Making a Difference One Watt at a Time

The conservation movement not only saves energy--it could make the world a much safer place to live.

Green is good. No argument there. But could environmentalism actually contribute to world peace?

Thomas Friedman thinks so. A foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times who has written several books on the Middle East, Friedman believes energy independence is the ultimate strategic weapon on the global stage, because if the United States didn't rely as much on oil from countries with unstable or unfriendly governments, the country would be less likely to go to war with them in the future to protect its oil interests.

Friedman says weaning the U.S. economy from its dependence on foreign oil by developing new energy alternatives would require a government-sponsored program on the scale of NASA's Apollo mission to the moon. But he believes energy independence is a mammoth but achievable goal, because of existing green technology and the new alternative fuel sources that could be invented with enough funding and incentives.

In a recent New York Times article, he writes, “One day Iraq, our post 9/11 trauma and the divisiveness of the Bush years will all be behind us — and America will need, and want to get its groove back. We will need to find a way to reknit America at home, reconnect Americans abroad and restore America to its natural place in the global order — as a beacon of progress, hope and inspiration. I have an idea. It's called ‘green.’”

As I play out Friedman's idea in my mind, I keep asking myself, “Why not?” He is thinking of the big picture: world peace and energy independence. It might seem like a stretch to include the electrical market in his vision for world peace. But it must start somewhere.

Why not here? EW's readers already have a vested interest because of all the energy-saving products they sell. In the future, this market segment will be an even more important part of their businesses. Along with T5 fluorescent lamps, electronic ballasts, dimming systems variable-speed drives and other energy-saving products, there are some “over-the-next-hill” products that one day may save even more energy.

For instance, the article “Green Biz,” (page 33) introduces EW's readers to “crowd farms,” a concept being researched by two students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their idea is to take the mechanical energy generated by crowds anywhere — on city streets, in shopping malls and sports arenas and even on dance floors — and convert that energy into electricity.

Another game-changing idea now under development in the labs at GE is light-emitting wallpaper that uses organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) to light up homes and businesses. A description of the technology on says, “What if the light bulb of the future wasn't a bulb at all? That's what scientists at GE Global Research are betting on in the Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) program. Their goal? Roll-to-roll sheets of paper-thin flexible plastic that provide an entirely new way to light your home or business. Imagine wallpaper that lights up. Thinking outside the ‘light bulb,’ GE scientists are making great progress with OLEDs, to develop a whole new and efficient way to light homes and businesses.”

The cost to install or develop energy-efficient products isn't necessarily a barrier. More money than ever is available to the building owners that invest in energy-efficient buildings and to fund manufacturers' research and development. Dozens of utility-rebate programs exist, as do tax incentives for the installation of energy-efficient building systems. Investors have proved their willingness to invest in alternative-energy stocks. While he has tempered his enthusiasm for solar stocks in recent weeks, Jim Cramer, host of MSNBC's “Mad Money” show, sees alternative energy as a long-term growth area in the future.

Because so many of the products that distributors, reps and manufacturers sell can help save energy, the electrical market is directly wired into the success or failure of the green movement. Every company in our business can make a difference in the energy crusade, bulb-by-bulb and watt-by-watt.

TAGS: Green Market
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