The Art of Defiance

All of us can and must do more than react. We must be pro-active. We must win the world we want at the same time as stopping the grim world they’re offering. Build bridges not walls. Solutions not problems. Abundance not scarcity. We need to know where we’re going and how to get there. Last Friday, Art Rosenfeld, one of the greatest proponents of this kind of defiance — of getting what we need against power itself — passed away in his bed aged 90. I think that in his life’s work and story we can see a model for us, all, now.

We won’t go back.

It seems that California will be the defiant state in the time of Trump. And so it should be given the cabinet of billionaires, the betrayal of our nation’s refugee roots and rejection of science. “Resist” is the byword of our days because not to do so may well be to go down the road towards a fascist dictatorship. There should be no benefit of the doubt for this administration. They have already shown their hand and plans. It is important that we defend the liberties and gains we have made. That we protect children from being separated from their mothers. Our sick from not receiving their meds. And act on energy and climate issues. As Governor Jerry Brown of California said in his “We Won’t go Back” state of the state speech on January 24th:

“Our state is known the world over for actions we’ve taken to encourage renewable energy and combat climate change. Whatever they do in Washington, they can’t change the facts, and these are the facts: The climate is changing. The temperatures are rising — and so are the oceans. Natural habitats everywhere are under stress. We can’t fall back and give in to the climate deniers. The science is clear, the danger is real. We can do much on our own and we can join with others — other states and provinces, even other countries — to stop the dangerous rise in climate pollution.”

Science and Art

Art Rosenfeld came to California from Alabama via Chicago. A classic kind of American journey except that he studied under Enrico Fermi and got a PhD in Physics along the way. In the 1950s he turned his mind to the wasted energy in our economy and sought to study it so that he could change it. There is no way I could summarize all that he did in pursuit of that passion but suffice to say that we now call one of the hallmarks of the Californian economy the “Rosenfeld Effect”.

This depicts the outcome of the Rosenfeld Effect, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions by reducing energy use.

The Rosenfeld Effect is the reality that we produce more, year on year, with less energy in defiance of the trends and assumptions. Indeed, California has decoupled its economic output from energy use in the period that Art and his apostles have been at it. Since 1973, when Art’s energy efficiency approaches started being implemented in earnest with the backing of then Governor Brown, simple appliance standards that he pioneered have saved billions of dollars for Californian consumers. He led a movement and market for the conservation of energy globally. In that is a model.

In 2010, a community of peers was so convinced of the merit of this man’s work that they created a new unit in his honor to characterize electricity savings. It is called a Rosenfeld. One Rosenfeld is equivalent to about 3 billion kilowatt-hours per year, which is the electrical output of one 500 megawatt coal power plant under some assumptions. One Rosenfeld of such savings also abates 3 million metric tons of CO2 per annum. The name Rosenfeld marks the very act of saving money and carbon emissions!

100% clean energy for all

This kind of recognition reflects brilliance and persistence. Fifty plus years of dogged work. Always seeking to stop energy waste, save people money and reduce pollution. That was Art. I only met him a couple of times but he was as spry an octogenarian as ever I met with his eyes on his prize — not the name of an obscure unit of negative energy measurement but the real world impact of making it a better place. We learn this from Art: We need to know what we want, as he did from the 1950s till last Friday, and how we are going to get it.

It’s clear to us that our goal on these issues should be clean energy for everyone. That’s what we at the California Clean Energy Fund are working towards every day. Given the trends in electricity and mobility, we are on the cusp of creating an abundance of clean energy for 100% of our global community. In the next four years we, collectively, have an opportunity to shape clean energy services that work for everyone in the future at costs that they can afford. How we deliver and who benefits the most with this promise is important too. And we should note that we don’t have 50 years to do this — we have fifteen.

This is our struggle — to pursue the cost-down curves of solar, wind and storage; to innovate and push the boundaries of what is possible, in order to deliver equitable clean energy for everyone. The good news is there will be plenty of value, wealth building and good jobs to be shared. Maintaining our focus on this incredible opportunity to deliver future generations from all the inequities inherent in the current energy economy is going to be a challenge. While we must continue to react to the demands of the moment, we have to forge ahead with this work. Social movements and market makers alike should stay the course despite what Washington DC or others may say or send our way.

To be distracted is to be defeated. So here is our gameplan in 3 steps:

  1. Scale Up

First, deploy more wind, solar and storage at scale to drop cost. We are not relying on government support for this change — it is forced by economics. But government and good policy can help. The last decade has seen remarkable adoption rates of clean energy systems — wind and solar as the predominant generating resources combined with an abundance of storage and smart grid solutions — that reduced the cost of electricity more than 50%. We must work this. It has already disrupted utility businesses in Europe, Australia and Asia and will leave no electricity market the same. California and beyond can embrace that change.

Thanks to CleanTechnica for reworking this graph.

Simply put, you can no longer build a coal plant, let alone a gas, an oil or nuclear power plant for lower cost than a wind or solar farm. And the more we do this the better it gets. We’ll keep selling solar and wind and start selling storage in smart applications across our electricity markets, and export those capabilities to emerging economies where the vast bulk of new electricity demand will be, so that by 2020 we have doubled clean energy capacity globally and reduced cost per kilowatt-hour by over 20%.

2. Leverage Entrepreneurs

Second, we must drive entrepreneurial innovation to increase uptake and scale. In some ways, this administration has brought clarity to our cause. As Umair Haque has explained on Medium, not seeing economic disparity as a driver of the extremisms we’re now facing is like denying climate science. We need businesses that serve communities not yet touched by the clean energy industry. Low income housing, apartment dwellers, and many others are yet to fully benefit from rooftop solar. From the Midwest of the US to the “bottom of the pyramid”, we have much to do. The good news is we have answers — for example, batteries could be made close to their end-use, creating manufacturing jobs in the Midwest as part of our auto supply chain (and we would take out Big Oil with electric cars).

Other ideas abound: capturing the full value of wind power with storage to shift it to match the load; getting EVs everywhere as sinks for solar supply while providing cost-free mobility; and better financing solutions especially in emerging markets, are all ideas that will spawn tens of thousands of entrepreneurs who will build thousands of companies, creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs in the community. California has relentlessly pursued innovation in energy and benefited with tens of thousands of jobs; lower cost electricity for millions; and a growing amount of clean electricity.

At this rate of doubling, California could be 100% solar-powered by 2030 if we just keep scaling and innovating. The California Clean Energy Fund has just this month launched two efforts to keep it rolling: A very early stage fund for 100 energy concepts that can benefit California electricity ratepayers. It’s $24 million of non-dilutive grant money that entrepreneurs may not normally have access to, which allows them to prove their concept. We also launched an accelerator for more mature startups seeking to work with traditional utility companies called Free Electrons, intended to surface new models for a world where electrons are virtually free!

3. Make it Work for Everyone

Finally, and most critically, we need to build equitable outcomes into the opportunities we create with clean energy now. Every new company is an opportunity not just to save “operating expenses” for a family or business, but a chance to engage more people in the clean energy industry as owners, employees, and leaders. Our constituency must diversify in the USA such that its benefits are felt by the many and so it does not become a bubble phenomenon. We need to share learnings of California’s experience in driving clean energy and creating true common-wealth with countries going through rapid electrification and urbanization. The California Clean Energy Fund will work on inclusive entrepreneurial development domestically and in solidarity with like-minds globally to find, fund and form the startups that will lead the charge. This will create many good jobs too. Jobs, jobs, jobs.

So that’s the gameplan and the bottomline: It’s all about reduced costs and increased jobs. And that is what the world needs now. Demonstrating the jobs potential of the clean economy to the forgotten people of middle America will show the lie of going back to fossil fuels-led industry. If the Trump government succeeds in bringing back 10% of the workforce in coal mining by 2020, which would be to defy the market and subsidize a dying industry, they would create 6,000 jobs in America. Solar alone created 50,000 last year. It has grown at 20% p.a. in terms of job creation for the last 5 years — no other industry in America compares. And in years to come millions of Americans will be employed in distributed power systems.

We can lead.

California, were it independent of the rest of the US, would be the 6th or 7th largest economy in the world. When this Federal administration has passed, the world will have doubled clean energy capacity on Earth and halved its cost, by building on the foundations of energy efficiency and renewables that Art and others set for us. California is known around the world as smart, efficient and dynamic when the status quo is profligate and dumb about energy. Art helped us set this mode for energy productivity so far in the 21st century: ratcheting up standards; using no new coal power; winding down our nukes; all while we were able to establish the iconic companies of our era from Apple to Google; produce clean cars and buses like Tesla, BYD and Proterra; employ 100,000 people in the solar industry out of the great recession; and so on. Staying this course, with equitable clean energy at the core of our plans, will be best way to maintain our defiance of the powers that be in Washington DC. Shine on!