5 ideas in 5 minutes

The Electric Car

The idea is the all-electric car, meaning that it is powered completely by electricity drawn from batteries and does not rely on a fallback combustion (fossil fuel powered) engine. Renault-Nissan has committed itself to having such a vehicle available in the US market by 2010. It will also introduce all-electric vehicles and charging points in Israel and Denmark by 2011.

It’s interesting because electricity having been one of the first methods used to power cars (the first electric vehicle was built sometime around 1832), they are now making a resurgence thanks to concerns about climate change and rising fuel costs.

Thomas Edison and an electric car, 1913. Image: National Museum of American History.

The all-electric car offers transport without the emissions that current combustion powered vehicles produce. However other environmental concerns still persist as the batteries are often made with a host of toxic chemicals.

Nevertheless, as the popularity of owning your own form of transport does not appear to be diminishing in any way, it seems logical to tackle the problem of green house gas emissions by changing the type of engine that is used to power so many millions of vehicles.

They tried it in a bunch of cars and places. Electric cars have a chequered history that has filled the pages of many books and even inspired an awarded winning documentary by Chris Paine and Martin Scorsese, entitled "Who killed the electric car?"

Read more at the site that informs us all, Wikipedia.


The idea is "Freecycle", a community-based network of people who give away unwanted stuff so that it doesn’t end up in landfill. It’s kind of like a philanthropic ebay.

It’s interesting because it’s free and is driven by members of a local community. A moderator who is from the local community runs every Freecycle group.

This is a simple idea with a strong democratic message. Sure, it might take a while to find something that you want or it may be a hassle to keep an old belonging on the balcony for a few extra days. But the end result is that something is kept out of the ground that will otherwise take a long time to biodegrade, and that people are provided with useful goods without cost. On the off chance you might get to know someone from your local community.

They tried it across the globe. There are approximately 4,378 Freecycle groups around the world.

Read more at Freecycle.

AGRA – Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa

The idea is AGRA, which is actually eight interconnected initiatives operating to improve agricultural production across Africa while maintaining environmental sustainability.

It’s interesting because it addresses the problems of poverty, nutrition and sustainability as distinct issues but within a holistic framework. AGRA has identified eight areas which makeup the African agriculture "value chain": seeds, soils, water, markets, agricultural education, African farmer knowledge, policies, and monitoring and evaluation.

In many cases aid policies, designed to address certain issues, are implemented in isolation to the broader economic and political context of the issue. AGRA is trying to overcome this by looking at each stage of the agricultural ‘cycle’ to understand what can be improved. Adopting this strategy can only lead to better designed policies that are not undermined by issues further down (or up) the line. Unfortunately in the case of Africa there are plenty of factors that can have this effect.

They tried it across Africa, although mainly in sub-Saharan areas where poverty is most acute. See the grants section on the AGRA website.

Read more at www.agra-alliance.org

Decentralised Energy

The idea is decentralised energy, which broadly defined, is energy (whether thermal or generated electricity) produced at, or very close to, its place of consumption or use. For example, solar panels or wind turbines for a home or small community built within the community or a micro-hydro generator on a small river. Typically it is associated with renewable resources although this is not necessarily always the case (for example, it could be a diesel generator).

It’s interesting because it represents a very different way of delivering what have traditionally been state-provided and highly centralised utilities. In this sense it tries to break away from large scale and often high-impact infrastructure projects that are often located far away from where the energy will be used. This reduces the need for expensive and wasteful systems that are needed to carry the energy to where it’s needed.

With increasing fuel costs and the threat of global warming, decentralising energy production has positive benefits on many fronts. Provided the energy is produced using renewable resources it can save immense amounts of energy that are otherwise used in the energy production and transportation. In theory it also means that if a power line is cut whole neighbourhoods (or essential services) aren’t affected by black outs.

They tried it most vigorously in Denmark where over 50% of power is generated close to where it is used.

Read more at World Alliance for Decentralised Energy (a truly excellent and very informative website).

The Shadow Price of Carbon

The idea is the shadow price of carbon (SPC), a way of measuring the cost of carbon released into the atmosphere as a result of a particular action. It is reputedly more sophisticated than the previous model, the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC).

It’s interesting because it seeks to address the full carbon impact rather than focusing on clearly definable inputs and outputs. For example, instead of just looking at energy used directly in the manufacturing process and the associated emissions, SPC would demand that the carbon emitted by transportation, labour and even administration be taken into account. SPC is intended to have the dual purpose of providing a guide to the full cost of emissions but more importantly, actually incorporate the cost of carbon into the cost-benefit analysis of a particular action.

Some might argue that this approach is cynical. However such a position simply ignores the cumulative impact of increased emissions. Taking into account the aggregate amount of carbon released provides a better (although perhaps at times more confronting) understanding of how and where change is needed.

They tried it in the UK, where the idea is being promoted – and is gaining pace – on the back of SCC.

Read more at the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which put out a paper that has resulted in significant government uptake of the idea in the UK.