The future of our environment, economy and health all depend on clean energy technology. Fossil fuels dominate the energy landscape, and these finite resources indisputably contribute to climate change. And despite the eminent and costly dangers of climate change, American attitudes toward solutions don’t reflect the urgency of our current situation.
A recent Gallup poll indicates that while people have traditionally concerned themselves with environmental crises that threaten their immediate health and wellbeing, such as clean air and water, the long-term impacts of climate change are perceived as too abstract to interrupt daily lives.
Luckily, not everyone shares this apathy. As the need for new, innovative energy solutions has become more pressing, youth have sounded a rallying cry to disrupt the stagnant energy landscape and produce fresh solutions. Individuals and organizations across the nation are working to connect and empower a new generation of innovators who are finding their footing alongside startups and experimental endeavors. Clean Energy Trust in Chicago has become their biggest fan and supporter.
After all, clean technology innovation is happening not just in Silicon Valley, but also on college campuses and in the living rooms of recent grads across the country. Witness three examples from Chicago — AMPY, SiNode Systems, and NuMat Technologies. All three companies spun out of Northwestern University and were started by graduate students. AMPY, a 1776 Challenge Festival competitor in 2014, developed a mobile charger that harnesses human energy generated by walking and running. SiNode has made it possible for battery chemistry to last longer and charge faster. NuMat is making the storage of gases more energy efficient and secure. Supporting these ventures is the Clean Energy Trust. We recognize the power of ingenuity and creativity being employed by Millennials, and our goal is to give them the resources to grow their companies.
There is growing concern, however, that decisions made by policy makers are not in the best, long-term interest of America’s energy and environmental needs. The politics of clean energy are highly polarized, and private sector allegiances shed light on the motivation—or lack thereof—for advancing promising solutions. The Center for American Progress calculated that in the 2014 Midterm election cycle alone more than $721 million was spent by coal, oil and gas companies and electric utilities on lobbying, campaign contributions and political advertising. When such a significant portion of candidates’ campaign funding comes with an expressed interest in preserving fossil fuel industries and stalling clean energy implementation, we must question who our elected officials truly represent. Similarly, there is a disturbing dissonance between the scientific community that overwhelmingly warns of the causes and long-term tragic effects of climate change and politicians owing allegiance to corporations who benefit from climate denial.
Utility companies and the fossil fuel industry have the infrastructure and experience to shift toward renewables. They’re aware that their resources are finite—and they know it’s in our collective best interest to invest in clean energy solutions. Rather than spending to maintain decaying power plants and dwindling resources, we should demand that our elected officials support policies to modernize an old, outdated system, in order to encourage the expanded use of renewable resources, require greater energy efficiency and open new job markets in clean tech. Millennials are not only ready to fill those jobs; they’re helping create them.
New technology is seen as disruptive to traditional energy sectors, and the success of clean energy depends on dynamic solutions. There are sparks of individual innovation flaring up in cities throughout the country in Boston, Detroit, Boulder, Austin, and San Diego. Peer organizations to Clean Energy Trust in those cities are connecting with each other to create a network that supports young, independent inventors and opens pathways to resources crucial to catalyzing clean energy innovation.
Clean Energy Trust is building a platform that empowers the most promising solutions for the future of clean tech. Our mission is to capture the seeds of innovation growing throughout the Midwest and fertilize them into solutions that can be scaled up and delivered around the world. We do that with funding, technical support and advocacy.
The Midwest is home to a diverse group of inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs that share a passion for creating products that will have a positive impact on our world. On April 14, we will showcase the best new clean energy ideas from across the region at the Clean Energy Challenge in Chicago. We are blessed to have the support of dozens of sponsors including corporations, individuals, investors, foundations, the U.S. Department of Energy and the State of Illinois. With their help, we will award $1 million to the most promising companies that day. We know that investing in clean energy now is an insurance policy for our future. Come join us.
Written in collaboration with Jamie Redmond @jamesonredmond