We have a new moonshot. Are you ready America?
The opinions stated here are my own, not those of my company.
We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon…We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.
With this speech, now part of our cultural zeitgeist, President Kennedy kicked off the Space Race. This was not just an empty promise, but an effort reminiscent of the full industrial effort the US just two decades earlier. In the 1940s, World War II was everywhere. The country’s industrial effort was unprecedented. You couldn’t go to a movie without seeing ads for war bonds.
The Space Race reinvigorated our economy and our culture. Star Trek debuted, letting our imaginations run wild with the final frontier. New technology like the transistor were made more efficient and led to its adoption in everyday electronics, kicking off new economic progress.
A few weeks ago, we were given a new goal. A reduction of 50% of our carbon emissions and 30 gigawatts of offshore wind production by 2030. This is not going to be easy, but it will organize and measure the best of our energies and skills. It is one that we must accept, that we cannot postpone, that we must win.
Frankly, this is a mission every American should get behind. One reason is that we must embrace the future. The second is that there is fundamentally no reason to keep the status quo. The third is that is opens the potential for future American greatness.
First, we know fossil fuels are on their way out. Coal is going away and won’t come back. The economics are not there.
Fossil fuels are highly volatile economically. We have just seen a supply chain attack cause shortages and price gouging. There’s a lack of economic stability. Second, much of the oil markets are susceptible to geopolitics and international supply chains that can put national businesses at a disadvantage to state corporations.
Coal is also not economical. Despite the efforts of politicians to keep coal around, praising the unreality of “clean coal”, power companies are not interested anymore.
The prices of solar and wind per megawatt-hour have dropped by an incredible amount, faster than any of the expert projections.
In fact, solar and onshore wind are now the cheapest energy sources per megawatt-hour and they’re still getting cheaper. There are other considerations, such as location and startup costs, but you can’t deny the inevitability. It would be very tough for anyone to justify paying three times as much for their energy just to keep coal around. In a market economy, it doesn’t make sense.
We’re seeing an inflection point happening right now. In many places it is cheaper to build new solar plants than maintaining existing coal plants.
Coal is over. We need to accept the new economic reality and embrace it rather than waste years jerking around to prevent the inevitable. Because it is happening whether you like it or not.
The economics are also happening in the automotive sector. While some governments are choosing to phase out gas-powered vehicles entirely, car companies are already announcing their electric vehicles across the world. General Motors is going all-in on EVs, choosing not to make any more gas-powered cars by 2035. The market has spoken.
Why would you choose not to work towards this moonshot? What is wrong with clean energy? It brings new jobs, new investments in infrastructure, and national prestige. Common complaints have common solutions. Batteries store energy from solar and wind to be spread out through the day.
More importantly, clean energy infrastructure can create more resilient systems for citizens and healthier lifestyles.
We saw the failure of our existing power grid during the Texas storm a few months ago. People were left in the cold due to systemic failures at delivering power to the state, primarily due to poor preparation and natural gas pipes freezing.
Let’s put more effort and funding into building smart grids, an area of a lot of academic interest and few practical examples. Solar panels on individual roofs can connect to a local substation, allocating power efficiently to those who need it in your community. Even if mains power shuts down, our towns should be able to supply emergency power while industry makes their repairs. It would turn a national emergency into a light inconvenience.
Saving lives is important, and that’s why we should be quickly adopting clean energy. Not just in delivering power, but in reducing air pollution. You would be surprised just how many people die prematurely each year due to air pollution.
About 60,000 people die due to air pollution each year. It’s a number that’s come down a lot since the 90s, but we can do better. We should keep pushing to decarbonize for our health. Is there any rationale for arguing these deaths are acceptable? For what, an energy system that is more expensive to maintain?
The IEA, the International Energy Agency, is supposed to be made up of experts in the field of energy. They have released a few forecasts on the price of solar over time, per kilowatt-hour. Their forecasts were wrong.
In fact, the cost of solar is dramatically cheaper than what the experts forecasted, and it’s still getting cheaper. We don’t know how cheap solar can get, but it’s opening up the potential for a fundamental shift in our interactions with the world.
I’m not surprised that the modern environmental movement started in the 1970s. The oil embargo resulted in energy suddenly getting more expensive. There was not just a moral but an economic imperative to minimize your costs. Air pollution in Los Angeles was abhorrent. We had to drive less, turn off our lights, and buy energy-star appliances.
Our relationship with energy became something to conserve rather than use. It made a lot of sense at the time, but it did work.
We stopped using so much energy and then tried to make more use of the energy we have. We’ve seen a lot of energy efficiencies but also rising energy prices and minimal productivity growths.
But if keep investing in solar, with its ever increasing energy savings, we may be able to start using more energy both morally and economically. We may be able to achieve energy too cheap to meter.
It’s an old dream, originally about the early days and promises of nuclear power, but a dream that may be within our sites. I don’t think it’s necessarily achievable outright, but the ramifications of current trends present new opportunities for economic and societal growth.
Why do we turn off our devices and lights? Why do we choose not to keep the AC blasting all day? We don’t want to pollute the earth with carbon dioxide, and we certainly don’t want to be billed for doing so. What if we didn’t have those concerns?
What if we could start sticking smarts in our common appliances? We could justify IoT gadgets that sat in our homes, always on and churning through private data offline using beefy processors. We could buy large, powerful appliances that were smarter, more powerful, and faster without having to pay for it at the end of the month. We could transform our urban spaces with new hardware and software. Perhaps mining Bitcoin could actually be environmentally ethical.
These are things that should excite all of us, perhaps for different reasons. But I think we can all agree that cheaper energy is better than expensive energy.
You’ll notice in this essay that I never mention climate change. Yes, it is absolutely an existential threat to our society and our planet. Yes, there are some who deny it in their beliefs and in their political messaging. I’m not going to try to convince doubters of this. Rather, this is meant to persuade them that regardless of climate change there is nothing but upsides in this moonshot.
Imagine the improvements in individual freedoms and liberties. Cheaper energy means one’s money can be better spent in new areas that they couldn’t before. There’s a lot of liberty in having access to power in a resilient system, that can’t be taken down by storms or shutdown by the power company. People will even live longer.
I would hope every American wants their country to excel. This would be a major undertaking, but result in major benefits. It gives us an opportunity to demonstrate American Exceptionalism on the world stage. It gives us an opportunity to be proud of country and what we can accomplish.
I wasn’t around for World War II, nor the moon landing. Yet I’ve been around as a vaccine was created, manufactured, and distributed in record time. It’s years ahead of what was possible before. I now know just what it means to be proud, not of yourself, but of your country. I now know the swelling of confidence that we can achieve anything. I now know the feeling of infinite possibilities, what it might be like to vaccinate people against HIV, and of an optimistic future without pandemics.
I want more of this. Let’s make it happen, not just for you and me, but for America 🇺🇸.