Signals: Wave Energy... Unequal Inequality... Craft Villages... and more

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Volume 1,
Number 9
March 2, 2015

Wave Energy Gears Up

Harvesting the power of the oceans to produce cheap electricity has long been a dream of green engineering. So far, however, wave energy has been hampered by the inconsistencies of waves themselves, which vary in timing and height, making it difficult to create a reliable conversion system.

Now, a Swedish company, CorPower Ocean, reports that its new wave system can anticipate the sizes of incoming waves so that it can capture the entire spectrum of wave energy. As a result, the company claims, it can generate five times more energy than current state-of the-art systems and for a third of the cost.

The CorPower system also benefits from a “cascade” gear, designed at Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), which efficiently converts linear motion into rotation. Its numerous small pinions and wheels enable the device to handle heavy loads and high velocities.

The company plans to install a half-scale pilot version of the technology in November 2015 in cooperation with the multinational electric utility company Iberdrola.

Source: KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Images: Courtesy of CorPower Ocean.

Signals: electricity, energy, green engineering

Income Inequality Is Unequal in Europe

The income gap widened in two-thirds of the European Union between 2006 and 2011, but inequality decreased in at least eight EU countries, notably Portugal and Greece, according to a study by the University of Barcelona.

Hardest hit by income inequality were Spain, Cyprus, Hungary, and Slovakia, but the gap was due mostly to increased unemployment rather than to changes in income levels among the employed populations. Further analysis of post-recession data will shed light on the impacts “of precarious forms of work, for instance part-time jobs, on wage inequality,” researcher Raúl Ramos said in a press statement.

In many cases, governments have attempted to combat wage inequality by increasing the minimum wage; however, the real purchasing power of these wages were reduced by the recession. The study also found that policies aimed at improving competition helped reduce inequality in annual wages.

Source: University of Barcelona. Details: Wage and Income Inequality in the European Union

Signals: economics, European Union, inequality

“Craft Villages” May Succumb to Globalization

The twin forces of globalization and urbanization offer both opportunities and challenges for rural villages. In Vietnam, a system of specialized “craft villages” has offered rice farmers off-season employment and security for centuries; while modernized production technologies and newly opened markets gave them a boost in the 1980s, new threats to their existence have recently emerged.

Vietnam has thousands of craft villages—more than 500 surrounding Hanoi alone—each specializing in a particular craft, such as artworks, textiles, woven goods, or religious objects. These ancient village systems self-organize into related clusters to enhance productivity and labor resources. They now provide work for almost 20% of the rural population of working age, with far better incomes than from agricultural work, according to studies led by Sylvie Fanchette of Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD).

The craft village system began to flourish with improved productivity and access to export markets, but new competition quickly entered in the form of foreign manufacturers seeking cheap labor, the IRD researchers note. The influx of heavy industry has also led to competition for the agricultural land that the craft villages rely on.

As the craft villages succumb to globalization and urbanization, the skills developed and handed down by generations of craft workers may disappear, as well.

Source: IRD. Image: Michael Foley Photography, via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Signals: crafts, culture, globalization, industrialization, urbanization, Vietnam

Battery Challenges in Coming Years: Report from Timothy C. Mack

Electric vehicles (EVs) continue to climb in attractiveness, with the Tesla Model S winning acceleration comparisons hands down. Their environmental advantages are clear, but the cost and recharge requirements of automobile batteries continue to stand in the path of broad market acceptance of EVs.

A good deal of battery science is now proceeding on trial and error; when those innovations work, the reason why is still often unclear, as BusinessWeek writer Steve LeVine explains in his new book, The Powerhouse (Viking, 2015). In fact, it may be likely that more progress in battery technology can be achieved incrementally through engineering or manufacturing approaches (or even by lightly tweaking the chemistry of battery materials), rather than through dramatic new breakthroughs—which may include unforeseen pitfalls down the road.

Futurists may often become enamored by the promise of a new technology and its transformative potential while not giving the practical side of technology adoption enough thought, especially potential operational obstacles. This is particularly true in the new materials arenas, where nanotech and composite materials are literally creating new science and the rules of the game are still being discovered. Read more

Timothy C. Mack is the managing principal of AAI Foresight Inc. This report was excerpted from the Foresight Signals Blog. Image: Tesla Motors, via Facebook.

Signals: batteries, electric vehicles, materials engineering, transportation

Announcements from AAI Foresight

* New Logo! Thanks go to graphic artist Lisa Mathias for our spiffy new logo for this newsletter! Formerly the art director of the World Future Society, Lisa is also a gifted studio artist. Visit her graphics portfolio at Lisa Mathias Design and her fine art portfolio at

* “Foresight Reports” Publication Project Launched. AAI Foresight has released its first industry forecast white paper, “The Future of Retail Marketing,” to introduce a series of semiannual publications for the firm’s clients. The reports, which will initially be free of charge, will be available to logged-in visitors at the AAI Foresight Web site. (Download PDF: "The Future of Retail Marketing")

The goal of Foresight Reports is to demonstrate the application of sound foresight techniques to improve the analysis of a key issue affecting our future, be it an economic sector or an ecosystem. The papers will largely be invited by AAI Foresight or written by members of its established consulting partners, but we will also consider submissions. Please contact Tim Mack or Cindy Wagner for details.