Why cleantech needs artists

A decade ago, much of the cleantech sector was still at an early stage. Experts often asked, “Will these technologies ever be ‘real’?”  

Fast-forward to today—what was then nascent is now commercial. The cost of solar installations has dropped by more than 70 percent since 2010. Electric vehicle sales reached 200,000 in 2017. More than half of all households now have smart meters

But there’s still more work to do. Solar energy provides only 1 percent of U.S. electricity. Electric vehicles represent only 1.2 percent of U.S. vehicle sales. And, too few utilities actually use smart meter data for managing electricity demand and integrating distributed energy resources like rooftop solar and batteries into the grid. 

Science can create the technologies of tomorrow and continue to facilitate the transition to clean energy. But today the fundamental obstacle to greater adoption of cleantech isn’t science—it’s scale. 

Good economics are essential for achieving scale. Emerging digital technologies like blockchain will likely play a role, as will innovation around business models and finance. Good design, better systems integration, and smart algorithms can be critical factors as well. 

Outside of these technical elements, there’s something else that can be a powerful accelerator of scale: people. But how do we reach them? 

A scientist eager to present a new discovery or prototype can easily forget that others (i.e. non-scientists) may not have the technical expertise or the context to see its potential. The same is true in many fields. Policy wonks, environmental advocates, and financiers each work in their silo of expertise and speak the native language of that discipline. 

Statistics, spreadsheets, and graphs may motivate experts. But what about people who don’t spend their days thinking about climate change, sustainability, or environmental justice—let alone voltage and current, sensors, or irrigation systems. What about everyone else? 

That’s why cleantech needs artists.

Artists and scientists have much in common. Both work at the edge of the unknown, exploring new concepts and new solutions that do not yet exist. Both experiment with new techniques. Both understand that failure is an opportunity to learn and an opportunity to integrate those learnings into another new approach.

But where artists differ from scientists—and where their power lies—is in their ability to translate abstract ideas into something that communicates with people not just intellectually, but emotionally too. Not everyone will like every painting, sculpture, dance, or story. But when art connects, it inspires. It helps people to see the world in a new light, and it can motivate them to act on those feelings. 

Los Angeles is a city of artists, makers, performers, and storytellers. Los Angeles is also a city of innovators, and a place—because of its size, population, and diversity—with inherent scale. That’s why it’s an ideal place to tap into the power of art to help people from different industries and different cultures imagine a future where innovation enables sustainability and communities are transformed. 

The Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI)—through its expanding ecosystem of partners, innovative approach to collaboration, and recent launch of an Artist-in-Residence program—is challenging all of us to imagine a clean and sustainable future for Los Angeles and cities around the globe. We know now that cleantech is real. What we need are more leaders like LACI to help bring cleantech into our lives and communities at a massive scale.

Read more aboutthe Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program here.