Renewable Energy Futures: A Question of Scale

allan-baer-renewable-energy-scenario1I am totally amazed and at times overwhelmed at the number and diversity of alternative energy technologies popping up. Daily claims by solar cell companies of new and improved efficiency, fantastic innovations, open sourcing such as the APIX initiative, the OSRAM recharging station in Africa– are exciting developments. But how do we make sense of these? How to aggregate them into a meaningful plan of action. Certainly social networking sites like this one hold much promise. if you know of an aggregator site that focuses on a sustainable energy future please share it. Each biome has its own unique resources, needs and opportunities. But then it becomes a question of scale. A recent alternative energy analysis by Allan Baer of Solarquest points to the magnitude of the situation: See his full presentation at; <a href=>http://www.vecgreenvalley.org/</a&gt; I choose these two attached slides to illustrate my point. Investments in alternative energy will require trillions in a time frame never attempted in human history. And with the current cost of renewable energy at twice the cost of fossil based fuels there is little incentive for a profit based business. So how do we bring it to scale to avoid cataclysmic climate change? One scenario would be a complete re-tooling of our economy much like the US did during WWII. Or Al Gore’s suggestion of replacing the income tax with a carbon tax, ie., that you would be taxed on the amount of carbon you and your company expends. Another possible route might be an element of the social networking and internet phenomenon; viewer supplied content. More accurately put, a dispersed, non- centralized grid of millions of micro-energy producers. Forgive me if I’m not stating this concept clearly. I find it curious that many charts displaying things like carbon emissions, global warming, population, internet users –there are many more–follow a steep curve pointing toward what is called the singularity, ie., the point at which the basis for our assumptions is no longer valid. And one very curious curve accompanying these other steep curves is the evolution of communication, spurred by the internet. It is the idea of smart mobs, or the power of opinion spread virally; the idea of participatory thinking, collaborative–and emergent. It is the idea of YouTube, not Brad Pitt, if you will. As I try and get this idea out there I’m staring at the ‘Book of the Week’ beside this text box. And this is no accident either. I’m reading Muhammad Yunus currently. It occurs to me that he presents the solution to the funding mechanism that I began this post with: how do you replace the paradigm of fossil fuel with renewable energy at scale? The idea of social business seems to me to be one of lateral wealth. A chart line that returns the steep, relentless curve to cataclysm to a sustainable human scale. And this idea goes hand in hand with web 2.0–where a monopoly of knowledge is not held by a few, a monopoly of wealth is not held by a few–but that we all have our part to contribute of equal value in the whole. To bring my rant back to earth, keep contributing. One aggregator group in FaceBook that warrants your attention is the group: Sustainable Energy Futures: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=6763501129. They have a contest going on with accompanying videos that displays an impressive collection of renewable energy technologies.

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How the Humanities could contribute to Carbon reduction

All of the disciplines need to be engaged in raising our awareness of our contribution to carbon emissions.  Each has a responsibility and vehicle for raising our awareness.  I have to be radical and say each has the responsibility to. Urgently.  Refocus your curriculum to make it relevant to the crisis. The students are eager to be involved, to make it relevant. They tell me when they have the option they write about climate change, re-newables, global warming.  But they need our guidance desperately. But when we talk about their future–our future–their eyes glaze over.  It is so overwhelming.  Our entire life style has to transform.  The things we take for granted are at risk. For the freshman there will be no polar ice when they graduate in 2012.  One student asked me what I thought of 2012.  I discussed the singularity.  What does it mean?  How is it relevant to theater or technical theater? 

It slays me that we rehash the same old plays and stories from our past when the future is in dire need of creation.  As a generation it is beholden upon us to write the epics of tomorrow. And the amazing thing is that we have the tools–the collective mind–web 2.0.  Sure, an electromagnetic pulse could put us back into the stone age. But while we still have electricity, connectivity, our tiny little synapses are busy twittering away collaborating in the effort to reach emergence of the holy kind. Dang its hard, especially when no one replies.  But I reply, and you, after all, are reading this.  I see it happening everywhere.  Open source, open code–sharers.  That’s the hope. Now bring it back to the humanities.  Our collective digital stories, snipets of life on earth as we know it, as we are just now discovering its preciousness, it irreplaceableness. Some of academia is on board, you bloggers and early adapters. Business is starting to get on board, smelling profits.  And then there is Muhammad Yunus. It seems each step is conceived just as we need it if we could perceive it.  How do you fund a transition at scale?  Social business!  Wow!

Start the epic, be the hero of Al Gore’s admonishment. The ground is swelling and the hoarders will be swallowed.  It starts with tiny steps in every classroom.  I have total faith in the youth, their energy and resolve.