Jiva Technology

Ideas needed .. quickly.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in conjunction with UK in a Changing Europe, a think-tank drawing on academic research to look at the UK-EU relationship, have been taking a closer look at the issues that drove voters to choose Leave in the 2016 EU referendum.

Setting aside the politics and sometimes angry debate that goes with those politics, the picture that emerges is reasonably clear. The report identifies five key issues, but also asks participants to suggest solutions to the problems they see.

Of the four suggested solutions, 2 relate to skills and training. What is becoming evident is that whilst the UK has invested heavily in the provision of tertiary education, not everyone wants to go to university and for those people who choose not to, skills training is thin on the ground. Its even worse when you consider low-paid workers who want to gain skills or retrain as a way of moving up the pay scale.

Making it hard to acquire new skills away from university is hard, not only on those directly affected, but on the economy in general. As we’ve said before, technology and demographics mean that people will need to train and retrain multiple times in a working life. Skills obsolescence will become the norm not the exception.

Solutions to these problems are needed and they’re needed quickly before the political frustrations that have surfaced across Europe turn into something ugly. Deploying solutions quickly means using technology, because bricks and mortar solutions won’t move quickly enough to solve the problem. That most likely means an EdTech solution to at least some of the problems. Not everything can be delivered over the internet, particularly when it comes to practical skills, but a blended approach, along the lines of certain Swiss DUAL-T model, goes at least some way to show the problem is being addressed.

Where do the smart ones go?

Take a step back and take a deep breath and you can start to see some pretty significant new technologies beginning to emerge. And when I say significant, I don’t mean a new social media platform or a new VR-Based game. I mean technology that’s good for all of us: green tech.

By happy coincidence, something is also happening in a very important part of the workplace. For the best and brightest, a slot at a big bank or a major consultancy used to be the natural gig. You could argue that it was rational for them; it was a “follow the money” strategy, but increasingly it’s not only not cool, but it’s not where the excitement or the money is. Its in new ideas and new technologies. And many of those ideas and technologies are in green tech; what will be the biggest show in town

Much has been made of the UK grid running on zero coal power for multiple weeks this year, but not much attention was paid when the UK was running primarily on wind power last weekend. At several points, wind made up over 1/3 of grid energy and zero-carbon energy sources contributed more than 1/2 of the electricity supply. Its a remarkable turnaround from only a few years ago.

What is also zero is the mass media reporting of another critical piece of green infrastructure: large-scale storage of energy from renewables. As has been well-documented, wind energy in particular doesn’t generate electrons when they’re needed the most, so you need a way of time-shifting supply, otherwise known as storage. A range of technologies, from battery to compressed air have been proposed, but the UK is about to engage in a large scale trial of these promising technologies. Renewables plus storage could transform the UK electricity grid from large scale carbon dependency to large scale wind dependency. Throw in the appearance of solid state batteries for transport in the next 5 years and you will see a huge tipping point away from carbon emitting transport toward clean energy driven cars, trucks and buses. It will be nothing short of transformational. And it will represent the biggest business opportunity in a generation … did I mention that?

Once the world of transport makes the decisive shift away from burning fossil fuels, its not hard to imagine that other sources of carbon-emission will come under the spotlight, from the heating of homes to construction materials. A domino effect is likely to take place as social norms shift to a point where carbon emission is seen as just “not done”. Most commentators think it will be decades before this occurs, but I have a sneaking suspicion that social pressure will move things at a faster pace. Who wants to turn up at the school gate in a diesel SUV when everyone else drives electric?

When a whole sequence of technologies – the pieces of the puzzle – move forward at different rates it can be hard to make sense of the rate of progress or what the final picture will look like, but what’s absolutely certain is that the technologies are advancing quickly and when they arrive, demand will be there. Its not before time, but equally its exciting. Amongst the doom surrounding climate change, its important not to forget that.


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