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When Innovation Fails

We are too quick to chase wild and crazy innovation and too slow to implement obvious, practical ideas

2 min read
When Innovation Fails
Photo-illustration: Sean McCabe

Modern societies are obsessed with innovation. In June 2015, Google searches returned 389 million hits for “innovation,” easily beating “terrorism” (92 million), “economic growth” (91 million), and “global warming” (58 million). We are to believe that innovation will open every conceivable door: to life expectancies far beyond 100 years, to the merging of human and machine consciousness, to essentially free solar energy.

This uncritical genuflection before the altar of innovation is wrong on two counts: It ignores those big, fundamental quests that have failed after spending huge sums on research. And it has little to say about why we so often stick to an inferior practice even when we know there’s a superior course of action.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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