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Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Energy Is Putting Power Back in the Hands of the People

Sungevity founder Danny Kennedy talks about his book and how solar power is transforming communities and creating jobs.

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HK: You also write about King CONG’s role as one of the primary obstacles in making this shift. Describe King CONG and how you see a way forward.

DK: As I mentioned, the collective interests of coal, oil, nukes and gas is the giant King CONG. King CONG is the problem, they are contaminating our political sense (through huge spending to promote CONG) and the environment (by digging up the earth). How we get around this formidable force is by being better, smarter and cheaper. Sungevity provides solar electricity service in nine states now and it’s cheaper than what customers get out of the grid. That is one way to get around this obstacle.

Solar energy can be that solution for Americans and the world. Just like the developing world has jumped over establishing landline telephone networks to cellphones, with solar power you see similar leapfrogging. I describe in the book places in Africa that refuse to be bogged down by King CONG; they just go straight to a more distributive energy system.

That future is what we have to create by solar citizenship and solar entrepreneurs. At the same time, we have to make friends with businesses that have grown up in the era of King CONG because we can’t dismiss their concerns and the work they have put into this industry, as well as the many people they employ. Going forward, utilities will have to become more flexible and move towards a sharing economy of electricity, or the “sunshine mesh,” as I call it.

HK: We’re bombarded through media by the notion of how fast China is installing coal power plants. You take a different view on China, saying that they are instead playing catch-up in solar production technology at a very fast pace. What are the implications and how did they do it?

DK: The implications for the planet are good. The fact that China is going solar at such a fast rate should be encouraging for anyone who knows about energy issues. For more than a decade we were decrying the industrialization of China and its economic and environmental effects for the world, even though we didn’t want to deny them the electrification that we benefit from.

More and more people are gaining access to electricity in China, and a lot through coal. Some of that is being slowed and even though they are still using more coal than solar they have decided to encourage solar. For instance, if you can build a clean technology business in China, you are supported by the government in a variety of ways. That rapid development and production of solar technologies has benefited consumers in the U.S. with lower cost solar panels. More importantly, the newly-developed clean technologies are cheap enough to be used in China.

China caught up to the U.S. in five years to have the same installed solar capacity, and that level is expected to be surpassed soon. In 2015 they will be many gigawatts ahead of us. So China is a good example of a superpower nation that is not building a dependency on King CONG.

Two years before I started Sungevity, I did work with Greenpeace in China and there was none of this. Less than a decade later, they are the center of the solar universe. That economic driver is a really good force for the planet. The irony is that we -- the USA -- are now seeing that as a threat and engaging in trade war and trade politics, even when we all know we should be supporting these industries across the board. Whereas the Chinese are now developing and using clean energy and clean technology en masse, we are trying to punish them for it.

 
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