Feature

Documenting our sustainable future

Green Lifestyle online

We chat to the film maker of Future of Energy, premiering at this year's Transitions Film Festival in Melbourne.

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This February, Melbourne’s Federation Square will be kicking off another year of the Transitions Film Festival. This is a collective of forward thinking features, shorts and documentaries that aim to catalogue our 'transition to a better world'. Green Lifestyle was luck enough to pin down an interview with Maxemillion DeArmon, the producer and writer of Future of Energy, the film set to premiere at the festival, which covers the renewable energy revolution across the globe.

Where was most of the documentary filmed and does it have a predominantly global or US focus?

The film is inspired by the work Jeremy Rifkin is doing with the European Union on “The Third Industrial Revolution”. There is a renewable energy revolution happening around the world and it’s not covered in the American media. Our goal with this film was to inspire Americans to participate. The film is U.S. focused, with a global vision for 100% renewable energy. Many of our stories were drawn from here in California, but there are pockets across the U.S. where good things with renewables are happening like in Greensburg, Kansas, which is featured in the film.

What drew you to want to make a film about renewable energy?

Three of us are Graduate students at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Our program is called Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness and focuses on the great planetary shift that’s occurring historically, environmentally and psychologically. It was there that we took a class with Joanna Macy and Sean Kelly called The Great Turning about the importance of our moment in history.

Because of humanity’s influence on climate change, the next decade could literally determine the fate of our species, and the fate of much of life on Earth. We realized that our mass consumption of fossil fuels must come to an end immediately, and that renewable energy is the only safe alternative. We built a team and strategized how we could best use the skills we already had to participate in this great transition.

Electric cars actually have some impressive models on the market at the moment, though an area that seems to hold them back still is battery life and retaining charge. Is this a major difficulty of the renewable electricity as well?

The battery life on EV’s is not as bad as it seems. On the low end of the spectrum, some standard cars get 60 miles per charge. Robert Fortunato is featured in the film with his EV that gets 62 miles per charge. He says “it gets him to about 99 per cent of the places his family needs to go on a regular basis.” He has solar panels on his roof and a charging station that he installed in his garage. Each night he charges the car while he sleeps just like he does with his cell phone.

On the high end of the spectrum there is the Tesla, which can get up to 300 miles per charge. This car can do the long distance driving that people like to do for vacations and leisure. If you go to Tesla’s website, between now and 2015, they plan on installing charging stations on all the major highways in the US, coast to coast, so that people will be able to charge their cars on the road. Stations are being implemented; it’s just a matter of time before they are as convenient as gas stations.

As far as renewable electricity goes, most of it is used in collaboration with standard grid systems at the moment. For instance, if you install solar panels on your house, that energy will be connected to your power company’s grid system. Right now the energy in the grid is primarily a mix of fossil fuels. With panels, you’d be adding renewable energy to the grid. For cities that have Community Choice Aggregation programs, the energy provider is responsible for developing and delivering an agreed upon amount of renewable energy to the whole community.

There are many ways of dealing with the energy demands of 100 per cent renewable energy. According to Diane Moss, Founding Director of the Renewables 100 Policy Institute, “The intermittency of wind and solar can be overcome with several solutions. First, wind and sunshine tend to happen at opposite times, so in some locations like California, experts conclude that wind and solar power in combination can reliably cover nearly all the state's power needs. More constant renewable power sources like hydro, geothermal, and biomass from waste can further help to balance the load. Finally, storage, demand response, and smart technologies can also help ensure that a grid 100 per cent powered by renewables remains reliable.”

We have also heard rumors about businesses selling a package deal to consumers that would include solar panels and battery storage for homes and an electric vehicle. The idea is that the loan amount would be comparable to the sum total of a person’s home electric bill, car loan, and gasoline use. This seems like a promising venture, although it’s only an idea right now as far as I know. These types of innovations in clean tech would bring energy independence to more consumers and replace fossil fuels even quicker.

Have you been exposed to any technology that hopes to bring up our ability to store charge?

It should be stated that this film is not about specific technical solutions per se. It’s about the spirit of people and communities that are taking action to be part of the solution in their own way. Although each of us loved the idea of renewable energy technology before we started the project, we did not know much about it. We learned through the filming and production process. We were shocked to find cities in the US that are running on 100 per cent renewable electricity!

As far as new storage technology in concerned, Diane Moss says, “There are numerous storage technologies that are in commercial operation today. The DOE has stated that as of last fall, there were more than 400 projects worldwide, totaling 123 gigawatts. According to their press release: "More than 50 energy storage technologies are represented worldwide, including multiple battery technologies, compressed air energy storage, flywheels, gravel energy storage, hydrogen energy storage, pumped hydroelectric, superconducting magnetic energy storage, and thermal energy storage."

How does a decentralised power network work and how do you expect theory will be implemented in society?

The old energy system is centralized and the power is controlled by a few companies that distribute energy to the rest of us. Lateral Power, or decentralized power, is where individuals and communities produce their own power on, or near, their location. Renewable energy makes this possible because the ‘source’ of the power is not owned by a company. The source of the power is available to everyone, i.e. sunlight and wind. All we have to do is harness it with solar panels and wind turbines, for example. For the record, decentralized power is not theoretical, it is happening all across the world at this very moment. According to Diane Moss, “Decentralized power networks are no longer simply theory. They are being implemented all over the world. Check out go100percent.org to see plans for how several cities, regions, even countries are striving for and achieving decentralised 100 per cent renewable power targets.”

What are your ambitions for the film and what are the kinds of outcomes you would like to see from its presentation?

Our primary goal with the film is to let people know that renewable energy is no longer a dream, it’s a viable solution that is already being used by communities, cities and businesses. We’d also like to inspire individuals and communities to look at some of the solutions presented in the film and see if they can adopt some of these options for their own benefit. Renewable energy is a smart choice economically, environmentally, and for our heath and security. We hope that our film will spark conversations about these benefits.

We also hope to inspire people to take action in their own way. The solutions are already there. The path forward is showcased throughout the film. We’d like every person, community, business, and government to play their part in taking action towards a more sustainable future for the whole planet.

The film also covers new ideas relating to divestment, community power, and B-Corps, could you tell us a little bit about them.

The Fossil Fuel Divestment movement is springing up across the U.S. and across the globe asking institutions to divest financial assets from fossil fuel companies. The movement is being led by 350.org and is gaining incredible momentum. The idea is that Universities, Religious Institutions, and Cities shouldn’t be invested in companies that are contributing to climate change and profiting from harming the planet. Having assets invested in these companies generally goes against the ideals of these institutions.

B-Corps, or social benefit corporations, are a new business model that focuses on more than just profits. In order to become a certified B-Corp, a business has to prove that social and environmental issues are part of its business model. The old way of doing business does not allow us to move forward into a global society that is sustainable for all life on Earth. B-corps are gathering momentum as consumers grow to understand that they can exercise vast power through their purchasing decisions and quickly move society in directions that are socially and environmentally just.

Localising the energy supply, food supply and even money supply, is empowering to communities. With local, clean renewable energy, producing your own energy can create a potential revenue stream for the house or business and will definitely save you money on electricity costs in the long run. Generating local power is also good for the environment because it means less carbon dioxide in the air, which leads to climate change and health problems.

This film was collaboratively made, could you tell us a bit more about the filmmaking process?

Honestly, the film wanted to emerge and we all decided to be the vessels for it to come forth. Our team worked tirelessly to make this project come to life. We all participated selflessly on its creation. We recognised that the perfect wave was coming in our direction and we decided to take the ride. The production process was more like an adventure than work.

The production of the film happened in nine short months because all of us worked overtime on the project. We were swept into the vision and mission of 100 per cent renewable energy. The vast majority of the labor on the film was volunteered. Without exception, every person and organization we came in contact with supported us. So many talented people were happy and excited to be part of the project. We’re so excited to share what we learned with the rest of the world.

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Catch this film and other inspiring glimpses of eco-warriors from around the world at the www.transitionsfilmfestival.com. Future of Energy is showing at 8:30pm on Friday 21 Feb, 2014.