Tim O’Reilly on “Local Solar Could Power Mountain West” Post (Reader Comment)

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Tim O’Reilly, Founder & CEO of O’Reilly Media, had a really interesting comment on one of our posts yesterday. His comment was actually left on Google+, so I’m not sure how many CleanTechnica readers saw it. I think it’s worthy of your eyes, so here you go:

I’m intrigued by the implications of this blog post for the #OWS movement: Local Solar Could Power the Mountain West Right Now, All of America in 2026.

The post makes the claim that if the US had pursued a solar initiative on-pace with that in Germany, it would provide an equivalent to the entire power needs of the 11-state Mountain West area right now, and the entire country by 2026, while providing jobs for ten million Americans.

First off, the numbers presented here, if true, are really eye-opening. I don’t know if they hold up without a lot more digging, and I’ve seen far more pessimistic perspectives on the land use impact of solar, notably from my son-in-law +saul griffith. (See Saul Griffith, Renewistan and Energy Literacy ) And there are a lot of other numbers in here that most likely need a lot of scrubbing.

But that isn’t where I want to take this discussion. Where I want to take it is the fundamental assumptions that have been used to shoot down renewable energy: “It isn’t economically competitive.” But how do we measure “economically competitive?” In corporate profits, of course. And those corporate profits, like so much else in our economy, are inflated by all kinds of Ponzi externalities, from negative environmental impacts and inflated health care costs to the destruction of jobs – off-balance sheet debits that will one day catch up with our entire society.

What if instead of corporate profits, we measured “economically competitive” in terms of the overall health and happiness of our society, instead of in the profits of the paper economy?

There are rumblings of new thinking in this direction. There’s no question that there are difficulties in the transition, and that there is much to learn from the efficiencies of the market economy we’ve built based on keeping score of corporate profits, but there’s also no question that there is more than one way to run a society, and we can be almost certain that we don’t live in “the best of all possible worlds.”

Part of what fascinates me about #OccupyWallStreet (or #OWS, as the hashtag has now been shortened) is its inchoate appeal for our economy and our society to play by new rules, and to stop rewarding so highly behavior that is so clearly not in the best interests of our society. I don’t think the #OWS protesters know what they want to replace Wall Street lootonomics with, but they are right to call attention to the fact that there is something badly wrong.

On a somewhat related note, Neil Stephenson wrote about our lack of big dreams in a piece called Innovation Starvation. Part of what’s gone wrong with our dreams is that we are counting the score in the wrong game.

Image Credit: AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by O’Reilly Conferences


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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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