Tech Weapons: Entrepreneurs and investors are making the most of the world’s enthusiasm for clean technology, driving innovation in every energy-related field. Many projects show great promise to help meet the greenhouse-gas limits recently discussed at the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, but few seem to understand this troubling reality: Even though energy innovations have great potential, they may not be implemented until it is too late. History shows that most technological breakthroughs take decades to reach the mass market.
To halve global emissions over the next 40 years, as scientists suggest, clean technologies must be implemented on a large scale. Researchers from the UK think tank Chatham House and patent-search firm Cambridge say that in the past, it took 19 to 30 years to achieve widespread use.
Certainly, powerful new market forces are at work: governments beyond Europe are poised to impose limits on greenhouse gases, and companies in many regions are searching for ways to curb emissions. But technology deployment always takes time.
This is especially true of energy-related inventions, which run into big trouble when they get out of the incubator and onto the market. Entrepreneurs scramble for capital, investors struggle to manage the risks of emerging technologies, patents are bought and sold but not necessarily used, and incumbent energy giants hesitate to give up their existing equipment.
Since irreversible climate change is already upon us, there is no time to sit and wait for years for great innovations for everyday use.