From the Archives: Who Owns the Sun? (1978)

in Culture

By Dick Bell

The battle lines over solar power are still being joined, and the struggle is a confusing array of the weak and the powerful, of shifting alliances and contradictory objectives and, most importantly, of the swirling together of two quite distinct revolutions, one technical and the other political.

Is solar simply another energy technology, to be plugged into the existing network of multi-national energy companies? Or will solar provide a wedge that social activists can use to transform society, creating a world in which people control the forces that shape their lives?

There is little doubt that we are going to see a lot of solar, despite the foot dragging of the federal Department of Energy. (DOE has 1,700 people working on nuclear power in 1978 and 38 working on solar.) California has passed a 55-percent tax credit for solar equipment, and Jerry Brown has set a 1985 goal for solar homes in California equal in number to Jimmy Carter’s goal for the whole country by that date.

The real question is no longer whether we’re going to get solar, but what kind of solar it will be and who will control it.

Social theorist Amory Lovins has been the chief prophet of those who see solar as a way of decentralizing the energy business, taking energy out of the hands of the utilities and oil companies.

Lovins’s landmark article in the October 1976 issue of Foreign Affairs, “The Road Not Taken,” laid out the energy future as a choice between two paths. The hard path of nuclear, coal, shale oil and liquefied natural gas is capital intensive, centralized and vulnerable to catastrophic failure. Lovins argued that we could meet our energy needs equally well by using the renewable energy flows from the sun combined with strict energy efficiency techniques.

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Author: High Times / High Times

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