I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.—Abraham Lincoln

GrandyOats-Net Zero Food Production FacilityNot long after people had begun the quantum leap from horse and buggy to automobiles, and in the face of profound skepticism about whether it was possible, two bicycle mechanics from Ohio overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to build and fly the world’s first airplane.

These disruptive societal transformations were enabled by human ingenuity and fossil fuels with incredible energy density. The Industrial Revolution and the ensuing Technological Revolution have been powered by coal, oil and gas and now we are crossing the threshold into what Jeremy Rifkin calls the Third Industrial Revolution, whereby renewable energy and electric transportation will converge to enable the transition from a fossil fuel-powered society to a sustainable clean energy society.

This next transition is every bit as daunting as what the Wright brothers faced at the beginning of the 20th century. With 7 billion humans burning fossil fuels in earth’s closed atmosphere and expected growth to 9 billion over the next two decades, carbon emissions are one of the world’s most urgent existential threats.

Cause for hope can be found in the freshly minted Paris climate agreement, under which industrialized nations and the rest of the world have finally committed to serious reductions in carbon emissions. Obama’s Clean Power Plan coupled with the extension of solar and wind tax credits are evidence that the world’s highest per capita carbon emitter (America) is trying to get its act together.

At ReVision Energy we are optimistic because we are witnessing northern New England’s gradual transition to a clean energy economy. In 2015 we built the region’s first net zero school, the first net zero food production facility and the first net positive office building that will produce more solar electricity than it uses every year for the next 40 years:

This year I am driving my kids in a solar-powered, zero emission electric car (roughly 50% of U.S. carbon pollution comes from transportation) to their hockey practices at one of the region’s first solar-powered ice rinks.

Casco Bay Arena - Solar Powered Ice Rink

Solar Powered Nissan LEAF

The clean energy transition is gaining momentum worldwide. Ignoring the Volkswagen emissions scandal for a moment, it’s worth noting that in 2015 both Germany and Denmark had days when production from their wind and solar facilities exceeded total national energy demand under ideal conditions when the wind was blowing hard and the sun was shining brightly. Although both countries still rely on diminishing amounts of fossil fuels to fill the intermittent gaps of renewable resources, they are making steady progress toward their goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050.

In the spirit of the Wright Brothers, this year the first solar-powered plane is circumnavigating the globe:

Solar Powered Airplane

The first solar-powered boat is circumnavigating the oceans:

Solar Powered Boat

And Norway recently launched the world’s first all-electric commercial fishing boat:

Solar Powered Fishing Boat

The technology we are going to need for the clean energy revolution continues to emerge. Energy storage and microgrids are just beginning to enable the integration of renewable energy, batteries and smart grids so that communities can be wholly self-sustaining when the utility grid is down and grid-supporting when it is up.

This clean energy transition represents the same colossal scale of job opportunities that resulted from the build-out of the industrial revolution and its roads, bridges, dams and communication infrastructure. Although we have immense challenges yet to overcome, we can see proverbial light at the end of a decades-long tunnel to the clean energy future and take inspiration from the reality that getting there represents one of the greatest economic and environmental opportunities in the history of mankind.

1 Comment

Charlie Behrens says:

My deepest thanks to Phil Coupe for writing this lovely article. This was indeed a year of many successes worth celebrating. However, not to be a “nattering nabob of negativism,” I must ask, how is a fishing boat (electric or not) a sign of environmental progress?

At this point in history, 3/4 of the world’s fisheries are exploited or depleted, yet we are still pulling 90-100 Million tons of fish from the oceans each year. For every 1 pound of fish caught, up to 5 pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill, which means that upwards of 2.7 Trillion individual animals are pulled from the ocean every year — and this is steadily increasing. It is quite possible that we will see fishless oceans by 2048. In short, humans cannot continue to eat ocean animals at anything resembling our current rate, without loss of the entire ocean ecosystem.

We must dramatically change our food choices if we, the humans, want to hope for survival. I’d love to see ReVision Energy make a public statement on food sources that compliments its excellent stand on energy sources.

“Overfishing: A Threat to Marine Biodiversity.” UN News Center.

“General Situation of World Fish Stocks.” United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“World Review of Fisheries and Aquaculture.” UNITED NATIONS FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION (FAO). 2012. (pg 6, 20)

Montaigne, fen. “Still waters: The global fish crisis.” National Geographic.

“Discards and Bycatch in Shrimp Trawl Fisheries.” UNITED NATIONS FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION (FAO).

Science, “Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services”.

National Geographic, “Seafood May Be Gone by 2048”

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