A New Look at Water Power
One of the interesting side effects of last year’s stimulus bill was $400 million in funding for ARPA-E, the civilian, energy-focused cousin of DARPA. And in this week’s first ever ARPA-E conference, MIT chemist Dan Nocera showed how well he put that stimulus money to use by highlighting his new photosynthetic process. Using a special catalyst, the process splits water into oxygen and hydrogen fuel efficiently enough to power a home using only sunlight and a bottle of water.
I’ll even give the government credit for funding scientific research (although I’d argue that the prospect of owning such a technology would be very attractive to private investors). Regarding the relevance of “stimulus,” I’d imagine that the net number of jobs in the economy would decrease if energy could be harvested in such a way.
The bigger consideration, though, is that this sort of breakthrough stands as evidence against investing a state’s entire economy on a particular industry, like wind and wave power, for instance. Government operatives are not well suited to predict the market (if they were, they wouldn’t be government operatives), and even putting aside state-to-state competition for industry leadership, aligning local policies and taxation with a particular technology leaves substantial risk that the another region will win the roll of the innovation dice.