, , , ,

Nanotechnology: Broadband, Renewable Energy, Long Tail

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Professor Lessig wrote an interesting article in Wired commenting on municipal broadband initiative:

Yes. There isn't yet a Linus Torvalds of broadband, nor is a single competitive platform being built by volunteers to displace AT&T. But there are forces mucking up the game for those who would profit most from last-mile control.

The core of this resistance comes from municipalities. Local governments are building neutral infrastructures that allow anyone, from ISPs to community networks, to use and extend blisteringly fast broadband networks. At the end of its first year, a project in Sandoval County, New Mexico, for example, already provides many in the area with more than 10 times the capacity than anywhere else in the US.

And municipal networks are just a first step. Many Linux-style volunteers are building free wireless networks that enable participants to share access and offer capacity to others. These volunteers are also building free protocols that enable legal access without shifting control to a last-mile access provider.

What can Nanotechnology can contribute to broadbands? Cheaper cables, cheaper routers, cheaper, faster, better connections. Similar to broadband, nanotech may contribute significantly to the energy market: cheaper, high capacity high quality solar cells. What effects will this brings to the future regulations?

As for the energy market, the network still belong to the giants. But this will soon changes as nanotech makes it easy for anyone to provide energy:
MIT's Vladimir Bulovic said that nanotechnologies such as nanodots and nanorods are potentially "disruptive" technologies in the solar field. That means they could cause a major switch in a primary energy source, potentially proving more efficient than the silicon used in most solar energy devices today. Bulovic is fabricating quantum dot photovoltaics using a microcontact printing process.

"If 2 percent of the continental United States were covered with photovoltaic systems with a net efficiency of 10 percent, we would be able to supply all the U.S. energy needs," said Bulovic, the KDD Associate Professor of Communications and Technology in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
Thus, nanotech will trigger a long tail effect in the energy market: everyone can supply energy,mostly through solar cells. This is not good for the giants of course, but this does not mean that they'll lose their business. Like Microsoft's response to Linux and open access, they only need to change their business model. One of the possible business model is to become an energy aggregator. As to my knowledge, a scheme similar to this one has been applied in Germany for wind-energy electricity providers. The government there supports independent green energy production and provide mechanism for energy providers to sell their surplus to the authorities. Nanotech will only make the pattern and the tail longer. Nanosolar, a solar cell company called this the third wave of solar energy as it will open mankind to the era of abundant energy.

What the legal people need to consider is how to adjust the regulation to this phenomenon; how to adjust the regulation to support the long tail. Unbundling of energy market will still be a hot debate for the next decade.