Three items captured my attention this week.
1- It was announced that, in 2019, renewable energy production passed coal production in the U.S.
2- CleanTX and TREIA have combined forces.
3- Michael Webber’s book, Power Trip: The Story of Energy (now a documentary) introduced an energy-centric vision of our future economy.
In the course of the current pandemic, I’ve argued that this coronavirus is not necessarily a “new” phenomenon, it is instead the latest, and most extreme, catalyst speeding up the change that is already happening in society, our markets, and to the overall global economy. The impact of automation, globalization, and changing demographics are being aggressively accelerated by the impact of COVID to expose the vulnerabilities in our economy.
Missed by many given the current headlines, on May 28, the U.S. Government released a new report that shows that of the many forms of energy, renewable energy has surpassed coal as a source of energy in the United States. As the graph below shows, the era of coal in our country peaked near the end of the 20th century. Through scientific research, innovation, and growing public awareness and concern, renewable energy has made a steady climb for a long time.
While it is understandable that jobs lost in the coal industry will cause hardship to thousands of American families, the transition from coal to renewable energy was – emphatically – not a political decision but instead a business decision driven in large part to the presence of cheap natural gas and incrementally lower prices for renewable produced energy.
Earlier this week, on Memorial Day, I watched the War episode of Michael Webber’s new documentary series, Power Trip: The Story of Energy. War examines the connection between energy and national security.
While history books lay out the war as a battle between great powers or political figures, it is more often actually tied to energy. In War, Webber reveals that large-scale human conflict is often sparked by the struggle to obtain the resources that allow us to win those conflicts. The struggle perpetuates the efforts to either keep or retake those resources.
Before proceeding, I’ll cede that there is much truth to the maxim that winners write histories and, as humans, we are prone to romanticize the roles and personalities that justify the actions of “our team.” The truth is often less black and white and the reality is that, in human conflict, at least two sides are fighting for what they perceive – or are told – is right.
No matter which side you’re on, it requires energy to wage and sustain conflict.
I was honored when Dr. Webber asked me to contribute my personal experience at the nexus of energy and war. In the documentary, I noted that in World War II, the Japanese were invading islands in the South Pacific in order to secure oil to sustain their efforts. Meanwhile, in Europe, Hitler and the German axis were rolling over international borders to find the energy resources they needed to continue their malignant expansion.
My experience (and the experience of many of my colleagues) in Iraq and Afghanistan are chapters out of the same book.
In 2004, I attended a morning briefing in our Baghdad HQ located in Sadam Hussein’s former palace. In that briefing, our generals were focused not so much on the troop count and movement, but instead on energy. They were focused on the electric grid, power lines, and how much electricity was being delivered each day. This assessment was complicated by Saddam’s previous practice of ordering fires in two of the smokestacks of the downtown Baghdad utility plant, giving the appearance of a more robust grid. Now that the new Iraqi government was in charge, they were having trouble keeping the lights on.
The generals were also focused on insurgent activity around pipelines that carried oil and natural gas. In fact, the port city of Basra, where all Iraq’s oil was delivered and distributed, became one of the most important strategic outposts of the entire war.
Post-liberation diplomacy was also complicated by energy. Before our arrival,the Sunnis, like Saddam Hussein, enjoyed access to electricity and modern conveniences like air conditioning and television. The Shia, however, did not have the same access. After Saddam’s fall, life was diminished , for both Sunni and Shia because as the Americans tried to help the Iraqi government distribute electricity evenly it meant less electricity for the Sunni and not as much as promised to the Shia. Both the Sunni and Shia found something to agree on: in blaming the Americans for the rolling brownouts.
We’ve made lots of headway since then. To inspire more innovation, I helped establish the Defense Energy Summit in direct response to the fuel supply line challenge we found in Iraq. My tech company was based, in part, on saving fuel and reducing consumer dependence on fossil fuels, at that time largely collected from conflict zones, putting American soldiers in danger.
This month’s announcement of the merger between CleanTX and TREIA is so important for energy policymakers and our damaged economy. Just as COVID has caused over 30 million jobs to be lost, new opportunities for job training and workforce development in the renewable energy sector will make us better going forward. The newly merged CleanTX organization is positioned to provide that leadership. As they wrote in their announcement:
“…(Two) of Texas’ most prominent nonprofits focused on clean and renewable energy join forces to form a more robust and strong organization with aligned goals: TREIA, the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance, founded in 1984 to advance renewable energy in Texas, unites with CleanTX, an economic development and professional association for the clean technology (“cleantech”) industry, continuing forward with the name CleanTX and a new, combined mission to accelerate growth of cleantech and renewable energy in Texas.
As the Chair of the Board of Advisors for CleanTX, I am more confident than ever that we are on the right track and that big things lie ahead.
If you made it this far, I have a call to action for you:
1- Sign up for the CleanTX Newsletter and participate with us.
2- Watch the entire six episodes of the Power Trip documentary.
3- Acknowledge that change is hard. Download my PDF on “How Change Works”
Photo Courtesy of Alpheus Media
About the Author
Joseph Kopser is a lifelong problem solver, committed to designing strategies and building teams to overcome our toughest challenges. He is a husband, father, teacher, 20-year Army veteran, mentor, philanthropist, author, White House-recognized engineer, non-profit founder, and leadership and change management speaker and consultant. He is also a former tech startup founder, global business executive, and congressional candidate.
To concentrate his experience and expertise to deliver the greatest impact, Joseph’s work encompasses 5 bright lines which impact the whole of American society and America’s evolving role in the global community.
1- Fixing our Broken Political System
2- Updating the Workforce and Preserving the American Dream
3- Mainstreaming Innovation
4- Building Infrastructure for the 21st Century
5- Mentoring and Entrepreneurship
You can read his full bio here.