EcoGeek of the Week: Ron Pernick

Maybe my ears are just pointed in a very specific direction, but it seems rare when a day passes and I don't hear someone extolling the possibilities of clean technology. But it's not entirely clear what clean technology encompasses and how this very broad new category of technology is going to benefit our world in the coming decades.

I honestly don't know...but Ron Pernick does. Ron is the head of the leading clean tech research firm, Clean Edge. His experiences at Clean Edge working with experts from industries ranging from carbon composites to water filtration has made him a leading clean technology expert, and uniquely qualified to write a book entitled "The Clean Tech Revolution."
We're very happy to have Ron Pernick as our EcoGeek of the Week.

EcoGeek: The work that Clean Edge does seems extremely important, even though I don't really have any idea what you do there. Can you tell us about Clean Edge and your work?Ron Pernick: We do a lot of interesting things at Clean Edge to track and analyze the development of clean technologies. This includes our annual Clean-Tech Investor Summit which we coproduce with IBF; the NASDAQ Clean Edge U.S. index which is a benchmark index tracking U.S.-listed clean energy companies; the publishing of our web site at www.cleanedge.com and our monthly newsletter CLEANWATCH; and a range of research reports including our annual Clean Energy Trends series. We also provide clean-tech related consulting services to investment firms, corporations, start ups, governments, and foundations. Since 2001 our clients have included such organization as Sharp, California Energy Commission, the City of San Francisco, the Solar Catalyst Group, Nth Power, Solaria, Solaicx, Miasole, and the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund.

EG: How do you draw a box around clean tech? It seems to be a category that can includes facets of every industry. So what is clean tech, and how do you know what not to include?
RP: Biofuels are a great example of how you might apply a regional approach to clean-tech development. In fact, there's likely to be a battle in the marketplace between locally harvested and distilled fuels and biofuels produced in places like the Midwest or Brazil.

There's certainly a great opportunity for local biofuels production and it does make a lot of sense in some regions. A number of folks are looking at closed-loop systems in which you take the cow manure from a feedlot and gasify it to provide energy to a distillery. You then produce biofuels with locally harvested crops and you sell the biofuels to regional communities (say in a 100 mile radius) and you feed the distiller's grain (a coproduct of ethanol manufacturing) to the same cows whose poop is powering your plant. It's an elegant scenario and one that should be pursued.

But I'm a big supporter of both regional and global solutions. So I believe we're likely to see both taking shape simultaneously with markets and policies impacting how things play out. There's the old saying: "think globally, act locally." I'm of the belief that we should think globally and locally, and act in both.

EG: What scares your pants off?

RP: Well, like many people, I'm scared of major collapses — whether that happens from a technological meltdown like a nuclear accident, environmental destruction like climate change, or regional/global terrorism or war. Generally, though, I'm an optimist and don't like to dwell too much on a "sky is falling" mentality. I consider myself a pragmatic optimist -- which means I look for where there are problems and try to uncover solutions. I also always prefer diplomacy and open dialogue over unilateralism and radicalism.

Personally, I'm scared from the usual stuff — public speaking, car crashes, my own mortality, that sort of thing. But I try to be comfortable in my own skin and keep a smile on my face.

EG: The Clean Tech Revolution is an extremely hopeful book. If Climate Change gives you lemons...I suppose you should just, well, make 60 billion dollars a year. What keeps you hopeful in the face of the various apocalyptic crises we're facing?
RP: Perhaps it's genetic. Or how I was raised Two messages that I remember hearing clearly from my parents as a young child is that I could be anything I wanted to be (though I think they harbored hopes I'd be a doctor) and that it was alright to cry. Maybe these sweet messages somehow gave me my sunny disposition.

EG: I notice you use the word "Investment" in your subtitle. I'm taking that as an invitation to ask you what I should do with my billions of dollars after EcoGeek.org's IPO.
RP: Well, I assumed from your URL that you were a non profit — but I see that I was wrong. So in the event that you do cash out and join the ranks of billionaires — I recommend looking at your own web site for guidance on how to spend that wad of cash. I love what you say, that "Technology can be a force for evil, or for awesome." Hopefully you'll use your money to push the boundaries on "awesome."

EcoGeek of the Week is a syndicated column provided by EcoGeek.org. If you are interested in publishing this column, or participating in the series, please email our editor at editor@ecogeek.org.

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