Today sees the publication of “The Green Bubble” by Per Wimmer - a witty, friendly, clever entrepreneur and money maker whom I’ve met a few times at investment conferences.
In the not too distant future, you’ll be able to wave at him as he passes overhead in one of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spacecraft!
He asked me to review his book, and it was no chore at all. A really engaging read, despite being packed with detail. I’d go as far as to say it’s a pretty balanced and insightful primer into the economics of almost all forms of energy production - from fossil to fusion - in electricity and transport.
He even convinced me that nuclear fission has to play a part in electricity generation in many countries for a while to come.
He’d be much more bullish about that technology than me - but arrives at that conclusion having investigated, and often funded, alternative and renewable energy research.
For me, it’s the human factor which makes nuclear fission using uranium a technology that we’ll want to bypass as soon as other means of generation come to maturity.
That human factor rears its head in many forms…
We design and build reactors in strange locations without protecting the plant from, say, inundation (Fukushima), turn off safety systems to see what happens (Chernobyl), and misread events when things start going wrong (Three Mile Island).
It was, I must admit, exciting commentating for the radio on events unfolding at Fukushima, watching TV pictures showing, live, fresh belches of radioactive steam emerging from the Daiichi plant.
I must also admit it was terrifying.
The biggest human factor comes into play after a rare accident occurs…
It’s arguable that the number of deaths directly from radiation leakage is relatively tiny. And dwarfed by the number of deaths caused by, say, burning coal in power stations.
The greater cost comes from cleaning up after an accident, putting land and villages out of limits for decades, and fear… Can I eat this fish? Can I travel to that city?
So why not invest the massive building costs of nuclear power stations into alternative, green generation?
The biggest insights from this book come from looking at just that.
And reveals the problem through the sheer number of technologies that Per Wimmer has had to examine. There are so many ideas out there. Wave power? Sure. But which of the dozen technologies in that area should you back?
Many have been funded. Some have been blind alleys. Some funds have been too little to progress schemes beyond a lab model. Some ideas are even sabotaged by rivals or market conditions or fashion.
Per points out the big danger of speculation - and leverage (borrowing lots of other people’s money to invest in something, rather than risk your own) - leading to excess investment in particular areas and a lot of green tech generally. Hence the title : the Green Bubble.
Misguided political ambition and ill thought-through regulation compounds this process… It took two years for biodiesel to go from seeming a great way of fuelling transport to seeming a waste of food, land and subsidy.
And yet such flaws in this green crusade are concealed, because of a religious-like zeal for anything deemed renewable. We’ll find out where exactly all those flaws are when the bubble(s) burst… And when our factories, hospitals and homes are dark and cold.
How to get the book from the UK
How to get the book from the USA