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The NEXT Global Economy is Being Built Right Now, I’ll Help You Find It

Pssst!   Here’s a secret.

A new, resilient global economy is emerging and the timing couldn’t be better.

How so?  It’s amazing luck that a new resilient economy is emerging at the very same time the current economic system is in the process of being reset.   Fortunately, this new resilient economy will make it increasingly possible to re-localize economic life and will radically improve the quality, stability and prosperity of its participant’s lives over the long run.

Here’s An Example 

A good example of the emerging resilient economy is a venture called the Solar Pocket Factory, founded by two MIT grads.  This venture is dedicated to finding new and better ways to manufacture Microsolar cards.

What is Microsolar?

As I mentioned in a previous letter on when to use solar electricity, one of the best uses for solar power (right now — and timing is everything) is to use it to power appliances that are either remote or mobile.  A good way to do that is to use small and inexpensive Microsolar cards.  It’s a card that you use to power or recharge small devices, lights, etc.

Here’s Shawn Frayne, one of the venture’s founders.  He’s holding up a cell phone that is being powered by a Microsolar card:

The founders of this venture (Shawn and Alex) have found a way to make Microsolar panels that are 30% cheaper and can last at least ten years (over five times longer than the panels produced today).

That’s great news. However,  what is new and interesting about this venture isn’t that it’s going to produce better Microsolar panels, it’s HOW they are going to do it.

The Solar Pocket Factory

The first big departure from traditional business practice is that this venture isn’t going to outsource the manufacturing of the panels to China or India.

Instead, they are taking advantage of rapidly evolving technology to build an automated factory that can produce Microsolar that’s small, cheap and powerful.

How small?  It can sit on a desktop.

How powerful?  It can produce as many Microsolar panels as any factory in China (a panel every 15 seconds or 1 million panels a year).  Shawn and Alex have spent the last six months working on a prototype of the factory and this is what it looks like:

In short, this factory is being built to be used in a community of nearly any size (we’re going to see many more factories this small in the NEAR future).

Community Funding and Participation

The second departure that’s interesting to us is how they are funding the venture.  They cut out the extortionate middle men on Wall Street (and Sand Hill Road) and went directly to the online community for funding by using Kickstarter.

Here’s their offer page on Kickstarter.  They are currently raising only $50,000 to finish developing the pocket factory.  Don’t be surprised at the cost.  As factories shrink in size, the cost to develop them drops too, particularly if the instability of the financial sector can be avoided or marginalized (relegated to simple functions like funds transfer, etc.).

Given their early success, I fully expect them to reach their funding goals.

 

Hope you find this useful.  I’ll keep you up to date on signs of the new economy as it emerges.

 

Helping You Prosper,

 

JOHN ROBB

 

PS:  Friends, I’ll keep you up to date on opportunities in this new, resilient economy as it emerges in this letter — as well as how to avoid damage from the failure of the old economy by improving your and your community’s resilience.  Resilience is often a balance between an ability to take advantage of opportunities as well as the ability to bounce back from failures.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Joe Clarkson

    Aloha John,

    While the “pocket factory” is innovative and deserving of success, it is not resilient. Every aspect of the project, from the micro-solar collector to the desktop fabrication unit, depends on the smooth functioning of our existing high-tech and world-wide supply chain. There is not a single part in their system that they could manufacture themselves, even if the raw materials were handed to them. This means that their company is no more resilient than any other company with similar dependencies.

    Please concentrate on projects that maximize the ability of ordinary people to meet important needs. I would never expect to find cell phone chargers on the same list with such truly important needs as water, food and shelter.

    • John Robb

      Aloha Joe,

      Completely understand the need to bootstrap the basics. A couple of things:

      1) There are degrees of resilience. Regional/local. Mild/severe/disruptions.
      2) This tech/approach is new. Trend is towards smaller, cheaper, more functionality, wider ranges of materials (including those commonly available).
      3) It’s also important to start to think about what comes after this economy/financial system gets reset.

      John

    • El

      A local micro-factory is still far more resilient than one in China. Resiliency can’t pop out of nowhere from the ground up. It has to be built.

  • I’m a bit confused. I didn’t think solar technology had reached the garage stage yet.

    Doesn’t this still require the “long tail” of globe-spanning rare-earth mining, billion-dollar semiconductor wafer fabrication, and precision photolithography?

    • John Robb

      Jan,

      Some quick thoughts before I head off to dinner.

      This effort is a win in the long game. Why? These guys shrank an important, factory-sized piece of the microsolar supply chain down to something that can fit on your desktop. Think of it as an early step in a globally decentralized, relocalized economy.

      Also, there’s a hidden level of flexibility here. unlike a big factory with hundreds of workers, this factory can sit idle for months (or until the supply chain opens up again) with a much of a loss.

      Finally, in terms of solar tech, that’s true for the moment. It’s changing. There are quite a few solar wafer technologies out there that can be made with common materials, albeit at a much lower level of efficiency (although that will change in time).

      JR

    • El

      There are degrees of resiliency. Just because they don’t mine and refine the rare earths and silicon themselves and spend millions on a fab lab to make thin-films doesn’t mean they aren’t MORE resilient than a large factory.

    • Nanosolar(different company) isn’t using lithography, at least not directly anyway. They’re using printing technologies that could probably be replicated with an inkjet without too much trouble.

      Some of the guys on RepRap are working on a project called Metalicarap, and it’s supposedly going to be able to do solar panels. I’m more interested in precision printing metal with it–I see microchips and such being done on a different machine.

      Higher levels of technology will always need the odd materials, and the big key will be to minimize our need for them, through alternatives in both technology and materials. Don’t use a microchip if you don’t have to, and we’ll eventually find other, better ways to make them where we do.

      People will figure out how to minimize the relialnce on the supply chain over time. The important thing here is to get it started, and make good use of what we have now to bootstrap the next generation–you want to be able to print a computer eventually, but there’s no reason not to use a current computer to run the first machine that does so.

    • @Jan Crystalline solar cells are definitely in the garage stage. Check out Jeri Ellsworth home silicon fab (http://vimeo.com/2423528#at=0), where she’s actually doping and making solar cells using masks made out of sharpie and dopants from common household chemicals.

  • michael

    I already backed it! Thank you for pointing it out.

  • Abhijit

    Connecting the dots, Berkley researchers have found a way to make photovoltaic cells from any semiconductor, not requiring rare earths. Then there’s progress on flexible and organic materials. There’s no reason why total local fabrication of solar photovoltaic is not possible. This is just the beginning.

  • It’s good to see this sort of thing. This is the sort of thing I’d like to do eventually, help people design stuff like this, build it, and run it. I’m still learning, and will be working at a much lower level then these guys, but I’ll be working on it. The next step for these guys is a similar machine that can produce the feedstocks this machine uses, so that the raw materials become the real feedstock, and not the premade stuff it presently uses.

    On another note, other discrete components like LEDs aren’t that much more complicated than a solar cell junction, and so a machine like this should be able to produce low power lights as well as simple transistors and such.

  • Christopher A.

    @Joe Clarkson

    It’s relatively resilient. You play on the dominant system’s terms. But take one step away. Then iterate.

  • On the “economic reset” tip, I’ve been involved with the crowdfunding exemption legislation that passed as part of the JOBS Act in April and is now being figured out by the SEC, to go live in 2013. I believe this deep-structure regulatory change will be a boon to local investing, innovation, and community resilience — especially if it includes special recognition for “small local offerings,” as proposed by the American Sustainable Business Council: http://sec.gov/comments/jobs-title-iii/jobstitleiii-105.pdf.

    I could go on, would love to discuss — longtime listener here, first time caller.

    Paul

    • John Robb

      Paul,

      Do you have any insight into how this can be used for resilient communities?

      JR

      • To use a trite formulation, the real question is: how *can’t* this be used for resilient communities! When implemented next year, the crowdfunding exemption will allow people to legally invest in small business ventures within their own communities, in people they know, without having to pay prohibitive legal/accounting/registration fees to the investments-industrial complex. Likewise, it will enable anyone who needs a relatively small amount of money to start working for themselves, for tools, materials, training, livestock, or whatever else, to raise it in small amounts from unlimited numbers of people they know, and then share in any profits that may result. You’ll be able to raise up to $1 million, but there will be fewer requirements for raising <$500K and it'll be even easier to raise <$100K.

        I expect that this new legislation will encourage local investment, enable local stock exchanges, and help local communities bootstrap new ideas — especially if implemented as the ASBC recommends, with a two-tier system that recognizes locality. I believe this is a revolution in-the-making that will get reported on more as soon as the SEC completes its rulemaking, which is scheduled for the end of 2012 (hopefully it won't be delayed).

  • Glumling

    I just found this CNC company through a random Google search http://www.shopbottools.com/#. It will also be interesting to see how quickly new economies emerge while the older one dies its long over due death.

  • Grouch, MD

    The microfactory is actually the best part. Reminded me of this 3D printer:

    http://blog.makezine.com/2012/07/27/popfab-a-suitcase-cnc-mill-and-3d-printer/?parent=3DPrinting

    Want one!

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