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Biomass 16

Published on April 27th, 2014 | by Zachary Shahan

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Communicating The Renewable Energy Revolution

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April 27th, 2014 by Zachary Shahan
 

The editor of a quarterly Buddhist magazine reached out to me a while back to see if I’d be interested in providing an article for an issue focused on renewable energy. Of course, I said yes. The article was published in the most recent print issue of the magazine, and was also published on the magazine’s website with an extra interview section at the end. SQI Quarterly has graciously allowed us to republish the content here on CleanTechnica, so I’m reposting it below. Enjoy!

Originally published on SGI Quarterly.

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The clean tech movement is about a shift toward a more peaceful world, a world in which there is more respect for others and in which our ways of living leave a smaller environmental footprint. Clean energy is not just about cleaning our air, preserving our water supplies and helping to protect our climate; it is also about democratizing the energy sector.

When I started blogging about clean tech some four and a half years ago, solar and wind energy were growing fast. That growth has subsequently picked up at an exponential pace. Choosing which 15 or so stories to cover each day on my website has become one of my biggest challenges.

With CleanTechnica.com, Solar Love and the other sites I run, I view “communicating the renewable energy revolution” and further stimulating that revolution through such communication as my prime objectives. There are two things I love about the phrase in quotation marks. First, this is a revolution–there is no doubt about it. Second, communication is a very interesting matter. There are many subtleties to communication that we generally overlook. We often say things, knowing where we are going next with our thoughts (and with our own cultural and knowledge background deeply influencing how we view those thoughts), without realizing that our words may have unforeseen effects or be heard in ways that we do not intend.

One example concerns the debunking of myths. It is very common to communicate a myth before debunking it. Research has shown, however, that presenting the myth first is more likely to ingrain the myth in the listener’s head in the medium to long term. Counterintuitively, this is actually even more so if you debunk the myth in great detail.

A democracy is based on information being available, shared and acted upon, yet there is a massive amount of misinformation about clean energy, and therefore a great need for independent voices and analysts to inform more people of the actual facts. Misinformation and a simple lack of awareness are probably now the largest barriers to the clean tech revolution. Transformation occurs through information sharing–blogging about clean energy and connecting the topic to millions of people is an important part of that.

Solar Power and Wind Power

Solar power has been a dream for ages. In 1931, Thomas Edison wrote, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

The energy potential from sunshine for one single year is far greater than the energy potential of all known coal, oil, uranium and natural gas reserves combined. The circles in the chart shown here represent annual potential for renewable sources.

The potential is amazing. The solar energy hitting the state of Texas each month is greater than the total amount of energy the Texas oil and gas industry has ever produced.

Importantly, while sunshine is free, the solar panels needed to collect the energy in that sunshine and convert it into electricity are not. However, solar panels today are over 100 times cheaper (per watt) than they were in 1977. Since 2011, the cost of solar panels has dropped by approximately 60 percent, and growth has also been a big part of the stimulus for the cost drops. It is a virtuous circle. The growth curve for the solar panel market over the past few years is steep and resembles that of a plant shooting out of the earth toward the sun!

Solar power is now cheaper than retail electricity for millions of households. In the developed world, it can save countless homeowners tens of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, all across the developing world, solar power is actually cheaper than power generated from fossil fuels. Just as many people in the developing world leapfrogged from no phones to cell phones, these populations will leapfrog from no electricity to electricity from solar panels.

The cost of wind power came down much earlier than the cost of solar power. In many regions of the world, wind power is currently the cheapest form of renewables-based electricity available–and also cheaper than electricity generated from coal, natural gas, nuclear power and oil, even if related health and environmental costs, which are staggering in themselves, are not taken into account. And costs continue to fall. The cost of wind turbines has fallen by approximately 29 percent since 2008.

In 2012, more wind power capacity was installed in the US than for any other power source. Wind is also routinely at the top of the global charts for annual power capacity additions.

Democratizing the Energy System

One of the major implications of solar power growth, electric vehicle growth and wind power growth to some extent (wind turbines are great additions to farms and small communities) is that they are essentially democratizing our energy system. They decentralize ownership and provide more societal power and more money to common citizens and small businesses. They create more energy independence and security for families, cities and nations, which I believe will ultimately contribute to greater peace in the world.

Also, there has got to be some positive psychological effect from people realizing that they are no longer burning the bones of dinosaurs (amongst other fossils!) for their energy needs, but are instead using renewable sources of energy such as sunlight and wind.

Special website feature: SGI Quarterly Interview with Zachary Shahan, director and editor of the CleanTechnica.com website

SGI Quarterly: You say you were ahead of the curve in blogging about clean energy when you started in 2008. How do you stay on top of the curve?

Zachary Shahan: It’s a definite challenge. I would say that the greatest challenge in my job is actually covering (or having our sites’ bloggers cover) all the amazing clean energy news we are seeing every day, while also adding our own original commentary and analyses. It becomes harder and harder to choose which are the top stories of the day, and harder and harder to accept that we can’t write about everything. Specific tools that I use daily to manage the stream of cleantech awesomeness that is going on are: Feedly, Google+, and Google Drive among others.

SGIQ: Do you find there are some sorts of renewables that are more newsworthy and faster developing than others?

ZS: Solar energy and wind energy are the giants of the renewable energy world. They have the most potential by far, just in terms of sheer energy potential [see this graph of growth in wind capacity and this graph of growth in solar photovoltaic capacity]. Solar is leagues above anything else in that regard. These two sources are also seeing the greatest growth, spurred on by massive cost drops [see graph for wind and for solar]. There are many other renewables that have great benefits and potential too–geothermal, micro-hydro, wave energy and much more. So, we try to keep up-to-date with all of them.

SGIQ: Who are your readers?

ZS: Our readership is quite varied, but there are some clear variations from the overall population. Last I polled our readers, about one third of them were working in a clean tech industry. We try to write our articles both for ordinary people and industry insiders, sometimes a challenging line to skate on. Otherwise, our readership is rather heavily male, well-educated and richer than the average American.

SGIQ: How do you make clean energy attractive to the younger generation?

ZS: This is one of the easiest aspects of blogging about clean energy–it’s simply exciting by nature! It offers such a wealth of health, economic, environmental and security benefits. Furthermore, it is democratizing the energy industry. Democratization is exciting. Technological revolution is exciting. Ensuring clean air, clean water and a liveable climate for our children and grandchildren is exciting!

SGIQ: What is your motivation for your blogs?

ZS: I have a degree in sociology and environmental studies. My passion since I was young was helping the world help itself. I moved into city planning for my master’s degree, but am happy that I found my way to this profession. There is a great deal of misinformation put out there about clean energy, and there’s a desperate need for independent voices and analysts to help inform more people of the actual facts. Unfortunately, one of the downsides of democracy is that it allows for manipulation by those with power, money, and more information than others. While the situation here is never going to be perfect, the democratization of publishing–through the Internet and the many publishing platforms that are now available for free (such as Facebook, Google+, WordPress etc.)–is helping.

Transformation happens through information sharing–blogging about clean energy and connecting important points about the topic to millions of people is a key part of advancing the revolution. Blogging and other forms of independent media are helping to advance society in myriad ways and toward new realms!

Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.

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About the Author

spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as the director/chief editor. Otherwise, he's probably enthusiastically fulfilling his duties as the director/editor of Solar Love, EV Obsession, Planetsave, or Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and wind energy expert. If you would like him to speak at a related conference or event, connect with him via social media. You can connect with Zach on any popular social networking site you like. Links to all of his main social media profiles are on ZacharyShahan.com.



  • Peter Thomas

    Video below of what is happening in California at municipal wastewater treatment plants using fuel cell technology to produce 3 value streams of electricity, hydrogen and heat all from a human waste! This is pretty impressive in my opinion for hydro-refueling infrastructure.

    “New fuel cell sewage gas station in Orange County, CA may be world’s first”

    http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/orange_county&id=8310315

    “It is here today and it is deployable today,” said Tom Mutchler of Air Products and Chemicals Inc., a sponsor and developer of the project.

    2.8MW fuel cell using biogas now operating; Largest PPA of its kind in North America

    http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/news-events/news-archive/2012/october/28-mw-fuel-cell-using-biogas-now-operating-largest-ppa-of-its-kind-in-north-america

    Microsoft Backs Away From Grid

    http://blogs.wsj.com/cio/2012/11/20/microsoft-backs-away-slowly-from-the-grid/

    Hyundai “Tuscon” Fuel Cell Vehicle
    $499 per month w/ Free Fuel & Free Maintenance from Hyundai!!! (pure water for exhaust)
    https://www.hyundaiusa.com/tucsonfuelcell/

    also…

    Construction of world’s largest fuel cell power plant. (in South Korea? with USA developed fuel cell technology??)
    http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/news-events/news-archive/2012/october/construction-of-worlds-largest-fuel-cell-power-plant-expected-to-commence-in-2012

    and….

    Video:
    DFC ERG Nat Gas / Fuel Cell Hybrid / Enbridge – Fuel Cell Energy
    http://enbridge.rawintegrated.com/hybrid/hybrid_complete.html

  • MaryfromKelowna

    Zach, I am not in the clean tech industry and I’m not male. I’m an average middle-aged Canadian woman who ‘woke up’ with the Fukushima accident and in my desperate attempt to understand all that was happening in the very undemocratic world of energy ‘ownership’ and distribution, found your inspiring site. Your daily stories keep me focused on the positive and hoping against hope that we actually CAN save the world. Thank you!!

  • mikeCyclist

    Have you any citations for your energy potential graphic?

    Mike
    micro hydro association

  • jm2112

    I have my box of pop corn ready. It will be fun to watch all these dirty energy advocates, the drill here drill now crowd, eat crow when solar and wind are much cheaper than coal or natural gas. I am thinking with the current trends in pricing for renewable energy 6 years or less.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Renewables are cheaper than new coal right now. Have been for a while.
      If we do ‘full accounting’ and include the coal costs we pay with tax dollars and health insurance premiums renewables have been cheaper than ‘paid off’ coal for a long time.
      http://cleantechnica.com/2011/02/17/cost-of-coal-500-billion-year-in-u-s-harvard-study-finds/
      What I find interesting/twisted is that there seems to be a large overlap of the “taxes are too high” and “renewables are too expensive” groups. We’re wasting hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money each year to pay for the ‘side effects’ of coal. Renewable would save taxpayers a trillion dollars in 2-3 years if they replaced coal.

      • Omega Centauri

        The transition/revolution won’t be painless, even to the extent that the new sources are cheaper in narrow externalities-be-damned terms. There is a caron financial bubble, represented by the valuations of companies owning in the ground carbon on the world stock markets. Once enough influential analysts figure out this stuff is going south, and will either be left in the ground, or must be sold for much less than current market prices, this bubles is going to burst. This could be phase two of the global financial crash we are struggling to recover from. And it could be upon us very soon. I think that the current denialism/misinformation is largely motivated by this realization. But, it won’t make it any easier putting it off.

        • Bob_Wallace

          There will be some pain for those invested in fossil fuel extraction/consumption. But a lot of that is already dialed in. The 200 or so plants that are going to be closed are already discounted on balance sheets. And the 30+ year old plants that are going to shut down as they age out – that was known when they were built.

          The coal business is already in trouble and knows it. No surprises coming there. They know that there will be fewer places to burn it.

          The oil companies realize what is likely to happen down the road. They’ve got at least 5 more years of BAU. Perhaps by then we’ll have our 200 mile range, affordable EVs and oil companies will start losing a small percentage of market per year. Ten years out we could see ~100% of new car sales as EVs/PHEVs. Then a 10 to 20 year decay of the oil market.

          I’m sure the oil companies have penciled this out. At least most have.

          But don’t forget. As coal and oil fade out wind, solar, other renewables and storage are going to be rapidly expanding businesses. Car companies will keep on manufacturing cars.

          We could easily see an upturn in the economy as people find more cash in their pockets thanks to fuel and electricity savings.

  • JamesWimberley

    I know little about Buddhism, but it seems to have an attractive ethics of example. (This can be quite tough. Monks in Burma, protesting a few years ago against the oppressive military régime, shamed riot police and soldiers with upturned begging bowls: you are unworthy to give us alms.) The energy transition, or more accurately revolution, requires both individual and collective action. Individual action can potentiate the collective will. Installing a solar roof or buying an electric car need not be a political act, a statement of hope, but it can be.

    I suspect that behind much climate denialism lies despair: the tsunami rushing towards us can’t be stopped, so let’s pretend it isn’t there. Look at Hokusai’s famous print of the giant wave again: the rowers in the boat are not giving up, they are working as hard as they can to survive. The artist gives no clues about their fate; but they are showing the right stuff.

    • vensonata

      This site gets juicier with philosophy behind it. Thanks james

    • Omega Centauri

      I know a fair amount about it, and had indeed had a relationship with this particular organization for many year. The essence of Buddhism, is a worldview which posits a moral universe, whereby all causes made by people, good and bad will be repaid in kind. This is refered to as cause and effect sumarized by the word karma. The difficulty for humans is that we aren’t thinking about the potentially distant effect when we make a cause, so we aren’t accumulating enough good karma. The ultimate state of awareness is supposed to something called simultaneity of cause and effect, by which we can instantly realize the effects of what we are doing, and are thus able to tune our behavior for the best. Now if you think about climate change and our energy system. Climate change is the ultimate antithesis of simultaneous cause and effect, the victims/beneficiaries of our current actions may be the seventh or even the seventieth generation following us, and it is hard to give these peoples wellbeing equal weighting to that of those we see around us today. So it is all too easy to take a very narrow view towards the costs and benfits of our current actions. Cleantech requires a high level of sustained commitment for a long period of time by a great many pioneers, before it reaches the point where the benefits are grasped in the present. So the cleantech crowd is distinguished by its long time horizon.

      • John Ihle

        Future generations are of our actions

      • Vensonata

        I am impressed at the knowledge that these regular contributors have including “alpha centauri”. This site is a nice demonstration that there are people who are operating out of both brain hemispheres. They can crunch the numbers and talk ethics and philosophy!

        • Vensonata

          Oops sorry, “omega centauri”

    • John Ihle

      I don’t think it’s despair that is behind climate denialism or the need for emissions reductions, etc, and one can’t say that there isn’t enough information available. On the contrary. As a society I think we’re generally superficial and too often we don’t do our own thinking. Far too many of us have bought into a media driven cultural attitude of consumption and cheap energy while simultaneously ignoring future impacts. At the same time (we) benefit from policies of the early 20th century.

  • Vensonata

    Interesting that this is an interview with a Buddhist quarterly journal. In 2008 Buddhist and Catholic monastics got together in Kentucky for a conference and produced a book “Green Monasticism”. The lowest carbon footprint communities in France as measured by the WWF were a Buddhist monastery and a Benedictine monastery (with the Buddhist community being slightly lower). Some of the Benedictine nuns communities in the U.S. are certified leed platinum. Alternative energy may be lead in some ways by alternative ways of viewing the meaning of life.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Interesting notes. In my original, longer article, I discuss the links to lifestyle more. Think I will share that one later.

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