“It’s a challenge to make infrastructure, as a topic, sexy, but i know these people can do it,” said this morning’s plenary session moderator Ray Suarez, senior correspondent for NewsHour.
The stimulating conversation (Suarez says he couldn’t get the scheduled panelists to stop talking backstage) included the following government and business leaders:
Kofi Annan, Former Secretary General, United Nations; President, Kofi Annan Foundation
John T. Chambers, Chairman and CEO, Cisco
Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO, Renault-Nissan Alliance
Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO, General Electric
Kristina Peterson, President, Gemini Solar Development Company; Vice President, Finance, Suntech America
Each of them had their own big idea about what they think is the biggest priority for infrastructure development. Kofi Annan wants to find a solution to water management. John Chambers wants to see the proliferation of broadband Internet to enable innovation, productivity and job creation. Jeffrey Immelt wants to see a systems-wide effort to improve infrastructure technology. Kristina Peterson wants to see solar energy become a mainstream source of power. And finally, Carlos Ghosn wants to solve global problems with low-cost, low-emission transportation.
Ghosn’s push to bring “zero-emission” electric cars to countries all over the world generated a particuarly lively discussion, and very much relevant to TheCityFix.
Considering the dramatically rising rates of car ownership around the world, especially in China, India and South America, “you have to go to zero emissions in order to sustain mobility,” the chairman and CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance said. “The only question is, are we ready now, or should we wait five more years until we have better technology, lower cost, etc.? We think the time is now.”
What’s needed is collaboration between the public and private sector, Ghosn continued. “We [i.e. business] can bring the technology, propose solutions, and then country by country, governments will select what they want for their own utilization.”
The technology that he proposes is the electric car — a niche product, for sure. And one that will rely on integrated solutions to clean the power grid and provide low-cost, convenient charging stations for consumers.
“If you make electricity out of coal or oil, the electric car is a gimmick, it is not serious,” Ghosn said. “Still, if you have have 100% of the grid powered by coal or oil, the electric car is still cleaner than a normal gasoline or diesel engine. It emits just 15% more than best hybrid on the market. But, if instead of coal and oil giving 100% of the electricity, if you start to put nuclear, hydrogen, wind, solar, wood, gas [into the energy mix], you are in a completely different word because then you have zero, two, three perecent of the emissions of a normal car.”
Kofi Annan wants to make sure solutions like the electric car aren’t limited to rich populations.
“[The electric car is] a good example of a clean, innovative technology,” he said, “but how do you ensure that new technologies are also available to the Third World, which has very low emissions now, so that they don’t repeat the mistakes of the past?”
John Chambers echoed similar words of caution, saying, “If all we do is improve what we’ve done in the past, we’ll only get gradual improvement and we’ll never find a solution.” He advocated for government policies to encourage capital market innovation and competition, but not for governments to handpick the winners.
Jeffrey Immelt agreed that it’s a “systems problem” that requires breaking down the silos between different agencies. “You have to align technology, government policy, capital markets, and exeuction skills,” he said. “The government is just a central part in how that goes…. You have to have good public-private partnerships.”
Speaking of public-private partnerships, EMBARQ, the producer of TheCityFix blog, recently won an award from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University for it’s public-private partnership, formed with the Center for Sustainable Transport in Mexico, the Mexico City government, and other partner organizations, to launch Metrobus, one of the largest bus rapid transit (BRT) systems in the world.