In this episode of our CleanTech Talk podcast interview series, Zach Shahan sits down with Mark Z. Jacobson, professor at Stanford University and co-founder of The Solutions Project, to discuss Mark’s work to bring together important players from science, business, culture, and community behind his vision of 100% renewable energy for 100% of people. They also talk about the early days of Tesla and some of Mark’s special history and connections.
You can listen to the full conversation in the embedded player below. Below that embedded SoundCloud player is a brief summary of the topics covered, but listen to the podcast to follow the full discussion.
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“No one wants to make it 98% of the way to the moon.” When Mark Jacobson started to think critically about the role of renewable energy in the future of global energy dependency, he refused to think in what was considered practical terms at the time. Amidst skepticism of the competitiveness of renewable energy in energy markets, Mark’s work centered around one simple question with massive implications for the future of clean energy: can we power the entire world with renewable energy?
That was the impetus for The Solutions Project, an organization focused on the message of delivering 100% of renewable energy to 100% of people. The idea was bold but effective — because just like no one wants to make it 98% of the way to the moon, Mark found that people can embrace and rally behind the idea that being completely reliant on renewable energy is possible. It’s easier to get excited about 100% than 80%, 90%, or 98%.
As the podcast progresses, Zach and Mark think critically about the power of messaging, and why The Solutions Project, the idea of 100% renewable energy, has been so effective. Mark views his role not only as a scientist, but also as a communicator. And the key to communication, he says, is to let people know that clean energy is not just about climate change — it’s also about the intersecting problems of air pollution, public health, and energy security, for example. In all of these areas, renewable energy is a beacon of hope as a viable and promising solution. 100% renewable energy may be bold, but it is a wake-up call and an exciting prospect to get behind. According to Mark, while this concept may have seemed a bit crazy at the time it emerged, the world has come around and it’s not so far from reach.
Zach and Mark explore the hopeful positives of these solutions, answers to climate change, deadly pollution, and more. These positive messages have gained a collective following, which has in turn driven a lot of the impact proposed in Mark’s work on state and national energy plans. His campaign surrounding wind, water, and solar (WWS), for example, has been one success.
While the messaging is important, Mark is also a firm believer that solutions must be created and driven by people from a wide range of public and private sectors. A long night spent writing the beginning of a New York Energy Plan launched Mark into the world of policymaking and business, and it was through this engagement that Mark realized sticking to scientist circles had been limiting his ability to create meaningful and effective solutions. Though he is a scientist by training, Mark’s work with business people, cultural leaders, and community leaders was what kickstarted The Solutions Project, which brings together a collective group of important players in science, business, culture, and community to contribute different perspectives and followings.
Mark and a star-studded team formed The Solutions Project to educate the public and policy makers about viable renewable energy planning on the state and national level. Over time, the organization also expanded to help galvanize nonprofits who are on board with 100% renewable energy and began to focus even more on renewable energy access for marginalized and disadvantaged communities. 100% renewable energy became “100% renewable energy for 100% of people.” And that’s where 100.org started in order to bring together thought leaders on the subject and connect small groups to grants that could help them advance renewable energy objectives.
But while there is a lot of excitement and promise in the work that Mark does, none of this comes without significant challenges. As the podcast comes to a close, Mark and Zach provide commentary on some of the most difficult pieces of the puzzle, especially pushback on the feasibility of 100% renewable energy. Together they dispute some of the biggest incorrect assumptions that hinder progress of changing the energy dependency status quo to renewable energy and show that these ideas are not so crazy after all.
To hear more on these topics, in addition to fun stories of Tesla cofounder J.B. Straubel and Mark’s experiences in the early days of owning a Tesla Roadsters, listen to the show!