Gareth Huw Davies

Environment Blog / Green Technology

Tony Blair backs technology to solve eco problems

Tony Blair - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2005
Creative Commons License photo credit: World Economic Forum

Now there’s a name I didn’t expect to see,  promoting hard from the heart of business for technological solutions to our environmental problems. Tony Blair, former UK Prime Minister.

Blair happens to be,  his many roles in the world,  a senior adviser to US venture company Khosla Ventures.

Khosla is backing Cogenra Solar, which is developed a new rooftop solar energy system  combining solar water heating with solar PV panels. This dual energy gathering system  enables it to convert  an enormous 80 percent of captured solar energy into usable energy.

Blair made a surprise appearance  at the company’s headquarters in California last week (November  25, 2010) for the unveiling of the clean tech startup Cogenra’s installation at the Sonoma Wine Company. Khosla Ventures has invested at least $10.5 million in Cogenra Solar.

He told  Mike Isaac of Forbes  (“Economics no environmentalists  will save the World”): “I’m convinced that developing technological solutions is the key to dealing with environmental issues, but you’ve got to make business a part of any endeavor like this. We will not succeed unless we have it as our ally.”

Cogenra certainly has some exciting technology to trumpet. It claims that solar cogeneration – a process that captures energy from the sun and converts it into both electricity and hot water, integrating two existing methods of solar conversion –  can produce up to 5 times more renewable energy and twice the economic value of an equivalently sized PV (or photovoltaic) system, as Isaac reports in his article.

“This is more cost-effective than almost anything you’ve heard of in solar,” Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla, Is reported to have said.(Currently the big players in  solar, SunPower, First Solar and Sharp  are driving an  industry that relies predominantly on PV technology rather than a PV/hot water hybrid.)

“You can either be incredibly politically courageous and tell your people they’ve got to cut their consumption,” Blair told the interviewer, “ and what’s more be prepared to say to China or India and all these developing nations ‘actually, you can’t grow.’ That’s one choice.

“The alternative,” Blair continued, “is that you can set a framework in which business industry is going to be incentivized to find the solutions of the future,” said to be both Khosla’s vision and Cogenra’s growth strategy. ”What irritates me sometimes,” said Blair, “is when people say that politicians lack the courage to do something like the former position. You can’t ask them to do something that their people just won’t accept.”

Blair summed up Cogenra’s business strategy reasoning: “People will not accept solutions to these things which mean that we can’t enjoy the benefits of modern living.

“And that is the key to unlocking the support of the people as well. People are very happy and prepared to use clean technology. But not if you tell them to do something that’s unrealistic for their life.”

The solar cogeneration array includes silicon PV cells, concentrating mirrors that track the sun and a solar thermal transfer system that captures what would be waste heat from a PV array and turns it into hot water.

The system  appears to utilise existing technologies, but combines them in a way that makes them more effective and beneficial.

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