‘We are going to invent because we have to’


Justin Hall-Tipping, Energy Entrepreneur

EXTRAORDINARY THINGS happen in the world only if we question the idea of what is normal. We need energy before everything else. Our resources are constrained but humans are consuming one-and- a-half times the planet’s worth. What was normal once is now unsustainable, so either we start cutting down or we innovate fast. The former seems less likely.

So what do we innovate? When I propose solar power, everybody automatically conjures solar panels. But what if solar wasn’t just solar panels? What if a scientist comes up with a paradigm-shifting technique? I do not know what it’ll be, but neither did Dr Fleming when he looked at the mould in a petri dish and found penicillin.

Let’s take an example. By altering the nature of carbon with nanotechnology, we’ve created things like a carbon film that can be sprayed onto a window to modulate the heat and light that enters, cutting our dependence on air-conditioning. Another film converts infrared radiation into visible light, allowing us to see at night. We hope to combine the two and make a window film that generates electricity. By breaking down this massive problem into a small, local issue, we’re no longer bound by the traditional ideas of energy generation, storage and transmission.

People didn’t think a mobile phone was possible until Motorola came out with the Star Tech Cell — just like the communicator on Star Trek. I was observing how many people in India have mobile phones, all the way up from the gardener. In 1927, a three-minute call from New York to London cost $75 and the entire network capacity was one call. Today, 80 percent of India has a telephone and 90 percent of that is wireless. Similarly, 10 years from now, it will be possible to get a nanotech film on the window of a poor Indian’s house.

Justin Hall-Tipping, Energy Entrepreneur
Justin Hall-Tipping, Energy Entrepreneur, Photo: Garima Jain

This might all sound like talk of the impossible, but everything seems like sci-fi till you hold it in your hand. We are going to invent because we have to.

As Told To Avalok Langer