Small is Beautiful: We Don’t Need to Go Big To Create New Energy Sources

PERI’s Robert Pollin, author of Greening the Global Economy, says community-owned renewable energy sources are the path to the future

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay coming today from the PERI Institute in Amherst, Massachusetts.

In the new book Greening the Global Economy Rob Pollin says we don’t need to go big to create new energy sources; in fact, small is beautiful. One of the central ideas in his book. And he now joins us here at the PERI Institute, thanks for joining us.

ROBERT POLLIN: Thanks for having me.

JAY: So the book is Greening the Global Economy and here it is. So let’s explore this a little bit. So what do you mean? Usually I think when people think, building a new green infrastructure creating thousands of jobs, its usually on some big scale. People imagine like thousands of windmills and such but you’re saying there’s other alternatives.

POLLIN: Well, there will, should be thousands of windmills but if we look for example at the experiences and of a few Western European countries Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the UK. They do have wind turbine projects that are community owned, that are placed right in the middle of the community, for example like right in the middle of Copenhagen. And they are community owned and because they are community owned they operate at lower levels of profitability, the people are willing to except lower levels of profitability. They have lower transmission costs because the wind turbine is right there in the community so you don’t have to have these long transmission infrastructure projects. And the community is supportive of it cause they own it.

JAY: So instead of a massive wind farm somewhere out here. One in the town.

POLLIN: And corporate owned. And so you can have small scaled projects. Look, the smallest scale project is putting a solar panel on your roof. And you know, that may not work every single place but for the most part that is a completely viable strategy for communities throughout the country, as we’ve discussed where we’re sitting at our PERI institute we’re putting a new building right across the way. In cold, not so sunny western Massachusetts that is going to over the course of the year, require it doesn’t have no emissions over the course of the year. It’s going to depend on being heavily insulated, high efficiency building, with solar energy and geothermal energy.

JAY: I guess this has a particular importance for developing countries, this idea that you don’t have to go big to generate energy.

POLLIN: Absolutely, now if you look the prime case right now is India. 40% of the rural population today has zero electricity. So, I mean, talking about, debates over how to develop an energy system. Well the most practical thing is precisely to put in small scale solar projects, wind turbines and let them operate within the community. And moreover, the people can then, instead of having spend half the day gathering wood, they can charge up, say, cooking equipment and use that in the home, based on the solar. This, you know, this is a huge opportunity to leap frog over technologies that are very big, very expensive, that tear up the environment and that aren’t coming anyway, into the rural areas.

JAY: And when you come back into a European/North American situation, you emphasize that you don’t need big, massive windmill farms, corporately owned. But that, isn’t that the only way to attract corporate capital? If it’s not enough scale, it’s not worth investing in.

POLLIN: Right, so that’s why you can do it on a small scale.

JAY: Without corporate investment?

POLLIN: You can do it on a small scale without corporate investment. As we’ve talked about before, I myself have a small [inaudible]

JAY: If you want to electrify a town, you’re not going to just, a lot of places its just not practical to create a lot enough electricity. Certainly now if I understand the technology well enough; we don’t have very good batteries yet to make sure that the solar can actually be kept overnight or days when its cloudy.

POLLIN: That’s right, so for example, the building that we’re putting up across the way. We’re not going to have enough solar energy and geothermal energy to last every single day. So we are connected to the grid. What happens over the course of the year, is that we have an excess supply of solar energy generated from the solar panels; which we then sell back to the utility companies. So over the course of the year, that’s how we get to net zero. We are using the utility which uses fossil fuel power. But over the course of the year we won’t. This model is applicable and available to every single building that goes up. There’s no reason why every building, over time, can’t do that. Indeed, in Germany that’s the commitment. By 2050, or there about, every single building is going to be net zero.

JAY: Well I guess in some ways it’s a political issue because there’s one reason, which is, if you happen to own a lot of fossil fuel this ain’t sounding so good.

POLLIN: No, of course not. And what’s going to happen over time is that the fossil fuel industry is just going to have to face its demise. There’s really no alternative. If the major source of climate change is burning fossil fuels for energy, there are other factors, but that is the single most important by a large degree. So, if we take climate science seriously, we simply can’t keep burning fossil fuels. There’s just no way about it.

Now that doesn’t mean that we can’t have energy; for buildings, for transportation, for industry, for all the conveniences we have now. It just means we have to have clean energy and high efficiency systems.

JAY: And you can go small to do it.

POLLIN: And you can go small to do it. You should go small to do it.

JAY: Alright thanks very much for joining us.

POLLIN: Okay.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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