In recognition of the fifty-fifth anniversary of JFK’s First Inaugural challenge to “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country,” I suggest that, based on economic theory first advanced by hydrocarbon industry analysts, combined with validated conclusions by renewable energy industry scientists, the potential for unlimited global prosperity exists in the long term, and in the short term, will create a new wealth sector capable of meeting SunEdison founder Jigar Shah’s definition of “impact” … which means “a trillion.”
Further, I suggest the light of this new high-growth, wealth-creating sector is barreling down the tracks. Such high-growth economic sectors arrive every 30 or 40 years – like money trains. In the 1970s, a ready-for-something-new generation jumped on the fledgling personal computer (PC) express. The technology sector around the PC made money, and then PC users invested their innovative and productive capacities, ushering in a whole new era and creating new-wealth fortunes across all industries in the process. It’s happening all over again.
Not only will this new sector result in the creation of new wealth and new fortunes, I suggest it heralds a new era, one which demands visionary leadership of the sort reported by Thomas Friedman in his 2012 “It’s Still Halftime in America” story.
Reporting from the Republican Presidential Convention in Tampa, Mr. Friedman wrote, “No one is trying to elevate us, by taking us all, as a nation, on some daring new journey. And a journey is not just a speech. It has to come with a strategy to rally people behind it and generate the legislation and policies needed to implement it … Kennedy launched America in 1962 with such a powerful, inspiring and big vision that it lived on … It’s been a long time since any U.S. politician launched the country on a journey of progress so inspiring that realizing it would have to extend beyond his term in office.”
In recognition of both JFK’s memorable challenge and Black Panther Eldredge Cleaver’s homily — “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” I seek to explain why my vision of America and its future is positive and exciting.
I should probably add that, with only two years of high school, and lacking corporate, institutional, governmental, or even party affiliation, I can make no claim on formal endorsement of my conclusions. Hence, I rely respected authorities to craft a syllogism…
According to WikiPedia, a syllogism (Greek: συλλογισμός syllogismos, “conclusion, inference”) is a kind of logical argument that applies deductive reasoning to arrive at a conclusion based on two or more propositions that are asserted or assumed to be true. Syllogistic arguments (a la Aristotle) are usually represented in a three-line form, combining a general statement (the major premise) and a specific statement (the minor premise) to reach a conclusion. For example:
Major Premise All men are mortal
Minor Premise Socrates is a man
Conclusion Socrates is mortal
Within this framework, please consider the following:
Major Premise – The Iron Law: Daniel Yergin’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Prize, recounts the history of the oil industry. In the aftermath of the Arab Oil Embargo, Dr. Yergin notes that deep analysis revealed “there is an inevitably and inescapably close relationship between economic growth rates and the growth rates for energy [and oil] use.[i]” Duh. While it probably shouldn’t have taken a fleet of PhDs to arrive at this conclusion, The Iron Law, i.e. “economic growth and energy availability are inseparably connected” constitutes my Major Premise.
Minor Premise — My minor premise is “We have access to an unlimited supply of usable energy.” This is confirmed by countless scientists, and is well-represented by a graphic (see below) developed by Dr. Richard Perez, Senior Research Associate at the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center, University at Albany, State University of New York, and first published in 2009 in his “A fundamental look at supply-side energy reserves of the planet.” It was recently updated for the International Energy Agency, SHCP Newsletter.
Using Photovoltaics, we can now convert solar energy, real time, to usable electrical power. Although the uniformed will occasionally trot out the “unproven” and “too new” objections, as my grandfather Jimmy would say, “Ignorance is knowin’ so many things that just ain’t so.” The Photovoltaic Effect was discovered by the French Scientist Edmund Bequerel in 1839 when he was still in his teens. Einstein identified and explained the underlying science in his turn of the century paper on particle theory, which won the Nobel Prize in the 1920s. The first PV panel was built at Bell Labs in 1954, and it still works — that’s pretty good for a first-build prototype.
Now, more than 60 years later, we are able to convert sunlight to usable energy, real time. As a result, the energy game, and life for humans, everywhere, is being forever changed. While I recognize that this sort of disruption, this “movement of the cheese” (can we call it Buffet’s Brie?) will inevitably cause fear, dismay, objections and unrest, I am confident that the actual problems are of less magnitude than the imagined fears.
Figure 1 — 2015 estimated finite and renewable planetary energy reserves (Terawatt-years). Total recoverable reserves are shown for the finite resources. Yearly potential is shown for the renewable resources.
In summary terms, Dr. Perez’s graphic demonstrates that the total solar energy that strikes the earth, every year, is more than 1,000 times greater than that which the entire human race consumes annually (see “2010 World energy use” and “2050 IEA projection” mid-left in the yellow solar balloon for proportions).
Put another way, according to Stanford University’s College of Engineering, the amount of energy that strikes the earth in an hour exceeds by two-fold the amount used by Earthlings annually.
The scope of this piece is limited. While I do not presume to address the challenges, already underway, associated with the transition from the hydrocarbon era to the solar / hydrocarbon era (do the Feminists realize that, when it comes to Energy, we are moving from ‘HE’ to ‘SHE’?), I will suggest that this sort of disruption is the grist upon which the mills of progress grind. This, I suggest, is the reality humans always face. In the 21st Century, . a a simple syllogism describes both opportunity and challenge.
Major Premise Economic growth and energy are inseparably connected.
Minor Premise Earthlings have access to an unlimited supply of energy.
Conclusion The potential for economic growth is unlimited.
As s I see it, setting the course for an American-led journey towards unlimited global prosperity provides us with an opportunity to rebrand America both domestically and internationally; in the process, we can ignite an American Renaissance.
On this particular day, I daresay President Kennedy and even Brother Cleaver will agree that focusing on this new horizon, by exploring this frontier, inspires and unites us to put our citizenship to its highest and best use.
James W. “Jamey” Johnston is the director of Vector Solar, a division of Vector Engineers in Sandy, Utah. He writes TheNRGBlog.com and can be reached by email at TheNRGBlog@gmail.com
 Friedman, Thomas, It’s Still Halftime in America, New York Times, September 2012.
 Perez, M. & R. Perez, (2015): Update 2015 — A fundamental look at supply-side energy reserves of the planet. International Energy Agency SHCP Newsletter No. 62.
[i] Yergin, Daniel, The Prize, The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power, Free Press, 2009 Edition, p. 653