"Happening" (A Clean Energy Revolution)
"Happening" (A Clean Energy Revolution) Release Year: 2017 Director: James Redford Running time: 1 hour, 11 minutes Watch trailer

Did you know that Robert Red­ford served as exec­u­tive pro­duc­er for an Acad­e­my Award win­ning short film about solar ener­gy in 1980?

That’s prob­a­bly the least use­ful thing I learned watch­ing “Hap­pen­ing”, but it speaks to the pas­sion that the Red­ford fam­i­ly has for clean ener­gy, includ­ing pro­duc­er, direc­tor, and star of this doc­u­men­tary, James, Robert’s son.

"Happening" (A Clean Energy Revolution)
“Hap­pen­ing” (A Clean Ener­gy Rev­o­lu­tion)
Release Year: 2017
Direc­tor: James Red­ford
Run­ning time: 1 hour, 11 min­utes
Watch trail­er

Also, Robert is appar­ent­ly much old­er in real­i­ty than in my mind, since at the begin­ning of the film I thought “oh, James must be his broth­er.” But I digress.

Ear­ly in the film, James puts before us the ques­tions he seeks to answer.

First, can we make enough renew­able ener­gy to sup­ply the world and replace fos­sil fuels?

Next, how would we do that?

Final­ly, and “most impor­tant­ly,” will we?

From there the film moves along to gen­er­al­ly answer these ques­tions in order.

To prove the fact that we can make enough renew­able ener­gy to replace fos­sil fuels, he high­lights some of the com­pa­nies, cities, and oth­er enti­ties that have already done so.

For exam­ple George­town, Texas (also fea­tured in “An Incon­ve­nient Sequel” and men­tioned in our review of that film), was the sec­ond city in the coun­try to become 100% green. It’s Repub­li­can may­or led the charge because of the city’s respon­si­bil­i­ty to keep costs low for his cit­i­zens as rate-pay­ers of the local util­i­ty, high­light­ing how renew­able ener­gy is not just good for the plan­et, but can also be more eco­nom­i­cal, espe­cial­ly over the long term.

Sur­pris­ing to me was the fact that the Unit­ed States armed forces, espe­cial­ly the Navy, are embrac­ing renew­able ener­gy. Ray Mabus, U.S. Sec­re­tary of the Navy under Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, says that renew­able ener­gy saves sol­diers’ lives.

For instance, many sol­diers die pro­tect­ing the con­tin­u­al envoys need­ed to bring fuel, which is no longer nec­es­sary when using solar.

He also points out that hav­ing gen­er­a­tors run­ning on gas in camps makes a lot of noise, pre­vent­ing sol­diers from being able to hear if ene­mies could be sneak­ing up on them, and also draw­ing atten­tion to their location.

At a solar con­ven­tion in San Fran­cis­co, James is told by Emi­ly Kirsch, a CEO who funds solar start-ups, that in forty-sev­en states, solar will soon as be as afford­able as or more afford­able than fos­sil fuels, although in some states solar is ille­gal or heav­i­ly restrict­ed. She also notes that the solar indus­try is cre­at­ing more jobs in the US than Apple, Google, Face­book, and Twit­ter com­bined, high­light­ing the vari­ety of soci­etal ben­e­fits from renew­able ener­gy sources.

Switch­ing the focus from solar to hydropow­er, the film next explores Nia­gara Falls. There are dams on both the Unit­ed States and Cana­di­an sides which sup­ply pow­er to sev­en states and two provinces.

Hydro is pow­er­ful and renew­able, but also has its downsides.

Large dams led to whole com­mu­ni­ties being wiped out by the water now held behind them. They also cre­ate prob­lems for wildlife.

How­ev­er, there have been some inno­va­tions in the hydro indus­try to min­i­mize impacts such as these. For exam­ple near Med­ford, Ore­gon, Natel Ener­gy has a small pow­er sta­tion that uses the exist­ing drop in ele­va­tion of a small canal to gen­er­ate elec­tric­i­ty with­out any fur­ther dis­tur­bance to the water flow.

The elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­at­ed there is pur­chased by Apple for their Ore­gon data cen­ter. In the US, every Apple facil­i­ty runs on 100% renew­able ener­gy, con­tribut­ing to their 87% renew­able ener­gy usage worldwide.

In places that do not have exist­ing renew­able ener­gy sources on the grid, Apple builds their own, such as a large solar farm in North Carolina.

James then notes that one of the big chal­lenges keep­ing us from going one hun­dred per­cent renew­able is the issue of ener­gy storage.

Since renew­able ener­gy can­not cre­ate elec­tric­i­ty on demand the way burn­ing fos­sil fuels can, there must be ways to store renew­able ener­gy when ener­gy cre­at­ed exceeds the cur­rent need, to be used at times when there is more demand than ener­gy cre­ation. Many peo­ple across the globe are doing research on bat­ter­ies and oth­er strate­gies to store energy.

Good grid man­age­ment is also key.

Angeli­na Galite­va, a board mem­ber of Cal­i­for­nia ISO, the folks who man­age the grid for most of Cal­i­for­nia, notes the enor­mous poten­tial of solar ener­gy and the impor­tance of effi­cient use and stor­age of solar.

“If we could cap­ture the ener­gy all over the world for two min­utes every sin­gle day and store it, we could pow­er the globe for a year, even the bil­lion peo­ple who don’t cur­rent­ly have elec­tric­i­ty,” she said.

So clear­ly, it is pos­si­ble to pow­er the world with renew­able ener­gy and peo­ple around the world are mak­ing strides in the tech­nol­o­gy need­ed to enable us to do so.

Which just leaves the third ques­tion: will we make the change and migrate to one hun­dred per­cent renew­able ener­gy? While the rea­sons to make the change seem obvi­ous (bet­ter for the envi­ron­ment, less expen­sive), there are entrenched inter­ests who are doing every­thing they can to pre­vent that from happening.

James goes to Neva­da to share the sto­ry of the fight of many of their res­i­dents to remove the dis­in­cen­tives for solar that were imposed by the state pub­lic util­i­ty board in favor of NV Ener­gy, the ener­gy util­i­ty com­pa­ny giv­en a monop­oly in the state’s constitution.

Eigh­teen months after the deci­sions of the util­i­ty board, which led to an over-night crash of the grow­ing home solar indus­try in Neva­da, three green ener­gy bills passed the state leg­is­la­ture and were signed into law by the gov­er­nor, putting solar and oth­er renew­able ener­gy sources back on an even play­ing field with tra­di­tion­al fos­sil fuel utilities.

Neva­da State Sen­a­tor Pat Spear­man was par­tic­u­lar­ly quote-wor­thy in her inter­views in “Hap­pen­ing.” “We have more sun­shine in Neva­da than they have heat in hell. And it is a sin if we don’t do some­thing with that,” she said, not­ing that Neva­da has “three hun­dred and twen­ty-some” days of sun­shine a year.

“It is a moral imper­a­tive… Every­one, wher­ev­er you are, what­ev­er your sta­tus or sta­tion in life is, we all have a respon­si­bil­i­ty to address this issue,” she con­tin­ued. “And if Wash­ing­ton [D.C.] will not, we will.”

For the cit­i­zens of Neva­da, the answer to James’s third ques­tion is clear­ly a “yes.”

As for the rest of us, James has this to say at the end of the film.

“The is the dawn of the clean ener­gy era. It’s just bet­ter, cheap­er, inevitable. ‘When is it gonna hap­pen?’ you might won­der. Well, as Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, vot­ers, con­sumers, that is entire­ly up to us. We have what we need to do this, in our own cities, in our own com­mu­ni­ties, in our own homes.”

What can each of us do to ensure that com­plete con­ver­sion to clean ener­gy is inevitable, and that it hap­pens before we run out of fos­sils fuels and our envi­ron­ment is com­plete­ly destroyed? That’s a ques­tion worth pondering.

“Hap­pen­ing” is cur­rent­ly avail­able to HBO sub­scribers on HBO GO. There are also pub­lic screen­ings but unfor­tu­nate­ly none are in the North­west at this point.

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