Holiday conversation starters for clean-energy nerds

Get your family chattering about protests that could spur clean-energy progress (ones that don’t involve throwing food at famous artworks).
By Julian Spector

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a family is in a heated argument at the table for thanksgiving dinner
(Monkey Business Images/

The holiday season is upon us and food is in the air — in some cases being chucked at priceless works of art.

As you reunite with loved ones and extended family to nibble victuals, someone from another generation or geographical region is sure to put etiquette aside and ask you this uncomfortable question: What theory of change leads from soup splattered on a Van Gogh to the dismantling of the fossil-fuel industrial complex?

What indeed! Rather than tripping down that rabbit hole, change course. Posit, for the purposes of argument, that an effective protest would not seek to raise awareness” that climate change is bad, but rather would target specific obstacles to the clean energy transition. If you charm your relatives with the following prompts, potatoes won’t be the only thing getting mashed at your feast — so will entrenched systems of carbon pollution.

Gas buildup

The problem: Even the most traditional and monopolistic of utility companies have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by midcentury. But they still want to spend hundreds of millions on new fossil gas plants in the meantime. That’s like Uncle Barnaby pledging to cut down on the sugar, but gobbling down two-thirds of a pecan pie first.

The protest: Infiltrate a utility company holiday party and convince the CEO to sing karaoke to Taylor Swift’s smash hit Anti-Hero.” When the executive belts out It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me,” secretly film and leak the footage to Greenpeace.

Duration frustration

The problem: No doubt one of your nattering relatives has noticed that the sun has a tendency to set. Sometimes, yet more distressingly, the wind doesn’t blow! How’s your renewable energy going to deal with that?” they’ll taunt, deeming this a highly original insight.

As you’ll patiently explain, numerous companies are attempting to overcome this limitation by cheaply storing energy for many more hours than is possible with today’s lithium-ion battery technology. But, like a turkey filled with oyster stuffing, some of these long-duration energy storage” startups smell a little funky: They’ll advertise many hours of clean energy storage, but offer hardly enough to get through an early evening in November. Rally your relations to the cause of transparency around effective long-term grid storage.

The protest: Stage a march around the Department of Energy headquarters demanding the creation of a nutritional label for batteries to tell customers if they’re Certified Long-Duration.”

SPACs gone slack

The problem: America used to be a place where anyone with big ambitions and no product or revenue could take their climate-solutions company to the stock market, without even doing an IPO. Special-purpose acquisition companies made it possible for these entrepreneurs-in-spirit to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from grandmas and grandpas looking to grow their nest eggs while helping to save the planet.

But something went awry. Nobody’s doing climate SPACs anymore! It’s like the elite gatekeepers saw the radical potential of these pre-commercial ideas and had to shut them down by alleging things like fraud” and pump-and-dump scheme.” Build common cause with your free-marketeer aunt (the one who insists she learned so much” in her MBA program) by aligning on a pro-entrepreneur agenda.

The protest: Show those Wall Street bigwigs they can’t stop you by building a company anyway. Commission artists’ renderings of a product, find potential customers and raise some money. If investors tell you your concept seems too fake,” go hit up the VC savants at Sequoia Capital — they love a good story.

Initial progress

The problem: Nothing fires up the base like a strong acronym, but the clean energy movement short-circuited itself when abbreviating time-of-use rates.” These rates charge people more for power at times of day when it’s more expensive to make and offer discounts when electricity is cheaper, encouraging consumers to use energy more efficiently.

But grid wonks insist on calling this concept TOU rates.” After seizing the baton of abbreviation, the runner collapses in sight of the finish line. Who among us refers to the IR Act, or SM reactors, or LDE storage? And yet TOU rates” persists in the smart grid lexicon, yet another barnacle encumbering an already cumbersome vessel.

The protest: Rally at your local public utility commission with signs saying We Want TOURs.” You’ll be advocating for smarter rates and smarter shorthand at the same time. Bonus: Advocates for elevated peak pricing and reduced noon-time rates in solar-saturated regions can henceforth describe themselves as TOUR guides.”

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Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.