Potentially disruptive innovations – like EVs – have often been around for a while

Posted on Posted in Low-carbon innovations, Topics

At the workshops we ran a year ago on disruptive low-carbon innovations, one of our keynote speakers, Kathryn Myronuk, made an interesting comment along the lines of: “I don’t get excited by the new stuff being invented, I’m interested in the stuff that’s been around for some time but is being combined in new ways with other stuff” (her actual words were far more eloquent). But the point is that lead times from invention to market are long, and disruptive innovations are often not technologically novel but rather are combinatorial (smartphone app + farmers’ market = digital food hubs, or auction house + social network = P2P exchange). With this in mind, it is salutary to realise that in 1900 in the US, one in every three cars was electric. In 1914, the titans of the emerging automotive and electrical industries – Henry Ford and Thomas Edison – were collaborating on developing electric vehicles (EVs). What happened is history: EVs were outmuscled by the internal combustion engine, and the fossil fuel and automotive industries were integral to the social, geopolitical, and technological histories of the twentieth century. The re-emergence of EVs now as a disruptive threat to these incumbent industries is much to do with the newly possible combination of vehicles, batteries, and digital technologies, as well as the changing patterns of urban mobility. Read more about the long history of EVs in this Clean Technica article.