DIY Energy Transition

SFS Solar MapIn the latest issues of Monthly, Copenhagen Confirmation, (see: 2009 Annualfor a discounted price on this issue) I explained that not only wereenergy transition and climate-change mitigation essentially the sameproblem but that world political leaders would do precisely zero abouteither.

A political leader of any country, developed or developing, isno more going to place an onerous carbon tax on power consumption thanthey are going to push their economy into energy transition. On theclimate change issue, the optimal tactic is to enter carbon reductionagreements, and then to not adhere. This has and will prove truewhether you are Australia, or China. On the problem of energytransition, the optimal course for politicians is to protect theautomobile and road construction industry and then simply letprice–which is already cutting its way through the system–do the workof transition.

Yes, it’s true that EU standards triggered alot of energy transitioninfrastructure building over the past decade. It’s also true that inmore centrally planned economies, like China, the construction of railand solar is proceeding at a much faster rate. Europe and especiallyEastern Europe have hardly given up the automobile, however, and Asiacontinues to build new coal fired power generation alongside motorwayadoption. As always, it’s a question of scale. The industrialisation ofAsia just like the decline of the US Empire–these are big enough trendsthat getting out in front of such trajectories in any meaningfulway would require taking too much political risk. The financialcommunity also has short-term investment horizons, and has shown thatit would generally prefer to monetize serially, than invest for thelong term.

Thus, I now concur with other writers and thinkers working in theenergy, resources, and transition area. Whether its Copenhagen, Europe,or Washington the wrongly scaled political bodies are all too superscaled,and are only able to hand out token change amidst their core strategyof status quo protection. This is why I think places likeBoulder/Denver, Portland, and Copenhagen the city–not Copenhagen theconference–will accomplish more in the way of energy transition thanany national government. In places like California, I see an eventualdecline in State control over policy and a devolution to the countiesand the cities. It may be that counties and cities will decide to buildtheir own solar power, and transport. In fact, on nearly every issuenational governments now look badly broken.

To this end I was intrigued by a new wave of solar power potential maps, highlighted at This is exactly the kind of feedback information system that MIT’s Senseable City Labexplores, for example, and I could see a day when small scale solar onboth the city and county level kicks out all sorts of data and createsits own momentum, in the adoption process. This very nice looking SF Solar Map strikes me as precursor to such interactivity. I think I would have to call this DIY Energy Transition.




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