Solar Should Escape Any Collataral Damage From Michael Moore’s Latest

Over a week after the release of his documentary, Planet of the Humans, that has been streaming on Youtube, the response to the documentary has been mixed. The documentary takes a long (one hour and 40 minutes) hard look at the flag bearers of the environmental movement, with a special focus on the solar, biomass and other ‘renewable’ options that have emerged to deliver an option to fossil fuels.

Its Award Winning producer, Michael Moore is known for his impressive work in the past on the gun culture of United States (Bowling for Columbine), or its healthcare system (Sicko), besides awarded work on the presidency of George Bush(Fahrenheit 9/11) and now, Donald Trump (Fahrenheit 11/9). For Planet of the Humans, Michael Moore has gone with ‘environmentalist’ Jeff Gibbs, who, judging by the tone and facts represented in the documentary is seemingly frozen in the time when realisation hit him that the movement is possibly a sham.

Some of the most virulent criticism of the renewable energy industry, like the lifetime age of solar panels, the efficiency of panels, the share of wind energy in the energy mix, the role of Biomass as a ‘renewable’ energy, or even the share of renewable energy in the German power mix, is frankly, so outdated that it almost kills the whole purpose of the exercise. It is clear that environmental  ‘leaders’ like Bill Mckibben, his organisation, the Sierra Club, Al Gore are the ‘villains’ that have driven the making of the documentary, with any inconvenient truth(no pun intended) in the way ignored. There are good grounds to revisit many claims and objectives of these gentlemen, and these organisations. But not by sacrificing the truth.

Like the fact that solar efficiency of 20 percent and more is a given today ( and not 8 percent as the documentary says), as is a life cycle of 20 years( not 10 years in the documentary) and above for them. Or the fact that storage has made giant strides, and is on its way to becoming mainstream within this decade. Which could make the case for fossil fuel dependent baseload power that much more weaker.

In fact, fossil fuels, the whole giant foundation that renewable  energy seeks to shrink if not remove, virtually get a free pass in the damage they cause to the environment, with almost all the attention focused on the damage caused by the new energy options that call themselves renewable.

In fact, even Electric Vehicles, which have just started to hit their stride globally, are targeted for depending on energy that ultimately comes from fossil fuels. By showcasing a place in the US where 95% of he grid is coal powered. The reality is, today you will be hard pressed to find any grid that has such a high dependence on coal. The whole documentary ignores Hydro power or pump storage completely,  despite their high share in renewable energy, especially in Brazil and other major economies like India.

Even the repeated examples of firms who are using renewable power, being connected to the grid nevertheless is showcased as an example of double standards or worse. When all it is, is actually a case of having a backup to renewables, or even for exporting power to the grid.

So is the documentary a complete hit job? Not really. The solar and wind industry will do well to, and probably already do, to focus much more on making their own sector much more sustainable than it is today. That means higher investments, and focus on recycling of materials, to a stage where over 80 percent can be recycled by 2025.

The issues raised around ethanol production, and the use of Biomass are indeed relevant, and deserve a much closer look than they have got so far. We would probably agree that diverting farmland to produce only biofuels is counter productive and definitely not sustainable.

The documentary, while under no obligation to offer solutions, does seem to point to population as the single biggest culprit, and the consumption driven economy as the single biggest ‘problems’ to solve. Besides a serious distaste for billionnaires. The last bit might just get it some precious support, and the numbers to claim success. But to expect anything else from this effort of Michael Moore, would be asking for too much.

With a focus on the United States, the documentary of course severely limits its perspective. What is true for the US is certainly not the case in Asia, for instance. Shockingly, even for Germany, the film trots out extremely dated, and misleading stats, to make a case for the failure of renewable energy. By a factor of 10 or more actually. Or in effect, numbers from 2005 possibly.

Perhaps, they could have spent more time looking at markets like India. Here, Solar and wind energy have emerged only once they jumped through major hurdles of cost effectiveness and sustainability, the issues the documentary highlights. Biomass is stuck for the same reason, as unlike the US, local appreciation for forest resources is far higher in India. And so far, our billionnaires have stayed away from lecturing us on the way forward, leaving the tough job largely to a government, which has to win elections somewhere every few months.   But that doesn’t mean all is well of course. Just that Planet of The Humans is not where we would advise you to look,  if you want to look for answers, or a case against renewable energy.

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Prasanna Singh

Prasanna Singh

Prasanna has been a media professional for over 20 years. He is the Group Editor of Saur Energy International