TIME Innovation

Sorry, Bill Gates, But You’re Wrong on Renewable Energy

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Cultura/Mischa Keijser—Getty Images

Ending energy poverty has nothing to do with climate change

LinkedIn Influencer Jigar Shah, founder of SunEdison, published this post originally on LinkedIn. Follow Jigar on LinkedIn.

Bill Gates just blogged on energy poverty. In that post, he agrees with Bjorn Lomborg who “argues that before poor countries can move to clean energy, poor families need access to cheap electricity so they don’t have to burn dung, cardboard, or twigs for heating and cooking. These dirty fuels produce indoor air pollution that is terrible for health (especially for children).”

In 2012, I wrote in the Huffington Post that Bill Gates had zero qualifications to understand energy and its costs. I also recognized that I am not qualified to run a global software company.

So, Bill Gates doesn’t know much about energy outside of his vested interests in nuclear power and I don’t know much about running a software company outside of my bumbling with my Android apps. I say this about myself even though I have helped with smart metering and oversaw the global implementation for monitoring solar systems worldwide for SunEdison.

But Bill Gates has more money and power than I, and a powerful and wonderful charity. However, in this instance his charity is misguided. And, nothing is more dangerous than misguided charity.

Gates’ misguided path starts with the fact that he cited a notorious climate skeptic in Bjorn Lomborg. Lomborg has a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the fact that renewable energy is cost competitive with fossil fuels as an energy source.

With Gates, like Lomborg, framing energy-poverty as a climate issue reveals a depth of ignorance that poses a serious problem given Gates’ stature. So here is reality.

Ending energy poverty has nothing to do with climate change.

The International Energy Agency has released a series of reports outlining how the world can end darkness for the 1.3 billion people who currently lack power. Those reports have made clear that their conservative approach (which relies in part on polluting power sources like coal) will only marginally increase carbon emissions. No one argues with this conclusion.

Ending energy poverty requires the right tool for the job: Distributed Energy

The truth is an over reliance on centralized grid extension and large scale power plants will keep a billion people in the dark. It is time to recognize what even the IEA says is overwhelmingly necessary, but dramatically underinvested in: distributed renewable energy for those living beyond the grid.

To understand why this is so important take a step back and lets consider the reaction if Gates wrote a blog suggesting that Mark Zuckerburg was a fool and that the solution for universal Internet access around the world was physical fiber optic cable to every home around the world.The reaction would be riotous laughter. In emerging markets they are busy ripping out copper and everyone is using wireless.Yet that’s exactly what he’s proposing for energy.

No expert on energy access is paying any attention to Gate’s folly on energy for the poor.

They know that Gates’ approach has been tried for 60 years and has failed miserably in almost every emerging market outside of China.

The truth is knowledgeable entrepreneurs who have invested their lives and last dollar to this space and solve this problem are making rational business decisions.Those decisions are focused on the cheapest way to deliver energy. And, energy looks a lot like mobile phones – distributed solutions that leapfrog outdated and ineffective centralized networks. They have done so overwhelmingly out of the desire to power the poor – not to solve climate change. They just so happen to rely on the most affordable, effective and direct tool available: distributed clean energy that puts power directly in the hands of poor populations on a time frame that matters – now.

For proof on the power of distributed energy look at the growth rates in real world markets – not Gates’ blog.

The World Bank’s Lighting Africa program clocked a 95 percent CAGR (compound annual growth rate) for solar products being sold beyond the grid in sub Saharan Africa. In Bangladesh, the wildly successful IDCOL solar program has installed 3 million solar home systems at a whopping 60% CAGR over the past decade. After much deliberation, even the dispassionate new Prime Minister of India decided against grid extension in favor of using distributed energy to meet his 2019 goal of electrifying every family.

In the meantime, grid extension has proceeded at incredibly marginal rates. Worse, 2.5 billion people who are connected to the grid receive power that is so unreliable that they are considered ‘under-electrified’ by current grid extension efforts. The cheap reliable grid is a fallacy that is no longer cheap, nor reliable.

When it comes to energy poverty, Gates is arguing for outdated and ineffective solutions that will keep people energy poor.

It is time that we deploy our 21st century energy solutions and put power directly in the hands of the poor.

Jigar Shah is the CEO of Jigar Shah Consulting.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 5

1. Our nation’s racial divide starts early: America’s public schools are still highly segregated.

By Reed Jordan at the Urban Institute

2. The Pentagon is getting bad advice about responsibly managing its budget and our national defense.

By Nora Bensahel in Defense One

3. “We need to step up our game to make sure that Putin’s rules do not govern the 21st century.”

By Madeleine Albright in Foreign Policy

4. Over a lifetime, and despite the high cost of tuition, a college education is still a great deal.

By Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York

5. Reality television – MTV’s “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant” – triggered a plunge in the teen birthrate.

By Phil Schneider in the Aspen Journal of Ideas

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 4

1. The results of the NATO summit and the alliance’s stance on ISIS and Ukraine will define President Obama’s foreign policy legacy.

By Jonathan Alter in the Daily Beast

2. Intense boot camps for highly skilled careers may displace costly graduate degrees and get more people working.

By Kevin Carey in Washington Monthly

3. To make a splash in the mobile market despite poor sales of its Windows phone, Microsoft is selling apps to iPhone and Android users.

By Dan Frommer in Quartz

4. The street children of India are publishing a quarterly newspaper, finding a purpose and a passion in telling their stories.

By Mariah Wilson, Chander Bhan and Paul Ewen in Vocativ

5. Harm reduction – versus a law-enforcement focused “war on drugs” – could reduce overdose deaths.

By Josh Eidelson in Bloomberg Business Week

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME technology

These Smart Chopsticks Could Help You Survive a Chinese Food Safety Scare

They can detect "gutter oil," or recycled frying oil made from waste oil of a sewage or slaughterhouse

Glow-in-the-dark pork, expired chicken parts, goose feet painted with inedible pigment—no one wants to know what’s coming next. And Baidu certainly doesn’t, either.

The Chinese Internet and tech giant unveiled on Wednesday its “smart chopsticks,” called Kuaisou in Chinese, which can detect contamination levels in oil and water, according to the Wall Street Journal. Outfitted with high-tech sensors, the utensils link to a smartphone app and can also report nutritional value, according to a promotional video Baidu released earlier this year.

The smart chopsticks are designed to combat one of China’s most notorious food scandals: “gutter oil,” or a cheap cooking oil made from the waste oil of slaughterhouses, sewages and fryers that’s used by some street vendors. In the video, a Baidu engineer uses the chopsticks to lift a popular fried Chinese street snack, while a red alert indicates that the food contains traces of the recycled oil.

“In the future, via Baidu Kuaisou, you’ll be able to know the origin of oil and water and other foods–whether they’ve gone bad and what sort of nutrition they contain,” Baidu CEO Robin Li said in a speech Wednesday.

The product is currently not yet available to the general public, Baidu said.

 

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 3

1. Russia’s power play could be the best way to reinvigorate NATO.

By John Cassidy in the New Yorker

2. Why India and Japan need each other – badly.

By Michael Schuman in Time

3. One way Congress can speed things up for the Foreign Service – appoint career ambassadors en masse.

By David Ignatius in Washington Post

4. Labor unions in decline are no longer assimilating immigrants, counteracting racial inequality or equalizing incomes.

By Justin Fox in the Harvard Business Review

5. Congress must debate and vote on our growing military involvement in Iraq.

By Mickey Edwards and David Skaggs in the Los Angeles Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 2

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Teacher Standing in Front of a Class of Raised Hands Digital Vision.—Getty Images

1. As we approach the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, President Obama should make good on his promise to expand this vital program.

By the Editorial Board of the New York Times

2. Journalists still believe they’re writing for the same old reasons, but the data shows they’re chasing clicks, changing the nature of their work.

By Angèle Christin at the Nieman Journalism Lab

3. A dangerous new trend of policing faculty speech at American universities is threatening academic freedom.

By David M. Perry in the Chronicle of Higher Education

4. “Infoladies” bring digital services – from filling online forms to collecting health data – to the people of Bangladesh, and could be expanded to serve many more.

By Syed Tashfin Chowdhury in Al Jazeera English

5. The new batteries coming from Tesla’s “Gigafactory” should remove the final barrier to mass-produced electric cars.

By Daniel Sparks in The Motley Fool

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Big Picture

San Francisco 49ers Go Long on STEM Education at Levi’s Stadium

In 2010, when the San Francisco 49ers’ brain trust was drawing up the plans for what is now Levi’s Stadium, they went to one of the tallest buildings in the area and looked out over Silicon Valley.

According to Joanne Pasternack, director of community relations and the 49ers Foundation, these executives could see Google, Intel, Apple, HP, Facebook and many of the leading tech companies in the world laid out right in front of them.

It was at that point that they made the commitment to somehow use the new stadium to help create tech leaders of tomorrow. As one of the 49ers execs told me recently, they wanted to “help develop the people who will someday engineer and create greater features for Levi’s Stadium and develop innovative technologies that can impact the planet in the future.”

Educational Roots

The 49ers have had a long history of supporting education. “Our family has always been interested in education,” said Dr. John York, co-chairman of the San Francisco 49ers. “My father-in-law, Ed DeBartolo, Sr., always felt that if you could give people an education, they can make a way for themselves and their lives. And the 49ers Foundation’s mission has been to keep kids safe, on track and in school.”

“My mother was a school teacher, my father was the son of Italian immigrants,” said Denise DeBartolo York, co-chairman of the San Francisco 49ers. “They always thought that education could level the playing field with at-risk students that were disadvantaged. Once you enable them to get an education, it’s an even playing field.” Mrs. York also told me that she and her husband, Dr. York, have contributed significantly to various underprivileged children’s causes and Title I school initiatives, as well as programs for at-risk kids.

The 49ers organization’s philanthropic contributions — much of which is focused on education — are at least $3.3 million per year. For years, the organization has supported what is called the 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto, CA. According to the academy’s website:

The San Francisco 49ers Academy was established through a partnership with Communities in Schools (CIS) in 1996. CIS started as a small grassroots movement led by Bill Milliken, one of the nation’s foremost pioneers in the movement to help young people graduate from high school and go onto rewarding careers. The 49ers Academy is a unique partnership – a public school, supported by a private non-profit agency. The 49ers are the major underwriter of this program.

Cultivating STEM

However, what they are doing in STEM education at Levi’s Stadium itself is amazing. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and is a dedicated educational program to get kids interested in these disciplines, eventually guiding them into related career endeavors.

“On and off the field, talent alone will not lead to success,” said Dr. York. “The game changer for promising future leaders is to provide a stimulating environment where their natural talent and drive will be fed by motivating mentors, meaningful activities and academic enrichment. The 49ers STEM Leadership Institute’s vision is to be a leader in STEM education, preparing and inspiring talented learners to meet the challenges of the global society through innovation, collaboration and creative problem solving.”

Budding Brains

The 49ers STEM Leadership Institute program will bring 20,000 students to Levi’s Stadium for daylong programs that tie sports and education around the STEM focus. Each day during the school year, 60 kids from one of the various schools in the Bay Area are brought to Levi’s Stadium in one of the 49ers’ official team buses. They are then broken up into three different groups of 20 each to rotate through three distinct activities.

The first activity features a full tour of the stadium, focusing on the engineering involved with creating a stadium. It shows off the green aspects of the stadium, including a visit to the garden on the roof as well as a look at the solar panels and how they’re used to create energy. The tour also demonstrates how clean technology is used to irrigate the field in order to care for the grass and turf. The kids also get to see the visiting team’s locker room, the field and many of the public areas of the stadium.

The second activity takes place in the new 49ers Museum and includes lessons using various games and interactive screens. Students learn how engineering and math are used to create 49ers football equipment, and how physics is applied to things like passing, kicking and running. The day I was there, they also included a section on careers in math and science. By the way, a trip to the 49ers Museum is highly recommended. It’s one of the best sports museums in the U.S. They use Sony Xperia tablets and various technologies to really enhance the overall museum experience — and for those of us in the Bay Area, it evokes some great memories of five 49ers Super Bowl wins.

The third activity takes place in an actual high-tech classroom that’s built into the new 49ers Museum. This classroom has multiple screens as well as half a dozen touch-based video worktables created by Cortina Productions. They serve as interactive teaching tools that the students can use to do various projects.

49ers STEM
Students receive instructions from teacher Matt Van Dixon while sitting at interactive video tables made by Cortina Productions at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at Levi’s Stadium Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers

I was privileged to attend the inaugural class where they were studying the engineering principles of making a football. Using all of the materials needed to make a football, each group got to assemble a football from scratch, sew it up, inflate it and then test it in a special kicking area where the students could see how each ball performed based on how well they created it.

49ers STEM
Denise DeBartolo York helps students assemble a football at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at Levi’s Stadium Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers
49ers STEM
Students assemble a football at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at Levi’s Stadium Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers

Many of the 49ers star players become the students’ tutors and team captains via video at each workstation table, giving instructions and encouragement for each project.

The interactive lessons vary: One class might teach how a helmet is engineered. Another might be on the physics of throwing a ball, explaining how a physical object like a football deals with airflow, throwing mechanics and force, and how each impacts the direction and length of a throw. There are even lessons on engineering your plate, including nutrition facts and a fitness class that uses the 49ers’ training camp as an example.

The class on applied mathematics explains angular attack and game geometry as well as teaching about statistics, using the Super Bowl and its various Roman-numeral numbering schemes as part of the lesson plan. All lessons are designed to emphasize how math, science, technology and engineering are used in everything from building a stadium to creating sports equipment to the math and physics that go into playing the game of football.

The teacher of the class is Matt Van Dixon, who is the education program manger for the 49ers Museum. Matt is one of the most dynamic teachers I have ever observed, his teaching style grabbing the kids from the beginning of each class. I was extremely impressed with how he developed the lesson plans to integrate the role of engineering and math into all of the sports examples. He and his team created various simulations to make the class interactive and highly entertaining. I asked a couple of kids who were in this inaugural class what they thought about the program and each gave it a huge thumbs up.

49ers STEM
Matt Van Dixon instructs students at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at Levi’s Stadium Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers

Branching Out

The 49ers STEM Leadership Institute has also been implemented in the Cabrillo Middle School in Santa Clara, CA, which is just down the street from Levi’s Stadium. With the 49ers’ support and big help from the Chevron Corporation, who created the STEM labs at the school, 60 students from the Santa Clara Unified School District are selected each year to go through a six-year program designed to inspire and prepare students with high academic potential to pursue STEM majors at top-tier universities and become future leaders in their fields. In addition to enriched math and science instruction, students have regular access to the Chevron STEMZone, a tech lab equipped with a laser cutter, 3D printers and other fabrication tools.

Steve Woodhead, Chevron’s global social investment manager, told me that when the 49ers approached them to help with the STEM Institute, they were glad to be involved and worked hard to create the learning labs used in these special education programs.

Another important partner in this program is the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. SVEF’s charter is to be a resource and advocate for students and educators. They provide advocacy, programs and resources to help students reach their full potential in the critical areas of science, technology, engineering and math. According to Muhammed Chaudhry, president and CEO of SVEF, his non-profit group played an important role in advising the 49ers and Chevron on STEM studies and helped with the development of the curriculum used in the institute’s educational programs.

What the 49ers are doing is using sports — a subject that most kids understand and can relate to — and tying it to math, science, technology and engineering in a way that brings these disciplines to life, making learning these subjects fun and entertaining. Getting to see this program in action was truly enlightening. I saw how the 49ers’ STEM Leadership Institute could help create future tech leaders, the major goal of their vision and program from the start.

I hope that all of the folks in the sports industry school themselves on the 49ers’ pioneering STEM education program and how it takes full advantage of the role sports can play in teaching STEM-related disciplines.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 29

1. We must confront the vast gulf between white and black America if we want to secure racial justice after Ferguson.

By the Editors of the Nation

2. As ISIS recruits more western acolytes, it’s clear military might alone can’t defeat it. We must overcome radical Islam on the battleground of ideas.

By Maajid Nawaz in the Catholic Herald

3. Kids spend hours playing the game Minecraft. Now they can learn to code while doing it.

By Klint Finley in Wired

4. One powerful way to raise the quality of America’s workforce: Make community colleges free.

By the Editors of Scientific American

5. Restrictions on where sex offenders can live after prison is pure politics. They do nothing to prevent future offenses.

By Jesse Singal in New York Magazine’s Science of Us

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Gadgets

Watch the Evolution of Apple’s iPhone in a Single GIF

Apple; Gif by Joseph C. Lin—TIME

From 2007 to 2014

It seems like ages since Steve Jobs first announced Apple’s first iPhone in 2007. At the time, the heavy, 4GB device seemed like a technology miracle, but today it looks just a little dated compared to the iPhone’s latest iteration — and who knows what it’ll look like compared to the iPhone 6, which is just around the corner.

TIME captured the evolution of the iPhone in just a few seconds.

TIME Innovation

Google Reveals Drone Delivery Plans

The company just started conducting tests after two years of work

Google has begun testing a small number of drones as it explores a possible delivery service powered by the unmanned aerial vehicles, the company revealed Thursday.

Google has been working on Project Wing for two years but only began testing the drones in the Australian outback this month, the Washington Post reports. In trials, the small aircraft have flown between 130 and 195 ft. (well above houses and trees) and delivered items such as a water bottle and a first-aid kit. Google says it conducted more than 30 successful flights, including one that traveled more than half a mile.

While the Federal Aviation Administration is still developing guidelines and regulations for commercial drones, several companies besides Google, including Amazon, Facebook and Disney, have opened up about possible applications for drones, including delivery capabilities and high-speed Internet services. According to Google, it will be years before the company will develop a fully functional delivery service with drones traveling along preprogrammed routes.

“When you can get something near-instantly, it changes how you think about it,” the company said in a statement. “Think of the mom stuck at home with two sick kids, the hiker who’s met a poisonous snake, or the farmer out in the field with a sick animal. It could also open up new models for sharing goods rather than owning them — who needs a power drill for more than eight minutes a year?”

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