The report of the Warburton inquiry, commissioned by Australia’s government as a hatchet job on the renewable electricity industry, has unintentionally demonstrated that renewables pose a real alternative to coal-fired electricity and are undermining the viability of incumbent generators.
But can renewable energy provide a solution to the problem of decarbonising the economy? To understand the problems and the process, it is worth thinking about the “paperless office”.
The paperless office started out as a visionary idea. In turn, it became a marketing slogan and a target of derision. Now, after four decades, it is finally becoming a reality.
The development of minicomputers and word processors in the 1970s led some farsighted thinkers to realise that computers would eventually have the same impact on office work, based on text, as they had already had on numerical tasks like payroll calculation. The phrase “the paperless office” came to prominence in a 1975 Businessweek article, The Office of the Future.
Twenty years later as personal computers became ubiquitous, the cost of storage plummeted, and email became generally available, it seemed that the time was right.
But supporters of paper started to push back, with arguments that are now familiar. Paper has marvellous properties that can’t be reproduced by any computer system. It is light, accessible anywhere, and (at least in its acid-free archival form) lasts forever. It can be read in any light, and annotated with ease. Improved technology, it was claimed, would lead to more paper, not less.