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Tesla’s Powerwall: sustainable or not?

Industries July 10th, 2015, Vincent Champain & Vincent Schächter / COO France, General Electric & Vice-President R&D, Total New Energies

Tesla's PowerWall is the first mass-produced individual electric storage solution to hit the market. But does it offer any true ecological benefit? Is it cost-effective enough to be sustainable? Two specialists discuss these issues.

The proven limits of individual efforts and the difficulty of managing collective dynamics make energy transition an extremely challenging task when approached through consumption. Fortunately, technologies can change the game: smart consumption is on the rise. But whose smartness is it: machines', electricity suppliers', or ours?

As noted in a previous article, the very notion of a responsible consumer faces certain limits. The truth is, significant changes in the energy mix cannot be achieved through the goodwill (or conversely, the guilty conscience) of individuals. Does that leave us with no other choice than following decisions from above or waiting for technological solutions from daring entrepreneurs like Elon Musk? If we wish a new, more sober way of life to emerge, we should also trust social imagination, based on the dynamics of sharing and pooling.

Who exactly will be the actors of a coming energy transition? Industry and the major power operators will naturally, of course, be prime contributors but the end-consumers themselves will also have a role to play. The question is: can the latter really tip the balance?

It is a paradox: despite huge oil reserves supporting their wealth, Norwegians have become, in a few years, the first users of electric vehicles. These represent 18% of new registrations since the beginning of 2015! The key to this unprecedented growth, nowhere else to be found, is their convincing policy of incentives... so convincing, in fact, that its designers have been overwhelmed by its success: the model is bound to evolve.

In February Elon Musk boldly predicted Tesla motors would go where no car company has ever gone before, to a $700 billion market valuation by 2025. To put that in perspective, Apple became the most valuable company in history when it reached a $700 billion market valuation in November 2014. Compared to the automobile industry, $700 billion dwarfs the market value of the five biggest public automobile companies. Together, Toyota, Volkswagen, BMW, Ford and Honda have a market cap of just $522 billion. Is Elon Musk crazy? Or is he planning something only he can see?

Energy transition Series – Will renewable energy sources soon be profitable?

Industries April 24th, 2015, Michel Cruciani / Program Manager, Centre of Geopolitics of Energy and Raw Materials (CGEMP, University Paris-Dauphine)

Wind turbine and solar power sources now represent a significant fraction in the electricity generation mix of industrialized countries. How did they achieve such a breakthrough successfully? European countries use differing models, which all show their limits, for transition from a subsidy-intensive economy to a market-driven logic is complex. The question remains: will renewable energy sources soon be proven profitable?

ParisTech Review has a passion for alternative and disruptive economic models, those that may shape tomorrow's economy. Here are seven articles, published between 2011 and today, presenting seven major innovative models.

The circular economy, front-stage soon?

Business November 12th, 2014, Yves Legrain / Researcher, former member of France's Economical, Social and Environmental Council

In industrial spheres, the trend towards circular economy is drawing increasing closer attention. Some companies have identified in the recycling business an opportunity to develop new activities, while others see eco-design as a means to raise profit margins, while yet others see a way to re-think their corporate organization. Corporate image is part of the changing scene, but the circular economy concept is now a real industrial concern. Nonetheless, a lot remains to be done to make it fully operational. The challenge is now to see the concept reach maturity.

There is a merciless war ongoing now in companies round the world to reduce production costs. Some have a major advantage when they can display improved energy efficiency of their commercial vans and trucks. The energy efficiency factor is now increasingly integrated in the augmented performance assessment that the brands emphasize for their shareholders, their customers, their suppliers, analysts and notation agencies. Some companies have moved faster than others to fight energy waste. The USA, with its huge, continental dimensions, lends itself well to energy scales of economy. Major transport companies, such as UPS or FedEx, are making remarkable progress, but the prime interest goes to the distributor Wal-Mart Stores Inc. On several occasions, President Obama singled out Wal-Mart as a model in terms of energy savings.

Did you know that in Denmark, thirty plants consuming a yearly 3.5 million tons of waste cover 5% of domestic electricity demand and 20% of heat? The production of energy through waste recovery and recycling is booming. But so diverse are the technologies that a closer look is needed to assess the potential of the celebrated urban mine.

Sustainable development: can functional economy fit square pegs in round holes?

Business May 28th, 2013, Yoann Sidoli / Ph. D. candidate in sociology, SENSE laboratory of Orange Labs / University of Nice Sophia Antipolis

Economists, as well as companies, increasingly care about the ecologic crisis. Various approaches are emerging that all strive to reduce the environmental impacts of the production and consumption of manufactured goods. Among them, functional economy belongs to the powerful trend of servitization of products. It triggers three dramatic mutations, regarding value estimation, ownership and the relation to time.

Tomorrow, urban wastewater treatment plants will be more than just decontamination factories. They will also produce a wide scope of resources, from water reused for human needs to green energy, bioplastics or even mineral components. Wastewater treatment will be a key issue in the development of a green economy: researchers will be able to combine biotechnologies, biochemistry and microbiology with chemical engineering and applied mathematics.

The German photovoltaic industry is in chaos. Overwhelmed by the boom of solar home systems, the government has had to brutally halt subsidies whose costs were threatening to… go through the roof. Caught between Chinese competition and the falling price of solar panels, several of the flagships of this young industry are now on the brink of bankruptcy. After having enjoyed a heyday of several years, the sector suddenly has to adjust to new conditions. And, if it hopes to recover, must adapt.

With such a range of possibilities, wherein lies the best approach to the goal of reducing global CO2 emissions? Might shifting perspectives on both lifestyle and technology come to be seen less as a constraint and more as the key to ever greater progress? The response to the current challenge depends as much on the emergence of disruptive innovation as on fresh perspectives toward current modes of energy production and consumption.

Bottling the Wind

Industries January 23rd, 2012, ParisTech Review / Editors

The green energy boom has opened up cracks in the electricity sector to force to the surface problems which until recently were of only marginal interest. Wind power in particular has provoked forceful debates. Among the subplots are questions over how to manage intermittency. The result is a multiplicity of paths to innovation, one of which leads directly to electricity storage.

Green chemistry’s industrial strategies

Industries December 23rd, 2011, Pascal Juery / Group Executive Vice-President, Rhodia

It's been less than fifteen years since the issue of green chemistry has become a matter of public debate, yet it now seems to prove strategic for that industry. Far from being a mere compliance with standards dictated by regulations, this is a matter of strong industrial choices - choices by no means limited to developing new processes, but truly involving a major overhaul of the chemistry industry.

Moving towards industrial ecology

Business December 21st, 2011, François Grosse / Special Advisor to the COO, Veolia Environnement

To build a sustainable economy, consuming fewer natural resources, we need to think in terms of growth, not otherwise. The issue of sustainability should be tackled in a dynamic way. By setting a new model for the lifecycle of materials, we can project what the future's economic model could look like.

Micro-algae are driving a small technological revolution. Their cultivation marks a new era in the production of biofuels, reinventing industrial processes as well as economic models. In the United States and Europe, several projects are now moving from an experimenting phase to actual operation.

Smart grids: less carbon, more intelligent networks

Industries July 7th, 2011, Bernard Delpech / EDF Group R&D COO in charge of Networks, Trading and Renewable Energy

Power grids have long been constructed with a built-in intelligence. So why is so much noise being made over the arrival of so-called "smart grids"? Are we witnessing a real revolution? The potential for a massive shake-up is clear, one that could have an impact on power utilities, regulators, manufacturers, network managers, and consumers for many years to come.

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