficient resource use, etc. But can a category better and even beat the main concept on which its relational existence is based?
Perhaps it is more helpful to say that cleanweb is a separate concept from cleantech, rather than its category, in order to better appreciate its significance. In this perspective, cleanweb and cleantech seem to be equal but different approaches to solving the same problem.
Let’s take this to another level by specifying a situation where both cleantech and cleanweb can be applied to solve a challenge. Take the issue of urban streetlights – a necessary part of the urban landscape but one that extensively consumes energy even at times when its function is unnecessary. Streetlights are needed to make streets, public spaces and the general urban areas safe at night. But they have their cost in installation, maintenance, and most of all energy. Running night after night, hundreds of them burn energy for 8 hours or more, even when only a few or none use the streets for long stretches of time.
The cleantech approach might lean toward developing concept streetlights that run on renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. Concepts might vary between relying on one renewable energy source or a combination of both solar and wind. Perhaps an inclusion of a battery would also be considered for times when both wind and solar power are not available. Additionally, changes in the concept of function of streetlights can be considered. Since streetlights are being “restructured” in the area of energy consumption, why not add features as well? Streetlights that double as parking meters, streetlights with benches and shade, or streetlights with built-in sensors can be created to optimize form and function.
The cleanweb approach might be to develop a mobile application or software that distributes control to the public through information technology. In fact, this concept is already being applied in several places around the world. The idea is to give individuals control over streetlights through a platform that connects them to the main power controllers. Streetlights will be turned off and left that way until someone needs their service. A person who needs the streetlight calls a number or sends a text message, and the controller at the main power station turns the particular streetlight on. After the person who called or texted has passed and the streetlight is no longer needed, it is again turned off. By appropriating service to the public’s needs, energy consumption (of streetlights) is made efficient and responsible.
Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages.
The cleantech approach, while guaranteeing a shift from non-renewable energy sources to sustainable ones, does not guarantee responsible usage by the public. Cleantech endeavors to deliver maximum results for minimum, and if possible, sustainable resources. In a sense, cleantech presents a “better mousetrap” but has no control over how the world will use that mousetrap, if it will catch the mouse at all. Cleanweb on the other hand empowers communities and networks of consumers to have access to resources and by doing so increases efficiency of usage of those resources. It accomplishes this mainly through information technology. But for cleanweb to accomplish its purpose an available product or service has to exist in the first place for it to be accessed and used. In this sense therefore cleanweb has no control over how the “mousetrap” is conceptualized, built, and delivered; it only has control on how to efficiently use the mousetrap to catch the mouse.
This is evident in car-sharing, where people can share cars but have no control on how those cars are built, whether they are efficient and high mileage or not; in solar power investment projects, where people invest in installations of solar power for other people, but have no control whether that installation and investment is wisely used and maximized or not; and in even in crowdfunding projects, where investments from the public can only help the success of the project to a certain extent and does not guarantee a satisfactory outcome.
But what if the best of cleantech solutions and cleanweb platform combine in addressing an issue? Going back to the hypothetical case of the urban streetlight, say the best cleantech solution is a combination of solar and wind power with battery packs and sensors is united with the best cleanweb solution – a secure multi- communications network control platform for users, easily accessible but safe against hackers and system failure.
From this we can say that neither cleanweb > cleantech nor cleantech > cleanweb computes, but cleantech + cleanweb = sustainability. Sustainability in both resource management and responsible utilization will be the final product of cleantech and cleanweb combined. And sustainability in that sense is very much part of the environmental revolution equation.
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