nettime's lunar digest on Tue, 26 Feb 2002 08:33:23 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Re: solar infrastructure

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   responding to concerns on solar infrastructure                                  
     Toby Barlow <>                                                

   Re: <nettime>  Re: the development of a solar infrastructure                    
     bc <>                                                   


Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 11:14:56 -0800 (PST)
From: Toby Barlow <>
Subject: responding to concerns on solar infrastructure

I think your questions are interesting.  But the
question I have is a fundamental one. As opposed to
the situation 30 years ago, solar is now a mature
technology, costs being reduced dramatically in the
last 15 years while efficiencies have improved. But it
has an immature manufacturing and marketing base, so
how do we solve for that? 

And in those 30 years the debate may not have changed
much, but the players have. Nuclear was a much
stronger option 30 years ago, until safety issues,
public protest, and, finally, Three Mile Island got in
the way. It is beginning to re-emerge as an option
now, especially as proponents describe it as "clean"
i.e. no greenhouse gasses, but with it identified as
an actual terrorist target, the national security
issues and related insurance costs will probably keep
it from being the big winner. 

On the other hand, a strong new case for solar at home
can now be made, insofar as homeland security begins
with homegrown energy. (note: why hasn't anyone
pointed out that George Bush's Axis of Evil somehow
conveniently left out Saudi Arabia, where the majority
of the hijackers actually came from? We do so love our
energy supply.)  

And increased exploration, though it might please the
Teamsters and the Alaskan electorate, doesn't begin to
address our energy supply needs, not to mention the
fact that it adds insult to the injury of our Kyoto

Finally, the highly touted fuel cells, which are far
from a mature technology, may ultimately serve as
another portion of our energy portfolio. The important
thing is (a) diversification of said portfolio and (b)
finding ways to make solar to play a increased role.
Solar bonds could do just that.

While weather patterns may change, a sudden influx of
cloudy days, even if it's thirty percent more, would
still leave you with ten or so free years of energy.
If it's more than thirty percent, than we have much
bigger problems than the source of our electricity.
As for the solar panels adding to climate change -
given the current state of the industry,if solar
permeated so many rooftops that it was an issue even
within the next twenty five years, I would be
surprised. But more to the point, if you are putting
solar panels on rooftops that are already black with
tar, which most industrial roof space is, there is no
additional warming. And finally, just as wind turbines
have been technologically improved to avoid pureeing
local fowl, so too could improvements be made for
solar to protect the environment, if they were ever
deemed necessary. 

While long range forecasting is important, I think,
fundamentally, we have to find creative ways to put
options like solar forward, or else the massive
climate change you speak of is a foregone conclusion.
At least it looks that way from here.

One final question for nettime users, are there any
fundamental links with Japanese or German renweable
energy intellectuals and activists? Is there a
newsgroup of such marvelous beings? Since those
countries have the most comprehensive solar market
(again, largely state supported but, with companies
like Sharp expanding their solar production into the
U.S. which leads to the question, when have the
Japanese and Germans backed a technological bad idea
in the last 30 years?) a internet network of
interested parties could learn a lot.

Thanks. Toby.


- --------------------------------------------------------
Toby Barlow
250 Texas St. SF CA 94107
(415) 385-6679 cell
(415) 863-4069 home
(415) 733-0783 work


Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2002 20:24:06 -0600
From: bc <>
Subject: Re: <nettime>  Re: the development of a solar infrastructure

Toby Barlow from replied:

>I think your questions are good ones. I think there
>are ideas worth studying here. But the question I have
>is a fundamental one. Solar is a mature technology
>with an immature manufacturing and marketing base, so
>how do you change that?

  i do not know. many people have tried, though, as you
  are probably well aware of. politicians. scientists. and
  activists.  economics has been the easiest dismissal of
  solar tech in the USA, as it would cost more when the
  statisticians were sporting numbers for various game
  plays. yet the 'cost', as has been argued, is not just
  that of the consumer. but production, transmission,
  conversion, distribution also. and this can lead to the
  issues of mining of raw materials that are questionable
  in their destructive qualities of habitat, and-or human
  health, as uranium mines are a few steps in the chain
  of events to making these computers work, along with
  everything else.

  so, if it is economics,well, energy bonds and the idea
  of investing in the future, now, is a solid approach, if
  communities can find the critical mass to realize it. yet,
  when a local power company is owned by another which
  resides across the country, as part of its power portfolio,
  well, again, as all know, powerful interests are at stake,
  and any local initiatives risk taking on the behemoth of
  the energy machine in its political-economic functioning.

  if it is evaluated in the vague terms of pure force, and
  friction, a small band or tribe of people who want to help
  bring in the change are rubbing against the very foundation
  of the local interest, if the status quo is the default action.
  whereas the deeply embedded and self-interested system
  of Operation that pre-exists and has superceded all of the
  prior attempts to change it for the better, is like a well-
  greased machine, ready to steamroll anything in its path
  to systematic growth and complete market control.

  thus, and this is only a guess, but if issues of energy are
  only discussed in economic terms, and debated and shared
  in these lingos, it can limit what is at stake, what can occur.
  that is why energy is so often a 'wonk' issue, it seems, as
  statistics, esoteric techniques, and verbage, and also the
  obfuscation of the issues in sheer public relations spinnage,
  can be an unbearable opponent when aiming for clarification.

  the anti-strategy, fight force with force, of ideas, of PR,
  of propaganda, can destroy legitimacy by walking into the
  trap of doing what the opponent is accused of, the bait and
  switch reversal of a monologic of staid energy ideologies.

  whereas, if the technical aspects of energy were, in an
  open and democratic and public way, understood as being
  of cultural significance, and consequence, and debated on
  these more fully realistic parameters (with subsequent
  but supportive not primary) statistics and scenarios, then
  this educated understanding might help build the critical
  mass needed to transform something that is more than
  about consumption (it is not as simple as buying a solar
  panel and plugging it in, it just does not work that way)
  but also about production, why, how, where, when, who.

  and the point being, not everyone is who (for solar, or
  even for in some cases, given unique givens).

  thus, 'energy bonds' with energy as commodity is akin
  to the enronomics (political economics of enron as .biz)
  of the energy markets, and, in pragmatic circumstance,
  is seemingly unlikely to have critical mass (less, is the
  'solar' bonds, as something like this is not universal in
  its application, as only a portion of a country or region
  can use solar for self-sufficiency, it is not plug-&-play).

>While weather patterns may change, a sudden influx of
>cloudy days, even if it's thirty percent more, would
>still leave you with ten or so free years of energy.
>If it's more than thirty percent, we're all screwed

  my delay in responding was i was trying to locate an
  architectural chart of regional sun and cloudcover stat-
  istics to demonstrate that solar technology is a science,
  whereby like the old sliderule books of calculations, an
  area will have specific attributes that are necessary in
  making a judgement of whether or not solar will be a
  viable alternative, by weather statistics. meaning, the
  above '30% more cloudy days = 10 years free energy'
  is highly questionable given the subject. doesn't add up
  to the way the technology works, when it does work,
  or so it seems. (and there are solar 'off grid' people
  on the list, i gather, who might share their experience).

  the point being that if you took a geographic region, say
  california, and put solar panels over the entire area, in
  some places, it might be of great benefit, of others, it
  might be of wasted benefit but if optimized it might do
  what it can do efficiently, and in other areas, it may
  not be productive at all, as the climate is not right for
  the universal roll out of solar (or wind, or even coal,
  natural gas, oil, nuclear, hydro, wave, biomass, geo...)

  this is the reason that 'energy bonds' may bring more
  people into your initiative than solar alone. as it is a
  highly variable technology, given local circumstances.
  whereas energy, as energy, is a universal situation,
  people need it, it needs to change in many ways, and
  to change it requires people, and people who can find
  a way to do it on the scales necessary for society,
  beyond the economic-political boundaries of any set.

>As for the solar panels adding to climate change -
>first of all if solar permeated so many rooftops that
>it was even an issue even within the next twenty five
>years, I would be surprised. But more to the point, if
>you are putting solar panels on rooftops that are
>already black with tar, it's adds nothing. So I can't
>imagine that is an issue either.

  well, think of a lake, then. reflection. humidity levels
  from water. or not. all things affect weather patterns,
  small bushes in a field, grass or no grass, waterways,
  forests, hills. to all of the sudden place a huge mirror
  on the built environment looking upward when the sun
  is shining, at whatever percentage it illuminates the
  world beow through the clouds, is coming back up into
  the atmosphere, even potentially heating it, global-
  warming like, possibly (have no idea, but as an e.g.).
  solar technolgy is certainly not without problems. but
  it is also better than a lot of things in place today, also.

>I certainly respect and admire your long range
>forecasting. But I think, fundamentally, we have to
>get this thing going or else the massive climate
>change you speak of is a foregone conclusion, at least
>the way we're currently headed.

  agreed, we have to get things going. and they are very
  much stalled in rhetoric of political-economic constructs
  that keep the issues in the box of technique & technicality.

  community organizing, well, if successful enough, you
  might be greated by the national guard. or, as being in
  n.california, you might know you might get your legs
  lopped off by a train in trying to put yourself into the
  cogs and stop the machinery. sadly, bodies do not work
  that well against pure forces that have near total control.

  but we do have our free minds, as free as we can make
  them or let them be, if we can share our ideas, dreams,
  hopes, knowledge, and work within limits but boundless
  in imaginations and efforts and ingenuity and inventions.

  so to add a piece, if it is an issue of now, and of how to
  bring these issues forward, a public energy debate, and
  accurate assessment of energy's role in our common culture,
  and its impact and policy, here and all around the world, from
  mines and exploding pipelines, to pollution spewing out of the
  sockets of everyone of our electronic gadgets we use, and that
  in their dual-purpose give us this freedom and reach to bring
  global debates and issues into and around the globe, then it
  may be that by attempting to act, even if in a certain type
  of futility (of which the Public Energy Network can be taken
  or identified as), it is still in some common vision or maybe
  an agreement, at the most basic levels in this most complex
  and complicated of social civilizations of e-technologies that
  the amassing of the critique and the hope for change can build.


public energy network
democratic power systems

>Thanks. Toby.
>Toby Barlow
>250 Texas St. SF CA 94107
>(415) 385-6679 cell
>(415) 863-4069 home
>(415) 733-0783 work

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