Why Barack Obama & solar will change the world

Like most people in the world, I am glad that President Barack Obama won the election. I’ve just watched his victory speech, in which he showed again that he is one of the great orators of our time. Obama can talk about hope and make it sound credible, in a way that most leaders from most countries cannot.

There is so much to say in response to Obama and this election. It is only because of the remarkable ‘audacity of hope’ that a poor black man, married to a working-class woman descended from slaves and slave-owners, is the most powerful man in the world.

But I’m going to stick to one key argument. The success of solar power, over the next four years, can change political power in America. That simple fact could change the world and give us the chance to stop the climate catastrophe.

According to Steven Chu, Obama’s Nobel prize-winning Energy Secretary, solar ‘baseload’ thermal and solar PV will be cheaper than conventional electricity across all the US, by 2020.

If Secretary Chu is right, then during the second term of the Obama administration, solar will be the cheaper choice for tens of millions of households, businesses and farmers.

By the time Barack Obama completes his second term as President, solar will have won the energy argument.

Solar will win, where climate science lost, for the simple reason that people experience it and get it. If you have solar panels on your roof and your power bill goes down, you will trust solar. This cuts across class, educational and other social and attitudinal divides. (The flat-earthers who experienced Hurricane Sandy are already attributing it to an act of God, as punishment for homosexuality and other sins.)

The American right and its media mates will have no comeback against the solar revolution. It will break the conservative consensus, which says that climate change is a communist plot and solar energy is state socialism.

For two decades, the religious far-right in America and its attack-dogs in the media, have attacked climate science. Polluters have funded ‘think tanks’, Super PACs and astroturf and almost stole this election from Obama. They spent something like $300-500 million to bring him down.

Fox News and the GOP have made an ugly alliance with religious fundamentalists who believe that climate science is part of the same satanic conspiracy as Darwinism.

Listening to Obama, we are reminded that America has high ideals and a great sense of its ability to make history. It alone has the audacity required to turbo-boost a clean energy revolution.

Over the next four years, solar will win as the cheapest energy source for tens of millions of American homes, businesses and farms. This will be a final victory over that particular constellation of interests and extremist beliefs.

I am not claiming that America will become a 100% rational, enlightened country, of course. Religion and certain romantic beliefs have been an essential part of American history and these streams will surely continue to flow in the future.

The economy is in a bad way. According to figures in Australia, we can expect that this economic adversity and rising conventional power prices are actually good for solar and the solar polity. These figures show that conservative, white-dominated districts have embraced solar, because it saves money. The solar vote could decide who wins the next election.

Australia is ahead of America in this trend, because it is higher up the grid parity curve, thanks to the solar resource and the price of black energy. As solar reaches out across middle America, it will be embraced by conservative, lower-middle class communities that are often very conservative.

The experience can change the American polity. If this is to happen, however, it will require a vast investment from the solar industry, philanthropy and social movements and a new working alliance that brings them all together, along with the Democratic party, unions, churches and rational conservatives (including Republicans).

Once it is clear that solar works and its green supporters were right all along, the mainstream GOP and media will have to follow along and start conceding to science and reality. This election they got away with ridiculing Nate Silver for his electoral predictions and repeating their own irrational talking points, right up to election night. As solar facts breach the conservative bubble, it will allow the light of other facts to shine in.

The significance of a pro-solar polity, is that the only thing which can stop catastrophic climate change is a rapid acceleration of progress in solar (and other forms of renewable energy). A new political economy of renewable energy is in the ascendency already. This is, as American orators might say, our last great hope.

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Dan Cass is strategist at The Australia Institute and an honorary associate at Sydney Business School. He has advised international and Australian energy companies, and is now on the advisory board of Solar Head of State and was a director of Hepburn Wind. @DanJCass

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