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AB 2000 studies

Alain Boublil Blog


The innovation uncertainties

The Richard Branson short trip into space aboard his launching-airplane whose realization he had financed  as the coming stay in space of Jeff Bezos, also aboard a capsule whose he looked after the conception show how to which point innovation can create surprises. Who could have forecasted, during the Fifties, that the space competition between the United States and the Soviet Union could one day lead to leisure activities? Ray Bradbury, in his Martian Chronicles published at that time was rather imagining an invasion of Mars, at the beginning of the 21th century by the Earth inhabitants, impatient to extend to that planet their habits and their conflicts.

At that time it is the desire for power of the leaders of these countries and the military stakes which are linked to these innovations which justify the costly investments. Yet, quickly, it will be necessary to find other reasons and then appears a lot of projects which will not resist for a long time to economic realities. The presence of the man in the space would allow, for instance, to making components with exceptional qualities due to the absence of gravity and to the vacuum. That remained as a dream. The day after the second oil shock, it was imagined that satellites able to capture sun lights and to send them back to earth to produce electricity. Studies never reached a result. To the opposite, nobody then forecasts that these same satellites will allow the digital revolution which has transformed both corporate lives and person ones. Google as Amazon wouldn’t exist without the exceptional information transmission capacity the satellites which are revolving all around Earth are offering.

These uncertainties are not sparing traditional sectors. Who had forecast the shale oil and gas revolution? Nobody. Since the Seventies studies and declarations are increasing saying that we are near an oil production peak. The most spectacular one is coming from the Club de Rome which accompanies it with a prognostic about the end of the world growth. If that one has effectively slowed after the decades which have seen Europe reconstruction, it has not disappeared and goes on to constitute an objective for the governments whatever are their political orientations. The development of new technologies plays there an essential role because it is thought that only these ones are able to open new markets. But nobody is able to definitely say which ones. That growth was accompanied with an increase of the oil and gas production, to the contrary to the past affirmations, thanks to a major innovation as decisive as unpredicted: the hydraulic fracking which allows to exploiting reserves which were considered as impossible to reach. The ceiling of the yearly production was then estimated as 85 million barrels per day. It has by large been over passed because we are now near 100 million b/j. That innovation has been put into practice in Pennsylvania and in several states in the south of the United States, called with humor “Cowboyistan”. It was then accompanied with alarmist messages, largely diffused by the companies which were threatened by the apparition of these new competitors, with in the first position, the coal producers: oil was going to flow in kitchens taps and earthquakes were going to multiply themselves. The postulate according to which the planet natural resources implied the production was limited was infirmed. If these resources are, by definition, limited, the ability of men to exploit them is itself boundless. To deny this point would pretend that Mozart never existed.

The key of an innovation success, it is it corresponds to a need. It is also that the States which support it get the expected answer and that the enterprises which put it into practice find clients. Regarding space, even if we notice a rebound of the States interest about their prestige and, more in real terms to have access to strategic information thanks to the satellites, the stake is a more private one: more and more efficient data transmissions instead of billionaire tourism. That issue will become essential for the success of one of the most important innovations expected today, the electric vehicle, for its industrial as for its environmental consequences. Will the innovation capacity be able to meet client expectations?

The sector is already confronted with the challenges provoked by the current pandemic, the sales deep fall and the tensions on the supply of components. To offer vehicles respecting the new European norms expected in 2025 and the prohibition of the sale of models equipped with thermal engines forecast for 2035 or 2040, the car industry must massively invest to produce the batteries and manage the social consequences of the closing of the plants which actually produce thermal engines. It must also convince its future clients the vehicle autonomy corresponds to their demands. Who is ready to spend an important amount of money to buy a car which will not allow him to go into vacations with his children? If they are not convinced, some ones will protect themselves through an anticipation of their renewal need and will buy the last models still available with a thermal engine. The others will keep their ones as long as possible or will turn themselves toward second hands vehicles. Car producers will then have to cope with a fall of their sales at the precise moment when they indebted themselves to build their new production apparel. The technological bet, included in the electric vehicle, constitutes a vital stake for a major industrial sector in Europe and especially in France. It is impossible to know if it will be kept and we need to notice that the risks of a failure are underestimated.

This bet is not the only one because once the solution of the autonomy issue is solved remains the recharging of the batteries, to the supposition that an enough number of points has been implanted. To have a fast recharging, both to facilitate travels and to allow to the highest possible number of drivers to have access to them during the long travels as week-ends or holidays trips, it will be necessary that the power network is able to answer to the demanded power. It will have to be deeply transformed on rural territories the car drivers are going through during their long trips. That will have an important cost for the networks operators. That will also rise an issue on power production with the emergence of peaks at some times in the year which until now had a fall of the demanded production allowing operators to achieving maintenance operations which are necessary to the good functioning and to the safety of the power units. So we can expect a pricing of the recharging, fluctuating with the variations of the demand. That will certainly create discontents. Power will be more costly when we will mostly need it.

The past experiences show that the apprehension of the future of products and services is all the more difficult that it is conditioned by a major technological rupture and by the public reception. The Earth inhabitants will not go to Mars. Only Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had understood that computers will become ordinary consumption products and one of these two was near bankruptcy. So governments will have to prove their cautiousness when they take commitments having, regarding economic and social issues, heavy consequences in case of  a failure, especially if the eventual success is conditioned by an innovation and by its reception by the concerned people.      



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