07/11/2014 01:29 pm ET Updated Sep 10, 2014

Peripheral Vision: Climate Change and Global Development in the 21st Century (Pt. I)


  • Global warming poses an existential threat to life on Earth. This existential threat challenges our capabilities and calls into question the viability and effectiveness of mechanically conceived grid maintenance options.
  • Solar Roadways' smashing crowdfunding campaign success provides a terrific opportunity to assess the current state of business crowdfunding in relation to the future of solar power.
  • Distributed investing and distributed electricity are part of a "grid revolution" that may structurally shift financial and political power globally from the 1 Percent to the 99 Percent and from the Core to the Periphery.
  • The distributed grid paradigm echoes current philosophical, engineering and economic models grounded in an ecological metaphor that values species diversity, small-scale experimentation, and distributed risk and parcelized decision-making.
The Cracking of the Global Grid
With its Indiegogo campaign winding down, folksy technology startup Solar Roadways has raised well north of $2 million from 48,000 funders, released a YouTube video that has received more than 16 million views, and for the moment can proudly boast of being the third most funded project in the history of Indiegogo.

Solar roads are likely not the first-best option, nor perhaps even the 10th-best option, for widespread capture of solar energy. Nonetheless, Solar Roadways' smashing campaign provides a terrific opportunity to assess the current state of business crowdfunding in relation to the future of solar power, what we will call sunfunding. The connections between crowdfunding and sunfunding exist. They matter. And they may surprise you. Let's roll the tape.

Crowdfunding has grown approximately 80 percent year over year since 2009, a pace expected to continue for the foreseeable future. In 2014, global crowdfunding projections approach $10 billion, a 20-fold increase from the $500 million raised in crowdfunding campaigns in 2009. If trend lines persist, in 2020, crowdfunding will deliver $500 billion in seed capital to nearly 10 million projects, in the form of donation, reward, lending, and equity-based investments -- generating millions of new jobs and more than $3 trillion in new revenue.

Sunfunding also has mushroomed. In 2013, solar power installations in the United States exceeded 4.5 gigawatts, a more than five-fold increase from installations in 2010. Because solar still only contributes less than 0.5 percent of electric power nationwide, the industry can assume a blue-sky future for years to come, with installation trend lines indicating potential capacity installation of 225 gigawatts in 2020, enough capacity in that single year to power nearly 40 million American homes.

Indeed, solar installations in the U.S. have rocketed so rapidly toward grid pricing parity with coal that analysts now predict utilities will construct few, if any, coal-fired power plants going forward. In the more optimistic of its future-oriented Scenarios, energy company Shell estimates that solar PV could account for 20 percent of global energy by 2060 and nearly 40 percent of the total by the end of the 21st century.

With remarkably aligned annualized growth rates of 75-80 percent, crowdfunding and sunfunding trends, depicted graphically, resemble nothing so much as the trajectory of space vehicles obtaining escape velocity from the earth's atmosphere. But for those with boots on the ground, the impact of these trends more likely resembles displacement associated with the cracking of tectonic plates. Or perhaps more aptly, the cracking of the global grid.


In Part Two of this essay, we will consider some of the more radical implications of crowdfunding. In particular, we will spotlight the emergence of an "acceleration ecology" based on principles of self-assembly that guarantee organic, "hive mind" solutions will always outpace traditional, "command and control" grid options.