Tuesday, July 19, 2016


We all now live in a world with planet-wide problems, many aspects of which are neither generated nor solvable at the local level.  The vast scope of problems such as global warming often leaves us feeling overwhelmed or grasping at straws that cannot hope to appreciably address the concern.

What if we had a path forward to accelerate the required changes and help fix the planet while giving us some more personal control, helping us financially, and providing a foundation for peace and plenty?  Would you be on board?  What if it was also managed through a truly global, truly democratic body -- would you be interested?

Too Good to be True?
This all is within reach. It is necessary that we find ways to accelerate our transition away from greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuels, while increasing the resource wealth for all of us.
I am suggesting a possible, practical approach to taking control of our individual and collective destinies.  It is a simple, but multi-layered idea which, if valid, can do all I suggest.   Here is the basis of our reasoning, presented in the following four principles:

1. Free energy shines every day.
The sun, in fact, provides so much energy to the Earth that we have been burning fossil fuels to offset the heat effect.
The average power intercepted at any time by the earth's surface is around 25,400 TeraWatts. To put this into perspective, the total annual electrical energy consumed in the world from all sources in 2011 was 22,126 TWh (International Energy Agency (IEA)). In other words, the amount of solar energy hitting the Earth every hour is greater than the amount of electricity used by the world in an entire year.

The challenge over the years has been figuring out how to convert this energy to usable power.  With technological advances, this has become less and less of a concern.

Solar panels (also called photovoltaic or PV panels) have gotten much cheaper and easier to make, putting them within financial reach of many more people globally.  Every year, or with each increase in production volume,  the cost of PV panels drops 5-10%.  Much of this price drop is due to greater competition, improved manufacturing methods and, to a smaller extent, improvement in the basic technology itself.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  The solar conversion technologies in development offer the promise of significantly lowered costs, with some even allowing PV panels to be produced on home printers for pennies per watt..

Solar panels have an expected life of 30-50 years.  After we have paid for them and saved on paying the utility or the Wall Street solar companies costs, we should have 35 or more of these years with “free energy”.

We will only realize the benefits of cheap PV-generated energy when we can get free of Wall Street-controlled solar enterprises and utility companies whose existence depends on maintaining profits at the expense of not only your dollars, but your freedom. Their model rarely leaves the customer with the 30-40 years of free energy that is the true promise of the technology and leaves the entry cost artificially high to continually extract profit for its stockholders. The additional result of cheap solar energy can be the total independence from all fossil fuels, including natural gas.

It should be obvious that the shortest path to rapid reduction of greenhouse gases is only achievable when all fossil fuels can be eliminated from high volume use, and only cheap renewable energy offers us this potential

2.  The co-op option: Solar panel buying co-ops are popping up all over the world!
This is really good news!  These solar buying groups are local democratic membership businesses, very much on the scale and model of food co-ops.  The group members pool their resources to get better prices together than they could as individuals.  At this point, I have estimated that there are approximately 200,000 members of solar buying co-ops worldwide - and growing.

3. Energy costs set the price of all goods and services.
This may not be obvious to some, but simple manufacturing math tells us that the cost of labor is insignificant in comparison with the energy-intensive inputs of raw materials extraction, equipment, transportation, and heating/cooling.

A simplified principle can be stated as: expensive energy results in expensive goods; inexpensive energy yields inexpensive goods.

4. If we can significantly reduce energy costs, we will increase collective and individual wealth.
With dramatically reduced energy costs, the price of goods would lower significantly, to the point that all will benefit from the wholesale price reductions.

An example of our ability to influence energy costs can be seen in Hawaii, where the increased input of solar energy to the grid has almost put the utility company out of business. The demand for grid supplied energy has reduced the utility to more of maintenance function rather than profit center as large numbers of households make more energy than they need.

What if we formed one big global network of all these solar co-ops and existing energy utility co-ops?  This is a very real possibility, since all economic interests coincide, and to do it would just mean adding another level of pooling resources.  

Working on this expanded scale would allow the possibility of all the individuals in the greater cooperative structure to jointly own PV panel factories and related equipment, and also to support financing and research for cheaper and better energy technologies..

Individually, current solar 'consumers' already invest enough money to make the numbers work.  If we pooled resources, we could all profit from this in many ways.  As members of the cooperative, just as with a credit union, all will share in the expanding financial benefits of the solar co-op’s success.

Simple math:
Average solar installation is 4kW ( kilowatt=1000 watts) at $3-4 per Watt, installed
4kW x $3 per watt (invested per household) = $12K per average installation
$12K x 200K global members = $2.4 billion

This amount of money can do big things, including allowing co-op members to own their own factories.
Add to this recent growth in solar cooperatives the almost-hidden energy cooperatives and locally controlled utilities through the US, one can see that people-owned energy is not a distant dream but a present reality.

The pooled buying power of both energy and solar co-ops is great enough to drive the price of solar down to affordability for most everyone, everywhere and could also provide financing, research, and localized PV manufacturing, making PV ubiquitous.

The sad arguments that renewables can never provide the bulk of most nations energy needs fly in the face of the realities of home and neighborhood-based energy production. Most arguments for the need for fossil fuels are grounded in utility-based energy supply, but if a home can supply both its domestic energy needs and the bulk of its transportation energy, the issue only becomes that of a need for excess energy generation capable of supplying the needs of many who live in cities or are renters. It is helpful that per capita consumption of city families is significantly less than single-family homes.

The result of these four principles combined: very low cost energy, generated at our homes, free of a national or regional grid, replacing not only utility fossil fuel energy but also direct-home use of fossil sources.  Additionally, lowering the cost of goods can then turn the zero-sum economics game on its head by eliminating the myth of scarcity.

This would be an energy revolution - energy is power.

The problems we face on a global scale are fundamentally economic.  Even much of the local violence is the result of economic disparities. In fact, violence and mayhem feed the current economic engine.

Cheap energy means more for everyone and really cheap energy means we all get to decide what kinds of systems make sense for our world.  We can provide the good life for all rather than a select few.  This is what 'free solar energy' can do if approached cooperatively.

Future articles in this series will explain further details on this idea.  I welcome your thoughts, questions, and assistance in this process.  Contact us:

Local meetings are being organized to explore the potential for local co-ops  and we welcome any assistance offered to help us move these ideas forward.

phone number 707-774-9550