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Christmas Eve

Tonight, I was with family. Before gifts were opened, my daughter was playing. And I had this interesting exchange with my mother and my brother’s wife. They were talking about how the normal heating system in a house can leave one part of the house hot and another cold.

My mother mentioned that, if they build a house, they want to convection-heat the floors.

My sister-in-law pointed out how her parents were cooling their home with a geothermal system: the house was kept cool by the constant temperature of the earth. It costs them very little to cool their house.

We went on to jump from that to the lack of consistent tax policy (to encourage innovation and customer demand); how Holland, and now China, had big companies to supply that demand (because of policy); how in Europe, a lot of people had installed solar panels (because of their tax policy and the fact that they could sell the electricity back to the Utility company).

Strangely enough, this was a discussion about Energy Policy that bridged the traditional split between left and right. One of the three people in the discussion is a traditional Republican who is at best “not convinced” about climate change.

She does realize that clean energy is doable. And she also put together that innovation is the key: with the right policies (for investors to place long-term bets), people will start coming up with solutions to the technical problems. That changes the dynamic for clean energy completely.

Once, there were portable phones. The first I saw filled half a briefcase. Then there were mobile phones. And those became cell phone. And now, there are devices small enough to easily loose that do far more than handle calls and cost almost nothing.

If the problems with clean energy are technical, development will follow the same curve and we will eventually arrive at a situation where clean energy is cheaper than traditional energy sources.

The benefits of clean energy (both in being ultimately cheaper and in being something in which American companies can win) were clear enough that it didn’t matter that we didn’t even agree on whether climate change was an issue.

Earlier in the evening we had talked about the car company Tesla. Tesla is a California-based company that manufacturers electric cars. Their first car, the Tesla Roadster is (while outrageously expensive) also able to accelerate faster than almost every car on the road. Their second car (a 2011 model) will be a sedan that while still expensive is priced more like a BMW than a Lamborghini. Their next car is rumored to be a family sedan and priced for the mass market.

Besides producing electric cars that people want to buy, Tesla in unique in another way. Tesla Motors is the first new American car company (as opposed to a new Brand) since Delorean in the eighties. They are succeeding because the regulatory market for cars is stable, they’ve created a product that customers want and they have strong funding.

The fact that an electric car company is innovating so fast is incredible. The fact that the cars are cheaper to operate and create engineering and manufacturing jobs in the United States is something that most people get. Even if they don’t believe in global warming.