Weight of Light

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Weight of Light

A Collection of Solar Futures

Joey Eschrich and Clark A. Miller, Editors

Ruth Wylie and Ed Finn, Project Directors

The Weight of Light: A Collection of Solar Futures. Copyright © 2018 Arizona State University

ISBN 978-0-9995902-6-3

The copyrights for individual illustrations are owned by their respective creators. 

“Designing in Sunlight” by Clark A. Miller, Joshua Loughman, Wesley Herche, Dwarak Ravikumar, Joey Eschrich, Ruth Wylie, Ed Finn, Christiana Honsberg, and Stuart Bowden. Copyright © 2018 Clark A. Miller, Joshua Loughman, Wesley Herche, Dwarak Ravikumar, Joey Eschrich, Ruth Wylie, Ed Finn, Christiana Honsberg, and Stuart Bowden. 

“For the Snake of Power” by Brenda Cooper. Copyright © 2018 Brenda Cooper.

“Lessons from the Snake: Energy and Society” by Joshua Loughman. Copyright © 2018 Joshua Loughman.

“Drawing from Nature: Designing a Solar Snake” by Esmerelda Parker. Copyright © 2018 Esmerelda Parker.

“Under the Grid” by Andrew Dana Hudson. Copyright © 2018 Andrew Dana Hudson.

“All Politics is Glocal” by Lauren Withycombe Keeler. Copyright © 2018 Lauren Withycombe Keeler.

“Behind the Grid: Science, Technology, and the Creation of PhoTown” by Darshan M.A. Karwat. Copyright © 2018 Darshan M.A. Karwat. 

“Big Rural” by Cat Rambo. Copyright © 2018 Cat Rambo.

“Light and Shadows on the Edge of Nowhere” by Wesley Herche. Copyright © 2018 Wesley Herche. 

“Designing Socially Relevant Solar Photovoltaic Systems” by Dwarak Ravikumar. Copyright © 2018 Dwarak Ravikumar. 

“Building Tierra del Rey: Design Features of Centralized Solar in a Rural Community” by Samantha Janko. Copyright © 2018 Samantha Janko. 

“Divided Light” by Corey S. Pressman. Copyright © 2018 Corey S. Pressman.

“Choices” by Clark A. Miller. Copyright © 2018 Clark A. Miller.

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In memory of Yaron Ezrahi, 1940-2019, who illuminated the centrality of imagination and fiction in the project of democracy.

O you hastening light! O the sun of the world will ascend, dazzling, and take his height—and you too will ascend;

O so amazing and so broad! up there resplendent, darting and burning;

O prophetic! O vision staggered with weight of light!

—Walt Whitman, in “Apostroph,” Leaves of Grass, 1860

Credits

Editors

  • Joey Eschrich
  • Clark A. Miller

Project Directors

  • Ed Finn
  • Ruth Wylie

Ebook Design

  • Emily Buckell

Cover Design

  • Nina Miller

Special Thanks

To the staff at Arizona State University’s Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies Engineering Research Center (QESST) for invaluable assistance with the financial and logistical aspects of the project; to Bob Beard and Cody Staats, for helping us plan and pull off the workshop; to Saurabh Biswas and Carlo Altamirano-Allende, for their participation as project researchers; and to Brenda Cooper, for helping us round out our roster of talented fiction authors. We are very grateful for the financial support provided by QESST to the project. 

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1041895. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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About the Project

This collection was inspired by a simple question: what would a world powered entirely by solar energy look like? In part, this question is about the materiality of solar energy—about where people will choose to put all the solar panels needed to power the global economy. It’s also about how people will rearrange their lives, values, relationships, markets, and politics around photovoltaic technologies. The political theorist and historian Timothy Mitchell argues that our current societies are carbon democracies, societies wrapped around the technologies, systems, and logics of oil.[1] What will it be like, instead, to live in the photon societies of the future?

To probe these questions, the Center for Science and the Imagination hosted the Solar Futures Narrative Hackathon on April 30 and May 1, 2018, in Tempe, Arizona, in collaboration with the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies Engineering Research Center and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. The event brought together science fiction authors, visual artists, experts in fields ranging from public policy to electrical engineering, and talented student researchers to create technically grounded, inspiring visions of a future shaped by a transition to clean, plentiful solar energy.

Participants divided into four teams, each focused on a different scenario for the future of solar energy in terms of two controlling variables: geography and size. Geography denotes the split between urban and rural; that is, whether solar infrastructure is integrated into densely populated areas, where demand is concentrated, or sited in sparsely populated areas further from major cities. Size differentiates between large-scale, centralized facilities for generating energy and small-scale, decentralized infrastructure spread across a multitude of sites. 

Depending on the group members’ interests and the needs of their future vision, the teams also selected secondary variables to integrate into their work: aesthetics, efficient vs. abundant deployment, extraction & supply chains, ownership & governance, storage, and waste & recycling

In person during the workshop, and virtually in the weeks following the gathering, each team produced a short story set in the near future, a work of visual art that represents a key moment or theme from the story, and one or more essays that scrutinize the technical, cultural, and political issues that undergird these visions of the future, considering how we could get from here to there, and what signposts and obstacles we might meet along the way.

Narrative Hackathons are intensively collaborative, structured as a series of short interactive sessions with clear goals and deliverables. Our teams oscillated between small-group brainstorming, large-group presentations, cross-group feedback, revisions and refinement, and individual working time throughout the two-day event. In the wake of the event, the teams continued their conversations and worked with editors to sharpen and finalize their stories, visual art, and essays.

Our goal for this project is to reveal the richness and diversity within the arena of futures built upon the promise of clean, plentiful energy. The transition to solar and other clean renewable sources isn’t just a light switch that we can flip; it will be messy, and it will involve consequential decisions about design, structure, democratic process, the character of the relationship between humans and the environment, and much more. In this collection, we aim to depict these multifarious solar futures, and the choices that shape them, as exciting spaces for imagination, exploration, deliberation, debate, and even a dash of adventure. 

To see full-color versions of the visual art, and to download and read this collection in different formats, visit https://imaginationasu.wpengine.com/books/weight

[1] Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil (New York: Verso), 2011.[Back]

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About the Contributors

Authors

Stuart Bowden is an associate research professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering at Arizona State University, and a senior sustainability scientist at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. He has extensive experience in the characterization of silicon materials for photovoltaic applications, and presently heads up the silicon section of Arizona State University’s Solar Power Laboratory. He received his PhD from the University of New South Wales for work on static concentrators using silicon solar cells.

Brenda Cooper is a writer, a futurist, and a technology professional. She often writes about technology and the environment. Her recent novels include Keepers (Pyr, 2018), Wilders (Pyr, 2017) POST (Espec Books, 2016), and Spear of Light (Pyr, 2016). She is the winner of the 2007 and 2016 Endeavor Awards for “a distinguished science fiction or fantasy book written by a Pacific Northwest author or authors.” Her work has also been nominated for the Philip K. Dick and Canopus awards. She lives in Woodinville, Washington with her family and four dogs.

Michael Duah is an independent designer and creative problem solver living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. He has a knack for collaborating with experts, professionals, and academic specialists to develop new ideas from existing research in fields like higher education, financial services, and software development. Michael’s specialty is in designing communication solutions for organizations dealing with complex topics and services.

Dr. Wesley Herche is a Senior Sustainability Scientist with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. His primary research focus area is the topic of policy, geospatial technology, and market factors in the global transition to renewable energy. Dr. Herche is currently a strategic management consultant with a major global consultancy firm. He earned his PhD in Sustainability at the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, and an MBA at the Thunderbird School of Global Management. 

Christiana Honsberg is a professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering at Arizona State University, and a senior sustainability scientist at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. Her areas of expertise include ultra-high efficiency solar cells and silicon solar cells. She is the chief scientist at Arizona State University’s Solar Power Laboratory, and serves as a member of the technology advisory board at Blue Square Energy. She received her PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Delaware.

Andrew Dana Hudson is an award-winning speculative fiction writer. He studies at Arizona State University in the School of Sustainability and is a fellow in the Center for Science and the Imagination’s Imaginary College. His fiction seeks to envision the lived experiences just around the corner in our climate-changed world, and the struggle to make good choices in the sustainability crisis. His research explores how scholars, designers, and creatives can collaborate to tell stories about our post-normal world. His nonfiction writing has appeared in Slate, among others. He serves as associate editor of Oasis, a Phoenix-based journal of anticapitalist thought.

Samantha Janko is a Systems Engineering PhD student at Arizona State University and Managing Director for the Laboratory for Energy and Power Solutions where she works with microgrid system design, installation, operation, and control. She is a recipient of an NSF GRFP fellowship to investigate self-organizing techniques for control of microgrid networks, and she manages several projects related to containerizing microgrid systems for off-grid deployment, workforce development, and hands-on microgrid training. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and weekend road trips.

Darshan M.A. Karwat is an aerospace engineer with a background in combustion chemistry and sustainability ethics from the University of Michigan. He’s an assistant professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and The Polytechnic School at Arizona State University, where he runs re-Engineered, an interdisciplinary group that embeds peace, social justice, and environmental protection in engineering. Previously, as a AAAS science and technology policy fellow, he worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on climate resilience and community-based air pollution monitoring, and then at the U.S. Department of Energy as the technical lead of the Wave Energy Prize.  

Lauren Withycombe Keeler is a futurist and sustainability scientist in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University, where she holds the position of assistant research professor, and at Leuphana University in Lüneburg, Germany, where she is a guest scientist. She studies how different people with different professional responsibilities understand and make sense of the future, and how futures are created through professional practice. She is an expert in futures and transdisciplinary methods and their application to issues of governance and to complex sustainability challenges.

Joshua Loughman is a systems engineer and technology scholar at Arizona State University. He has been a lecturer in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the director of the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) Program since 2015. He is also a researcher with the Center for Energy and Society and the Center for the Study of Futures, where he explores the intersection of changing global energy systems and society.

Sean McAllister is a PhD student in the Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society. His research interests include the human effects of innovation, especially in regard to governance and social outcomes.

Brian Miller is the founder of graphic design and illustration studio Hi-Fi Colour Design. Best known for his pop culture propaganda artwork, he currently illustrates artwork for Star Wars, Doctor Who, The X-Files, Rick & Morty, Archer, and other properties. Brian’s illustrations have been featured at major events like Star Wars Celebration, Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts, San Diego Comic-Con International, and Disney’s D23 Expo. He works with major publishers like DC, Marvel, Image, Disney, IDW, and Dark Horse on graphic novels. He has also authored several art-instruction books and contributed stories to business journals and anthology series. 

Kirsten Newkirk has more than 16 years of experience creating illustration, editorial design, and print collateral. Her most recent projects include work for Speaker magazine, Sip Northwest magazine, and The Academy of Country Music. Before setting off on her own, she worked for Ditko Design in Phoenix and Fallon in Minneapolis. Her first piece of solar technology was a calculator her brother gave her in the third grade, which she instantly proclaimed to be “magic math.”

Corey S. Pressman is anthropologist and imagination professional. As Principal at Intangible, he works with clients large and small to help them envision and enact human-centered innovation and nurture a vital organizational culture. Corey is also a fellow of Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination.

Cat Rambo is the author of over 200 stories, two novels, a cookbook, and multiple writing books. She writes from atop a hilltop in West Seattle. The current president of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, she also runs online writing school The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. Find out more about her work at kittywumpus.net

Dwarak Ravikumar is a postdoctoral researcher at Arizona State University. He has completed his PhD in Civil, Environmental and Sustainable Engineering and conducts research on improving the environmental and economic performance of solar panels. He is investigating novel technologies that improve the recycling of solar panels and developing analytical methods that incorporate concerns of environmental sustainability in the early stages of technology development.

Laura Wentzel is a Phoenix-based graphic designer who specializes in brand identity, product package design, patterns, and illustrations. Through storytelling, creativity, and functionality, her work supports the vision of Arizona small businesses and entrepreneurs, as well as creative brands nationwide. Her background in art history and printing has helped hone the simple, modern design aesthetic that is prevalent in her work.

Editors

Clark A. Miller is a designer, theorist, and analyst of techno-human futures. He explores how societies create and inhabit new technologies and their global implications for the future of people and the planet. This work aims to redesign technology innovation as a tool for creatively imagining and constructing inclusive, thriving communities. He helps lead Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, where the motto is: “The future is for everyone.” He also established the interdisciplinary PhD in the Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology. An electrical engineer by training, Miller directs the Center for Energy and Society and the sustainability research group of the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) photovoltaics engineering research center.

Joey Eschrich is the editor and program manager at the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University. He is also an assistant director for Future Tense, a partnership of ASU, Slate, and New America that explores emerging technologies and their transformative effects on policy, culture, and society. He is the coeditor of Overview: Stories in the Stratosphere (2016), Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction (2016), The Rightful Place of Science: Frankenstein (2017), and Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures (2017), which was supported by a grant from

Project Directors

Ed Finn is the founding director of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, where he is an associate professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the Department of English. He is also the academic director for Future Tense, a partnership of ASU, Slate, and New America that explores emerging technologies and their transformative effects on policy, culture, and society. He is the author of What Algorithms Want: Imagination in the Age of Computing (MIT Press, 2017) and coeditor of Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers and Creators of All Kinds (MIT Press, 2017), Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures (Center for Science and the Imagination, 2017) and Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future (William Morrow, 2014).

Ruth Wylie is the assistant director of the Center for Science and the Imagination and an assistant research professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Ruth earned her Ph.D. in Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University in 2011 and her bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Berkeley in Cognitive Science with minors in Computer Science and Education. She concentrates on interdisciplinary, translational research that leverages knowledge and insights from theory and laboratory studies to answer real-world problems. Her previous research projects have been on the design, development, and implementation of educational technology for students and teachers in middle schools, high schools, and universities.