If We Want Renewable Energy To Go Mainstream, We May Need Government To Enforce It

(Solar panel farm in China. Image from Carlos Barria/Reuters)

As much as China has succeeded in becoming an economic superpower (or soon to be one) by implementing communism/socialism economic philosophy and central planning, I’m still a person who believes in free market and capitalism to efficiently allocate our resources. Not that I don’t believe China’s experiment is a failure, but I believe in the long run, free market and capitalism is still superior than socialism. Hence government should stop intervening in private business and let the free market do its job. Not that I’m against employees, unions or regulation, it’s just that I believe free market will create a positive loop by unleashing human creativities and innovations to a much higher level and fulfil the need of the masses at the optimum price.

But I also understand that free market is not the cure or answer the for all the problems for all the time. It’s just like expecting Einstein to be a great painter as Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci just because he came up proposing the theory of relativity. Yes, Einstein was a genius but in physics, not art.


Reducing Cars In Cities


(Central Pontevedra after the implementation of banning cars in the city. Image by Luis Pereiro Gomez/The Guardian)

To combat the environmental issues, several governments has started to to regulate motorised vehicles (especially the one runs on carbon-based) from roaming freely in their cities. This include several measures limiting the number of vehicles allowed to a total ban by certain date.


Total Ban

(Central Oslo. Image by John Christian Fjellestad/Wikipedia)

Although Norway has announced a country-wide ban of cars will take effect on 2025, its capital Oslo has decided to impose the ban in 2019 – six years earlier. Oslo will  invest in public transportation (not sure their take on ride-sharing though) and convert around 30 miles currently dominated by motorised vehicles to bike lanes.

(Calle de Alcalá, Madrid. Image by Fermín Rodríguez Fajardo/Wikipedia)

As for Madrid, Spain they decided to up their game a bit. OK not a bit. More like 500 acres. 500-acres of car-free area by 2020 and redesign 24 of their busiest street to cater human being rather than their cars. Oh and the most polluting vehicles? Prepare more moolah for parking fares. That is if you can enter the city at all and find the parking space. And for non-resident vehicles? Don’t even bother to enter. The city council already imposed a rule to ban them since November 2015.


New Cities Designed To Cater People Instead of Vehicles

(Concept image of new city in Chengdu, China. Image by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture)

A new city in Chengdu, China is designed so that you can continue your civilised and day-to-day chores by walking not more than 15 minutes (big yay for me because I love to walk, but too bad for me because I don’t live in Chengdu). Although not completely banning cars (make sense since China needs as much market as possible for their local, state-supported vehicle companies like BYD), the city was designed to cater only half of its areas for vehicles.

Sounds like a ‘win-win situation’ for me. Although I’m not really sure how long the win would be. But better something than nothing.


No-car Areas in Part of Cities

(Paris. Image by zinneke/Wikipedia)

As for Paris, since they already see a massive 30% pollution by banning vehicle with even-numbered plates in 2014, they have decided to extend it to discourage cars from its city centre. An as July 2016, they already imposed a regulation that ban vehicles made before 1997 from entering the city during weekdays (it’s a fair game on weekend). And they will ban diesel cars too.

Too bad if you want to try your hand on another Paris-Moscow-Beijing rally using Toyota Land Cruiser.


Congestion Tax

(City of London. Image by Kosala Bandara/Flickr)

When all other alternatives might not give you the best results, you can always use the last weapon that’s only owned by government.

Tax them.

Take London for example. Although they planned to ban diesel cars by 2020, they already discourage them in some areas by imposing a ‘congestion tax’ for those diesel cars that enter during peak hours. And Britain itself will ban all diesel and gas-powered vehicles by 2040.

While the measures are not panacea for preserving our environment, it’s still better than letting current condition in ‘business-as-usual’ mode. But with challenges like stated above, the likes of Ford, GM and Toyota not only has to take into consideration whether or not their cars are environmentally-friendly, but also their future business models where their products might even be banned totally in several parts of the world. But just like with the rise of automation that displaced human, the rise in regulations could also wiped several billions of market value of vehicle manufacturers, and might even displaced some of them.

But what the non-moving objects? Something even closer to us, the mere mortals. What about the buildings that is our homes, offices, schools, shopping malls and other social activities? What should we do about it? Don’t tell me that government need to demolish few thousand buildings just because it’s not environmentally friendly. Taking vehicles out of picture is one thing and a challenge of its own. Taking out buildings that are not really environmentally-really? That’s already a challenge at another level.


Regulations That Favour Environment-friendly Real-estate Development


As I mentioned earlier, I’m a big fan of free market and capitalism, although stop short from joining the bandwagon of people who loves to proclaim that ‘government is not a solution, government is the problem’. After all, with all the known issues of special interest groups, lobbyists and big corporate enterprises, some may say government becomes a problem because of the free market itself.

Or what others called it ‘pay to play’. Feel free to browse how many lobbyists we have in Washington and see who their clients are.

Having said that, if we want to make sustainable energy or living as mainstream, we may need government to regulate or enforce sustainable resources in the sector that currently left with little or no attention at all which is the real-estate or property development.


Renewable and Sustainable In New Development

(Apple’s ‘spaceship’ campus. Image from Matthew Roberts/YouTube)

Not many companies has more than $200 billions in cash or cash-equivalent in their pocket, so Apple is free to spend their humongous boatload of money on their latest spaceship campus (Cost? ‘Only’ around $5 billion), which is operating entirely on renewable energy. It was reported that it was designed for up to maximum of fourth floor only, thus reducing the need of elevators. As for Facebook, they have committed to use only sustainable energy by 2020. And Google announced it has reached 100% renewable energy early this year.

But what about those who has less than several billions in their piggy bank?

Government could impose a regulation that sustainable resources should be mandatory in new property development in i.e 10 years time. Although this may create hassle in the beginning (as with other newly-imposed regulations), it will create a fresh wave of moving towards sustainable resources. With moving in a large scale, enterprises could enjoy the benefits of economies of scale where it is profitable for solar panel companies to manufacture them in larger quantities. Real-estate companies also enjoys the benefits of having lower costs of buying solar panels, and even better if and when new solar panel companies or startups joining as well to take the slice of market pie.

With more new buildings developed using sustainable technologies, it should only becomes better when they learned from each other what’s work and what’s not.

For the development of already-approved-but-yet-to-develop, government could impose a rule that require it to be sustainable energy-ready in i.e 5 years time. This is to allow developer and the building owner to make some modifications and let the building runs without hindering its current progress or development.


Modification & Changes In Existing Development


(The Gate Heliopolis. Image from Vincent Callebaut Architects)

Regulations could also be imposed to ensure that existing property development should be retrofitted within few years i.e not more than 10 years to support renewable energy. But we must face the fact that this should also come with proper arrangement so that building owner and its occupants won’t be too much burdened by the new regulation. Proper consideration like building’s location (what’s the point of having solar panels if that particular building is under the shade of another higher building?) and  maximum strength that it can support i.e solar panels and energy storage (nobody wants another Sampoong disaster) should be looked into so that we won’t be in a situation where excessive regulations leads to a disaster.


Regulations To The Rescue

Nobody (except maybe those in government themselves) wants more regulations, as it will increase the cost of compliance and possibly slows down any existing development. But if want want to wean ourselves from foreign parties that do not take our interests as priorities, we are left with no choice but to move towards an energy independence future. Just like during financial crisis in 2008, government needs to interfere free market to save free market itself. Because nobody is perfect, not even a free market itself or government. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nation wasn’t downloaded from heaven, and neither as government’s constitution.

Instead of looking at free-market and government as two opposing parties, let’s look at them as a life that’s keeping a close look at each other and ready to call each other out. And just like a life partner in real life, if one of them screwed up, the other will be affected as well.

So it’s time to put down the swords and start working with each other.


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