Where were you on Monday? Did you block time on your calendar between 9:45 and 10:30am to make sure you could take a peak at the solar eclipse? If you’re like me, I was checking the weather and asking those with window offices to keep their blinds open, hoping for clear skies. At the appointed time, I grabbed a colleague and went downstairs to take a peak. I knew where to go – just follow the trail of people holding paper glasses designed to protect our eyes when looking at the sun. I followed the crowd to a patio where folks had set up telescopes, projecting the image captured onto easels for all to see.
Standing there, I first noticed how bright the light was around me, even with only a sliver of sun remaining. The enormity of the energy coming from the sun sank in even as a prickly feeling of static electricity filled the air. Almost like Silent Spring coming to pass, I was struck by what wasn’t there. Birds were huddled behind ledges and the crowd seemed to talk in hushed whispers. It was unusually silent for the excitement of this unique event.
That morning, the news talked about the expected impact of the eclipse on our energy grid. Messages from my visit to a renewable utility in Germany and the recent climate change conferences in Los Angeles started to mingle in my head. I thought about the upcoming Net Zero conference on Thursday and a presentation from my Energy Impact Report (EIR) class last year that focused on the need for better energy storage technologies.
Given California’s movement toward renewable energy, we all realize that events like an eclipse can impact businesses and homeowners, requiring utility companies and grid operators to strategize how to handle peak usage with a dip in production. We also realize that an eclipse is relatively rare and not the type of event we need to plan our energy production philosophy around. However, as California continues to move toward more renewable energy sources and cities like Los Angeles look to electricity to power transportation, putting more strain on demand, I wonder if we are conscious of the fragility we are building into our infrastructure?
If we are going to rely on solar (and wind energy), we must look to supporting innovation of increasingly efficient panels as well as increasing capacity of energy storage and grid conductivity. Are we putting too much hope into Tesla creating a better battery? Are we placing too much confidence in our federal trade commission, hoping that tariffs on imported solar panels will not pass or are we betting that local production will miraculously increase without negatively changing prices?
Mayor Garcetti and Metro have pledged a 100% zero-emission fleet by 2030. This is more than financing a fleet of new vehicles and responsible sourcing, but includes planning for a renewable energy supply, infrastructure and utility coordination, upstream and downstream emissions, looking at the characteristics of each bus route, the impact of this change on range and scheduling due to charging time per vehicle, training of operators and maintenance teams, up-thinking maintenance plans, preparing the workforce, developing strategies for local hiring, and safety. There are huge challenges in ensuring a constant supply of renewable energy to run this fleet, but also great opportunity that will require creative minds and non-traditional thinking.
For those looking to help Metro with the new study on bus routes, are these teams thinking ahead and planning to turn these challenges into opportunities? Could this change create opportunity to solve environmental and social justice challenges that have plagued our County for decades? Moving bus stops has the potential to change who we meet and where we go. This can change the character of our communities, making them more (or less) resilient.
Through the ages, people used to react to a solar eclipse with fear or create stories of the sun being consumed. In response, people promised to work harder to urge the gods and worriers to bring the sun back to them. Our eclipse made me reflective, made me think about the challenges ahead, but also emboldened me to see the hope and potential that we are on the verge of realizing. What about you? I hope you will join the conversation by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leaving a comment here.
Thanks to Evan Rosenberg and John Aidun for inspiring these thoughts.