DIY Energy Transition

In the latest issues of Monthly, Copenhagen Confirmation, (see: 2009 Annual for a discounted price on this issue) I explained that not only were energy transition and climate-change mitigation essentially the same problem but that world political leaders would do precisely zero about either. A political leader of any country, developed or developing, is no more going to place an onerous carbon tax on power consumption than they are going to push their economy into energy transition. On the climate change issue, the optimal tactic is to enter carbon reduction agreements, and then to not adhere. This has and will prove true whether you are Australia, or China. On the problem of energy transition, the optimal course for politicians is to protect the automobile and road construction industry and then simply let price–which is already cutting its way through the system–do the work of transition.

Yes, it’s true that EU standards triggered alot of energy transition infrastructure building over the past decade. It’s also true that in more centrally planned economies, like China, the construction of rail and solar is proceeding at a much faster rate. Europe and especially Eastern Europe have hardly given up the automobile, however, and Asia continues to build new coal fired power generation alongside motorway adoption. As always, it’s a question of scale. The industrialisation of Asia just like the decline of the US Empire–these are big enough trends that getting out in front of such trajectories in any meaningful way would require taking too much political risk. The financial community also has short-term investment horizons, and has shown that it would generally prefer to monetize serially, than invest for the long term.

Thus, I now concur with other writers and thinkers working in the energy, 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 strategy of status quo protection. This is why I think places like Boulder/Denver, Portland, and Copenhagen the city–not Copenhagen the conference–will accomplish more in the way of energy transition than any national government. In places like California, I see an eventual decline in State control over policy and a devolution to the counties and the cities. It may be that counties and cities will decide to build their own solar power, and transport. In fact, on nearly every issue national 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 Lab explores, for example, and I could see a day when small scale solar on both the city and county level kicks out all sorts of data and creates its 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.


Further Reading

My Working Model: Oil to Solar.

Renewable Retail: Buying Solar Panels Along With Screwdrivers.