What would a world powered entirely by solar energy look like? How will a transition to clean, plentiful energy transform our values, markets, and politics?
As solar and other clean renewable forms of energy are becoming (read: already are) our most cost-effective options, and in the face of rapidly escalating climate chaos, we need to consider more than just whether or in what timeframe we need to shift away from fossil fuels. We need to be thinking carefully about how to design this global shift to solar and other clean energy sources: Where will energy infrastructure be built? How centralized or dispersed should it be? Who will own solar panels (and other clean-energy generators) and benefit financially? Who will make the rules? What will all of this energy infrastructure look like: could it be beautiful? Who will build and maintain it? Where will the dead solar panels and other waste go?
To answer these questions and more, today we’re publishing The Weight of Light: A Collection of Solar Futures, a book of science fiction stories, essays, and art exploring a variety of possible visions for our solar future. The book is free to download, read, and share in a variety of digital formats (so, go grab a copy now!).
The book started germinating at a workshop in Tempe, AZ on April 30 and May 1, 2018, at ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination. (The workshop was hosted in collaboration with the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies Engineering Research Center and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.) We divided participants into four teams, each focused on a different scenario for the future of solar energy in terms of geography and size: One group focused on big, centralized solar plants in rural areas, and another on big plants in urban areas. A third focused on small, decentralized solar installations in rural areas, and the fourth on small installations in urban areas. We also encouraged each group to take on board a few other variables of their choice — things like aesthetics, ownership, storage, and supply chains.
Each team included a science fiction author, a visual artist, and a few experts, representing both technical expertise (engineers) and know-how with the social and cultural aspects of energy systems (historians, political scientists, futurists, etc.). The teams worked among themselves, and with our editors, both during the gathering and in the weeks and months after, to produce a short story, a piece of visual art, and one or more essays that consider the messiness of energy systems in human societies and ponder how we might get from today to their group’s imagined future.
Our hope for this project is to expand the conversation about the wide array of possible futures that we can build together with clean energy. As we work to reduce our collective carbon footprint, we also need to consider issues of equality and make the energy transition a force for progress and universal well-being, not just swapping out one resource for another.
We also want to inject some drama into the public discussion about solar power. Infrastructure doesn’t always seem like the most enthralling topic, but it’s woven into every aspect of our lives, from our living rooms and kitchens and our buses and trains to our libraries and schools and our stadiums and theme parks. We believe in the power of fiction to take the abstract and distant and intimidating and put it in human terms: hope, love, betrayal, heartbreak, thrill, nostalgia, disappointment, joy, yearning. We hope that The Weight of Light is the start of a whole rush of energy fiction, to help us navigate this titanic transition with empathy and solidarity and care.