The energy crisis is complex? Switch to resilience and mass collaboration!

The scale and urgency of the energy challenge requires being smart. While policy-makers are usually
smart, most are stuck with a broken action paradigm that does not allow them to even think of smart
solutions. The new paradigm for action relies on resilience, openness, and mass collaboration.

One  of  the  only  things  everybody  seems  to  agree  on  is  that  solving  the  energy  crisis  is  a  hell  of  a
challenge.  On  the  supply  side,  the  peak  oil  behind  us,  the  supply  of  fossil  fuels  will  only  get  more
expensive, economically and ecologically. In addition, Fukushima definitely undermined the credibility
of  nuclear  energy  as  an  alternative  option.  On  the  demand  side,  the  thirst  for  energy  of  emerging
countries is constantly growing as their population and economies are developing. As a result energy
prices  are  rocketing  and  consequences  are  dire  for  the  population  and  the economy. Already before
2008  and  the  start  of  the  financial  and  economic  crisis,  GDP  growth  was  under  huge  stress  due  to
historic oil prices. On top of that, the science is unanimous in pointing the use of fossil fuels as the
main responsible for climate change. The energy crisis is severe, but it is part of a bigger picture; its
solution has to account for this bigger picture.

Shifting the focus to increasing the resilience of the energy system

Through their energy system, Europeans are vulnerable to a myriad of risks. They are vulnerable to
foreign  decision-makers  in  non-democratic  countries  such  as  Russia,  which  can  decide  to  cut  gas
supply.  They  are  vulnerable  to  global  oil  prices  which  fluctuate  according  to  factors  such  as
speculation, geo-political events, or disasters (e.g. the Hurricane Katrina). They are vulnerable to the
consequence of a nuclear catastrophe which is a more frequent event than any of the risk assessment
models had ever anticipated. Eventually, they are vulnerable to the collapse in chain of old, centralized
and poorly interconnected energy grids.

As systems become more interconnected, they also become more complex, and managing risk turns
increasingly difficult. In the era of climate change, the uncertainty in the frequency and amplitude of
natural disasters increases with every ton of CO2 emitted in the atmosphere. The energy system has to
integrate these new conditions and become not only greener, but more resilient; resilience being the
capacity  of  a  system  to  absorb  a  shock  and  recover  quickly  after.  A  production  dependent  on  a  few
providers  or  centralized  in  a  few  points  is  a  source  of  vulnerability.  This  is  the  other  lesson  of
Fukushima:  an  energy  infrastructure  that  relies  on  the  atom  is  by  definition  vulnerable.  Current
evaluations  estimate  the  cost  of  the  nuclear  disaster  for  the  sole  compensation  and  cleaning  up  to
around 300 billion dollars. This does not take into account the cost on the economy implied by the
energy shutdowns that have resulted. To become more resilient to natural disasters and global risks we
have to move away from the atom and the unmanageable nature of the risk it implies; as we have to
move  away  from  fossil  fuels  to  preserve  our  climate.  Beyond  that,  we  have  to  seek  the  energy
independence of regions, not only countries, by localizing energy production as close as possible to the
consumers.

Crowdsourcing energy production to turn passive users into critical providers

Electricity is reckoned as the most promising of the energy carriers, but huge room for improvement
remains.  For  the  last  ten  years,  everybody  has  been  talking  about  smart-grids.  Indeed,  making  the
energy network able to carry production and consumption data in any direction allows to fine tuning
electricity production and avoiding huge waste while increasing the stability of the grid. It also makes possible  a  conceptual  switch  from  an  electricity  grid  that  is  centralized  around  a  few  large
infrastructures  to  a  completely  decentralized  grid  and  energy  production  that  are  eventually  more
resilient and better equipped to adapt to future energy needs.

Beyond the resilience imperative, switching to such a complete decentralization approach could have a
huge impact in changing our energy culture. Through the ownership of energy production, individuals
and communities are likely to question their consumption. Wikipedia has answered the encyclopedic
challenge by asking the crowd to provide the knowledge, and letting every user becoming a knowledge
producer. The result is the best encyclopedia you can find and it only gets better overtime. Why not
crowdsourcing energy production?

How  can  we  ask  people  to  change  their  energy  culture  while  remaining  passive  and  blind  users?
Energy use should become visible at any moment. Smart meters open the possibility for the people to
know  about  their  consumption/production  ratio  in  real-time  and  give  them  the  opportunity  to
improve  it.  People  need  to  have  a  free  access  to  this  data,  and  soon,  iPhone  apps  would  flourish
allowing  you  to  monitoring  your  own  energy  consumption  and  offering  trips  to  decrease  it.  This  is
called  open-grids.  By  making  robust  energy  data  available  and  open,  governments  at  all  levels  and
communities would be able to better understand their consumption patterns and integrate that into
public  decisions.  Entrepreneurs  could  also  propose  innovative  services  using  open  data.  Instead  of
trying  to  drive  the  boat  and  row  at  the  same  time  policy-makers  should  focus  on  how  to  create  a
context where solutions can emerge on their own: then individuals and communities will power the
engine.

Opening the data box, unleashing innovation

Innovation remains a huge obstacle in solving the energy crisis. Our innovation framework is broken.
In 2010 over $400 billion of subsidies a year to fossil fuels and an unknown amount for nuclear energy
while  the  total  –  private  and  public  –  annual  investment  worldwide  in  clean  energy  is  only  $243
billion. This has to change. Feed-in tariffs can help in getting renewables tech maturing, but they have
to  guarantee  it  does  not  allow  some  to  make  an  excessive  profit  through  large-scale  industrial
installations. We should anyway go much further than subsidies.

In their defining book Macrowikinomics, Tapscott and Williams, define a new energy paradigm based
on  open-grids  and  pro-sumers.  But,  their  approach  goes  much  further  than  the  sole  energy  sector.
They  show  how  mass  collaboration  through  the  web  2.0  is  changing  the  way  we  work,  learn,  live,
create, govern, and care for one another. They apply the approach to a dozen of policy sector such as
transport,  climate  change,  innovation,  or  the  financial  markets.  Importantly,  they  challenge
intellectual  property  as it currently stifles innovation. They provide a full set for decision-makers to
step in the era of mass collaboration and collective intelligence for the benefit of all. They urge to open
the data box, to reshape patenting schemes and innovation policies in order to rip the benefits mass
collaboration can bring to innovation and governance, including in the energy sector.

Energy  is  at  the  center  of  our  current  economic  system.  We  will  not  solve the energy crisis without
involving  all  actors;  we  cannot  let  our  energy  future  to  a  few  decision-makers  who  decide  the
construction of multi-billion nuclear plants. The beauty of ecology is that time and, more surprisingly,
technology  development  seems  to  always  confirm  the  idea  that  solving  collective  problems  such  as
resource scarcity can only be done with the people, by the people and for the people. At last the digital
age makes this possible. As the younger generation of ecologists we have to grab this new reality and
the opportunity it offers, and explain this to the others.