Sazmining Podcast Episode 27: John Schaeffer & John Perlin on the Unexpected and Humble Beginnings
Synopsis: On this episode of The Sazmining Podcast, Will speaks with John Schaeffer & John Perlin, founder and president of Real Goods Solar and historian of solar energy, respectively. They discuss the history of solar energy panels, how it impacts small towns, what society needs to change in the coming years, and more.
Will Szamosszegi (00:20):
So, first off, I would like to say a huge thank you guys for coming onto the podcast to talk about the solar industry out of everyone, out there in the industry. I think that you two are best suited to really tackle this discussion. Talk about your backgrounds and really how you've seen the industry evolve. Just because just like in Bitcoin mining, crypto mining, we're dealing with a very early industry. You guys were there from the very early days of solar. And to be really fascinating to hear your guys' background in your work in the solar industry, but also how you think it's going to evolve over time. So without further ado, I'll pass it off to you, Mr. Shafer, and you can talk a little bit about your background and your experience in the
John Schaeffer (01:13):
Industry. Well, thanks for inviting me on the show. Well, it's a pleasure to speak to some of the minors out there. I guess I got my start in solar, uh, just to, to predate a little bit. I graduated from UC Berkeley in 1971, moved to a commune up in Mendocino county in 72, came up for labor day weekend, actually that would've been 49 years ago and, uh, ended up staying for eight years. It was quite a place. It was everyone's ideal dream of living in the woods, completely off the grid. There was nothing there, there were no houses. There were no roads. There were no gardens. There was no water. There was no indoor plumbing. There was obviously no internet, no Google or Facebook. So at the time over opening Facebook
Will Szamosszegi (01:54):
John Schaeffer (01:55):
But with the five years
Will Szamosszegi (01:57):
Facebook wasn't listening in on the conversations.
John Schaeffer (02:00):
No, no, no. There was better security back then. So, uh, it became clear soon that with, with the kids that were growing up on this commune, we were using kerosene lamps and propane lamps. And, uh, you know, there was no indoor plumbing or refrigeration. So we were learning as we went along, what life was like without energy. I started early times around, I don't know, 73, 74 building a Savonius rotor out of 55 gallon drums, um, and spinning around to try to create energy through the wind. Um, soon after that, I got a job at the computer center in Ukiah where I was running, you know, the tax rolls and the welfare checks and the, all of the accounts payable for the county Mendocino. So I was driving 37 miles a day from kind of a 19th century commune to the height of 20th century computers.
John Schaeffer (02:52):
And, but back then, uh, a room about, uh, 50 by 50, he held about 40 megabytes of, uh, of storage there. It was the early days of computing. It was all done with punch cards and magnetic tapes. So I would drive 45 minutes, uh, to work every day in my little Volkswagen where I had a Redwood stump as a seat, no one cared about seat belts back then. And I soon discovered that this long drive I could charge a battery in my car. So I hooked up a spare battery in my trunk with a battery isolator. So every time I drive to work my car, my little Volkswagen bug became a battery charger. Soon after that, I found some 12 volt light bulbs on a shelf in a little hardware store in Ukiah gathering dust came home and I plugged those in to a, a electrical fixture ran 'em off my little Volkswagen battery and low and behold, I had electricity running in my little cabin in the woods, and it was kind of a leadite community where people did not take kindly to electricity.
John Schaeffer (03:51):
So these were, these were hippies from the sixties and seventies that didn't wanna see much advancement. They wanted to go off the grid. They wanted to get away from, you know, the quote man and the technology that was coming aboard in the late 20th century. So, uh, soon after that, I found a 12 volt television set up at an RV store in Laytonville and, uh, kind of snuck at home under the blanket. So the Volkswagen brought it up to my cabin and we plugged that into the battery 12 volt battery that we charging in the Volkswagen. And here it was Saturday night. We had John Belushi and Gilda Radner and Dan Akroyd on Saturday night live. So I would gradually sneak up one or two of the fellow Communards up to my house and we'd watch Saturday night live. And it was like the highlight of our lives, cuz here we'd been, you know, we'd gone without, we were complete aesthetics for, for a long time and here we had culture.
John Schaeffer (04:42):
Um, but of course, some of the leaders, the coming didn't like this and we were heretics. And anyway, it got us to the idea that electricity was something nice to have in the woods, but not very easy to have the Syon rotor did not work very well. It was nice to have a little bit of electricity, so the kids could do their homework at night. So shortly after that, as I drive back and forth to UK every day and this Volkswagen people would ask me, could you pick me up some chicken manure, pick me up some batteries, pick me up some blood meal. And interestingly, at the same time, a whole people were beginning to grow marijuana in the woods of Mendocino county. And uh, it, it started to get reputation for, I would bring all the stuff back to the commune pretty soon I realized wouldn't it be nice if people could buy all this at one store instead of I would, I would go down 15 stores down state street, Inka one, would've the KSA lamp Chis one.
John Schaeffer (05:35):
Would've the fertilizers one. Would've the drip irrigation. So soon after that in June of 78, I opened up a store with a partner called real goods and the banks called it a new age general store. It was a store that we opened in Willits and it was a, it was an instance of success. We sold wood stoves and we sold men's and women's clothing. And we sold all kinds of fertilizers and drip irrigation systems and organic, you know, before there was organic, um, just kind of a round rounding of, of products for everybody living the off the grid lifestyle in the woods. So we did like a million dollars in the first year in sales. People were flocking outta the Hills from Nevada city in grass valley and Humboldt county and the bay area, cuz we were the only store of its kind. And a couple months after we opened up, this guy drove up in a Porsche and in the back of his Porsche, he had these, uh, nine volt photo Volta panels.
John Schaeffer (06:30):
And uh, these were the first I'd ever seen. We had, we had a, a Berkeley physicist working as a retail clerk in the store and he took these out in the parking lot. This guy left a couple samples and lo and behold, we had photo Volta electricity in, in the parking lot of the real good store. And you know, we were just blown away. I mean <laugh> electricity from the sun. This was completely revolutionary. How could this happen? And the price on them at the time was, was about a hundred dollars a wat. This was a nine wat panel, but it worked. So this is, I wanted to get back to emphasizing that the marijuana, the cannabis industry evolved co-evolved with the solar industry because the only people that could afford these a hundred dollars of wat PV panels were the, the pot growers in the Hills.
John Schaeffer (07:15):
So they actually supported the industry, got it going. And at the same time, the photovoltaic industry supported the pot growers and their off the grid lifestyle because they lived way out in the woods and there was no way they could have electricity without solar. You know, they didn't want diesel generators making huge noise and smells in the woods. So these two industries evolved side by side. So this guy that came up to the store with the three solar panels came back a couple weeks later and we got 10 of them. Then he came back a month later and we bought a hundred of them. And then we bought a thousand of them. And these, these were the very first PVS sold at retail in the United States in 1978. Soon after that, one of my colleagues, David KA opened the store in Garnerville and uh, independent power, uh, John Hill and San Vanderhoff opened the store over in grass valley in Nevada city.
John Schaeffer (08:06):
Joel Davidson opened one in Arkansas. So the industry began to blossom in the very early days. So, you know, little by little people began to use solar panels out there. And it wasn't because it was the cheapest technology by far. It was because it was the only technology that worked for these people in the woods. So, you know, real goods sat there as pretty much us and maybe four or five other companies in the country as the only company selling PB in America, probably the world as well for probably close to 30 years. And it just kind of inched along, not a whole lot was happening. And I could talk for, for hours on the time between there, but around 1990, we decided to do a direct public offering. And we did a, this was the very first direct public offering where people could invest in the company, our customers rather than through investment bankers.
John Schaeffer (09:02):
So it was kind of an off the grid financing scheme, you know, before hedge funds and all that. So we raised $10 million. We decided to buy a desolated site in Hopland California, which was 20, 30 miles south of Willits where we could build a model of sustainability of regeneration, where everything was built right the first time. So we took what was essentially a brown field, uh, old vineyard from the old agricultural days. And we created a, an environmental paradise ecological paradise on the site where the whole place was powered by solar powered by wind. And all of the driveways were used with were, were built with gravel instead of, you know, petroleum blade and asphalt. And the garden was built all of plants that were either edible or useful. The buildings were built, all of recycled materials. We used had a straw on the largest straw building in the world, a 6,000 square foot building covered with pneumatic impacted stabilized earth that came from the ground.
John Schaeffer (10:03):
We built natural buildings out of cob and Kemp and mushrooms, grown mushroom structures. And this became kind of the eco paradise, the Mecca for environmental Mecca for people around the country. But getting back to the solar industry for a minute, there were two major things that happened to revolutionize the industry to, to get it mass market. I'd say the first was around 1997, where net metering came into play. Where up to that point, solar had been in the realm of off the grid homesteaders and wasn't at all mainstream. So the utility companies had a monopoly on it, like, you know, our local utility company, Pacific gas and electric, you could buy electricity from them for retail, like, you know, eight, 10, 15 cents a wat, whenever it was back then, I mean 10 or 15 cents a kilowatt hour. Whereas if you wanted to sell it to them, they could buy it from you.
John Schaeffer (10:56):
At wholesale rates was maybe two or 3 cents a kilowatt hour. So there was an arbitrage, a negative arbitrage where it didn't make sense to use solar while there was some pressure from some of the utility groups and, you know, Ralph Nader back then used to speak at our festivals. And, uh, they finally got in California, the first net metering law that said utility company must pay the independent generator of solar or any other renewable energy source, the same amount that they charged them. So all of a sudden for the first time solar became somewhat viable. And I think I had either the first or one of the first net metering homes in California in my home in Ukiah. And, uh, it was an incredible feeling to be generating that electricity. So 1997, the industry began to creep along a little bit. People were getting into it and it was becoming more, a little bit more mainstream, but not really mainstream.
John Schaeffer (11:49):
Then around 2006, the second revolutionary thing happened, which was the advent of the lease or the power purchase agreement back in the 1950s, no one could afford to buy a car because you know, the outlay was so high, people's pay working paycheck to paycheck just couldn't afford it. So when they came out with the first leases for cars, all of a sudden the, the car industry, automobile industry exploded in America. So around the same thing happened in 2006 little company called Sunrun started coming out with a lease. And then, um, the same time solar city, Elon Musk cousins, the, the ride brothers apparently took a bunch of mushrooms and burning man and came up with the idea for solar city. And that was one of the first leasing companies out there. So real goods for the first time had a real competitor viable competitor in Sunrun and in solar city.
John Schaeffer (12:44):
So all of a sudden people who could know before afford solar, suddenly the, the advertising was you can now get a lease on solar energy, put it on your home and pay less than your pain on your normal PG. And eBill so suddenly solar became affordable for the general population and it exploded. I mean, we, our company real goods from 2006 to 2011, we went from one little store in, in the Hills to probably, uh, 15, 20 offices around the country doing like 50 million in annual sales. Everything was exploding. The companies were coming up left and right vivid solar, solar city. So that was the, the, the next big advent of solar that really, really got it to take off and same, the same idea of pricewise. I mean, I think you've heard of Moore's law that says for every doubling in production of a technology like solar, there's a 15 to 20% reduction in price, but solar was even stronger than that.
John Schaeffer (13:46):
I mean, you take a hundred dollars. A wa was that solar panel we had in 1978. It's funny in my email this morning. One of the first things I opened up was a, a company in Florida advertising photoable tax for 20 cents a lot, the lowest I've ever seen. So we've gone from a hundred dollars, a lot to 20 cents a lot. That's a 500 time differential in the declination of price. Over 78 to 21 is 40, 43 years, 500 times the declaration of price. So solar has really gone mainstream today. And, um, you know, that's kind of an overview of, of my background and how real goods took solar from nothing to major multi-billion dollar industry. And I think the way it relates to, to Bitcoin and Bitcoin crypto mining is that the feeling of independence that we had in the early days of being off the grid.
John Schaeffer (14:42):
I mean, I still live in an off grid, home 25 kilowatts of solar or hydroelectric panels. I don't use any fossil fuels at all. I think that feeling that people get is similar to what people have with crypto. They wanna be off the, the financial grid. They wanna be off the us treasury grid. They wanna have coins to themselves and not have anyone messing with what they're doing. It's the same kind of rugged individualism that brought solar about in the country. So I think that the two industries have very interesting to see them grow together. They come from the same mindset and the same feeling of fierce independence that, uh, that humans tend to seek out in this world. So anyway, that's my story.
Will Szamosszegi (15:25):
That's absolutely incredible. And yeah, just hearing you talk through it, it was really the incredible to see how much the technology has evolved around solar and how quickly it's been moving since those first panels, a hundred dollars a lot. Now coming down to 20 cents. I mean, it's really, really incredible to see how quickly the technology has evolved would also love to hear, uh, your story, John, John Pearl, we got two Johns on the call, so maybe I'm gonna have to, to go with Mr. Pearl and Mr. Shaver for the rest to, to distinguish between the two, but yeah. Would, would love to hear your background as well. And your story around, uh, the work that you're, you've done in the industry.
John Perlin (16:02):
Uh, well, first of all, uh, both, uh John's and my, uh, beginnings are the same. We both went to Berkeley and, uh, I lived, uh, I, I, well there, I lived in a co-op at Berkeley, uh, cause I was a dirt poor, but that's where our background diverge. Uh, I went to live on a commune too, but it was a more organized commune. It was in Israel and I was out picking lemon on a teetering ladder and I said, shit, I'm just a Jewish ERO. And the, the Meres gonna come and take me away. So I decided I would become a writer. And then I decided because English is my best language, better than my Hebrew. I would come back to the, uh, USA and in the USA, I was sort of living a different lifestyle than John was. I was actually living in farmhouse in Goleta, California, uh, where we paid $5 a month rent.
John Perlin (17:05):
And, um, when it rained, we had a bar umbrellas inside and I worked as a gardener while thinking about writing a book and suddenly in Santa Barbara, there was this big vote among the board of supervisors on, uh, like, uh, Exxon said the only way to solve the energy crisis, move more, uh, fossil fuels. Right. And so I asked myself question, is there an alternative? So I spent a happy year at the, uh, city library reading about solar. Then the board of supervisors meeting I, uh, presented and a person heard who was head of the most popular radio station incident to Barbara said, if I wrote up what I said, he would give me all the air time possible. And I made this eight page booklet called solar energy back sheet. So that was my first like, go tip my hat into the publishing world.
John Perlin (18:00):
And I sold about it was like, like you put, you know, each page, oh, well actually it was printed on a mimeograph cuz there wasn't word processing at the time. And you know, you roll it hand by hand each page from a master sheet. Then, uh, went, had a ping pong table, went, you know, page by page and then went to a print shop and got bound, uh, with staples on a machine. And cause uh, I got all this Eric time, oh, I sold like a hundred copies and I was really excited. And then head of the, uh, Santa Barbara city library read my, uh, little solar energy fact sheet and he really liked it. So he told me to go to an alternative, oh, library, a journal. And he said, if I'd get it reviewed, uh, then you know, I, I would sell thousands.
John Perlin (18:49):
It got a real nice review. And so I was selling copies all over the world and randomly going to places where I could dump them in envelopes and then at a solar meeting because of the, my publication, some folks who grew up in LA at the turn of the century said, you know, they were in their seventies at the time said, oh, you guys think you're into something new. Why there was a major solar water heater industry in Southern California between uh, the 1890s and 1930s. So I said, wow, you know, how many people get to write about something that never had never been told before? Right. So that began, uh, what was called the golden thread of the story of the 2,500 years of solar architecture and technology, which sold over a hundred thousand copies in the, uh, USA and got translated into multi languages.
John Perlin (19:44):
And so that got me interested. Uh, and what John said was really interesting too, cuz at the time of publication, there had been only like, uh, there's only 700 kilowatts of photovoltaics throughout the world, which is incredible when you think of it like, oh, that's just a small like, oh, um, installation for a commercial building today. So I got interested in photo vol tags and I was lucky to pull in to, um, all the, uh, pioneers that no one knew about in more, I would say the straight, uh, world, they were like, uh, the people who were from bell labs who discovered the Silicon solar cell, which makes made John's story possible. But uh, and then also I met the people who helped establish the photoable tag industry for the defense department, uh, where every satellite that went up, you know, was powered by photovoltaics.
John Perlin (20:43):
And so these people became my mentors for my next book called from space to earth, the story of solar electricity. So the irony I see is that on one hand Photoville tags was, uh, making the, uh, commune life, the life, uh, in, up in the Hills of Mendocino county possible, but also on the other hand, making the most highly sophisticated devices for a NASA possible cuz without the, uh, photovoltaic, uh, cell, we could have never had any, um, long lived, uh, satellites, in fact, satellites run the world and their photo vol take we power because the only alternative was the battery. And as we know, if we keep our lights on, when the car's in the garage, it, you have to call triple a, the next day, but in space you couldn't do that. Right. And so actually the birth of, uh, photo tags is, was unknown until I did this research was, uh, basically under the, um, guys of the military industrial complex.
John Perlin (21:51):
And what's really amazing is, um, for example, I could send you them is the advertisements, but all by all the major military industrial companies in the south bay of Los Angeles in the, uh, 1960s, you know, uh, total, uh, portable tag freaks. So I think it's really interesting, the different avenues that John and I both traveled using the same technology, one was back to the land and the other was up into space, actually, portable tags were so important for America's defense industry. There was a project it's, it's really incredible. And it's almost like, uh, is crazy, is it was called operation starfish where the United States like did, uh, have you heard of starfish?
Will Szamosszegi (22:35):
Yeah, I've heard something about it, but, but definitely want to hear, hear you talk through it. It's fascinating.
John Perlin (22:41):
Okay. Well what starfish was, uh, there's, what's called the van Allen belt, you know, uh, in, uh, space there's this belt of radiation. Uh, so what the United States did was it began to test nuclear devices in space and the end result was knocking out all the power stations in Hawaii, but also, uh, knocking out the satellites because the radiation disabled, the panels. So the CIA got so concerned because America's whole defense industry, uh, depended on, uh, satellites powered by portable tags. And I think this is interesting. So you have John and hi and, and you know, the people in, uh, Mendocino back to the land and, and then, and then in the sky, there's the defense industry just as freaky about Photoville text as, uh, as, as your people. Right? And so what they did see, and I, I, I actually was able to get through the freedom of information act, uh, the document where the CIA con lab, you know, of all the PV experts in the world, uh, in the United States, uh, to solve the problem of, uh, artificial radiation created by operation starfish.
John Perlin (23:52):
So the industry is kind of interesting in that it had two different origins, one, uh, the highest level of the straight world, right? And the other, you know, the back to the land. In fact, the first people to bring solar Terrely was a company, a, uh, Exxon, uh, subsidiary called called, uh, solar power corporation. And the first people to really use, uh, solar on earth, uh, were, they were used platforms, rigs, offshore rig. This is so it really crazy, almost schizophrenic, multi origin, multiple tags, but we're coming to the same end point where photoable tags is now the cheapest form of electricity in the world. And, and we're, and we're seeing like at the end point, or, or maybe the, you might say the great beginning of the solar revolution where solar electricity and solar energy will once, well, once again, be the, uh, major source of power as it was like thousands of years ago with the Greeks and the Romans and the Chinese, we have these multiple solar revolutions. One was in architecture, in solar water heating, and now three is in the direct use of the sun, uh, for, uh, electricity. And I think it's incredible to think that in 1977, there were only 700 KWS of, uh, solar. And now I think there's, um, almost a, uh, a trillion, um, Watts of PV, uh, installed.
Will Szamosszegi (25:20):
Yeah. And actually just going off of that, it's very clear that we're seeing this evolution and you're talking about how we're almost coming on this next stage of the industry. And right now, people who don't have the background and understanding of where the solar industry was and where it's going, they haven't seen all these trends that you guys have really been on the front lines for. So with that said, I guess the, the next question would be what role do you see solar energy playing today in society? And what do you see that role being moving forward into the future?
John Perlin (25:53):
It's the major source, according to the, uh, international, uh, energy agency, which for the longest time has been really skeptical about vol tags. I see, uh, vol tags as becoming the, um, the major source of the electricity in a electrified world. I mean, uh, the prognostications are that PV and wind will be the, uh, major sources of energy. They're already the cheapest forms of actually at this moment than nuclears about four times two to four times as expensive as PV and also gas power generators are like, I think it's about a one and a half times more expensive than a PV installation. Oh. And also keep in mind the concurrent development batteries. You have these two revolutions going on is the, the steep decrease in price of batteries and its steep decrease of price of voltaic. And so together you have a 24 7 clean solution,
John Schaeffer (26:54):
Right? And another, uh, fact, we, we did a study once for one of our source books where we looked at how big of an area PV would it take to power? The entire United States? We came up with an 87, 87 by 87 miles in the Nevada desert could generate enough PV to power the entire electric grid in the United States. And the last time I looked, I've been kind of out of it for a few years, but the last time I looked, we were sitting at one or one and a half percent of our power coming from PV. And you know, where we're at now, John two or 3% or something like that, but it's still, it's got a long way to go.
John Perlin (27:30):
I, I think the next few years it's, uh, 10%, 10%. Yeah. That's what the forecast is like. Uh, they expect by, I'd have to get my notes out and I it's in my, uh, computer, but, um, by 2030, I think it is, uh, the expectation is to be at maybe, you know, you know, 15, 20%.
John Schaeffer (27:52):
One of the interesting things that John was talking about was, was an energy storage. And I know there's a big misconception about solar out there that by putting solar panels on your house, if the grid goes down and you're gonna be, you're gonna have light in the neighborhood when everyone else is out, but that's not true. Most people that have grid, inner tie systems, if the power goes out, they lose their power as well. That, um, and the problem up to this point is the expense of battery technology. As John was saying, like, I have my house here. I have 25 kilowatt solar system, but I also have 75 kilowatt hours of battery storage. So I have no, no grid tie whatsoever right now in the, and the advancements are being made in China. But these lithium iron phosphate batteries, they call 'em life PO li F E P O you know, lithium iron phosphate. Anyway, the price on those is coming down pretty drastically. So if people can start to afford that kind of storage in their homes, it's gonna eliminate one of the big barriers to entry for solar so that people can be continually off the grid. And I think that's gonna probably take five or 10 years to get down to be affordable, but that's, that's on the way too.
John Perlin (29:00):
Well, I think what's interesting is the bifurcation on solar in the United States with the quote, the, you know, the, what is called again, the, uh, culture wars vol became identified with, uh, anti people and hippies and was considered like a really, really just a goofy how source, even though the American military was dependent on photo attacks versus the, uh, situation in Germany where it became part of the national scheme to, you know, stall PV and that like boiled the PV panels being built primarily in China because they weren't bound by America's, uh, cultural, uh, problem. And they just saw a lot of money to be made mm-hmm <affirmative>. So that's a really interesting situation where the Germans and since the nineties really believed in, uh, the problem of climate change, uh, but you know, it, it was a shared value by everyone in the society while in our society, it became a, uh, political football mm-hmm <affirmative>. And so in 2004, you had the it's called the red green coalition between the socialists and the greens. Um, they established the, uh, first major, um, residential photovoltaic, um, experience in the world and the Chinese. So we'll look at all these people, they need photoable tags, we'll we'll build and that's what's happened.
John Schaeffer (30:33):
Yeah, it's interesting. The, the crossover between in the early days, photo tags were in the realm of the hippies and the progressives, and then around, I don't know, the late nineties, we started getting a lot of call in for photo Bott from survivalists in Utah, where we'd have someone call up, they'd call up on a Wednesday and they'd say, can you deliver us 3000 Watts of solar by Friday? We said, well, that's, you know, that'll be overnight FedEx, it'll cost just $800 in freight. And they said, well, it doesn't matter because the Armageddon, the end of the world is happening on Saturday. So we gotta have these things. <laugh> all of a sudden that's happened. But I it's interesting what John was saying too, with the German model. It, it takes me back to the nineties when we had, we first learned about global warming and, uh, in Hopland at the solar living center, we set ourselves a goal of, of eliminating the production of a billion pounds of CO2, because we could see what was happening with global warming.
John Schaeffer (31:28):
We made a model of California with a Topo map underneath it and water that would, uh, flood up to it. And then we had a little valve, people could turn. We said, if we don't do anything about removing CO2 from the atmosphere, if we don't get in more into renewable energy, we turn on this faucet and the water would come up and go over over the Sacramento valley and, you know, flood the, the bay area. And, uh, we had this billion pound goal where we would measure people buying compact fluorescence and volt to see how much energy they could save. But I just dug out one of these editorials the other day. And it said, if we don't do something about global warming, um, by the year 2020, and this, you know, this was 1991, I think, so we don't do something in 30 years, we're gonna have major catastrophes, like, you know, hurricanes and fires and tornadoes and floods.
John Schaeffer (32:21):
And, uh, it was just so depressing to read that, uh, and realize how completely shortsighted our species is. I can't think more than a year ahead and wonder why it is that it's got political, that all of a sudden it's, it's the Republicans that are in denial and the Democrats that aren't, but generally as a species, it doesn't matter what the political affiliation was. We're just, you know, taking ourselves down this horrible path of disruption and not to get political, but in the middle of losing our democracy and losing our women's rights with row versus Wade. But, uh, I'm, I'm, uh, digressing here into depression. So
Will Szamosszegi (33:01):
It sounds like there, there are a lot of benefits coming forward right now with solar and, uh, the cost coming down and everything else, it now becoming the cheapest source of power. So what are the limitations that you guys see today that are really stopping it from going fully mainstream? Are there certain particular things about it that are really preventing a faster shift?
John Perlin (33:22):
Well, I would say it's just the same old, same old, like, oh, um, I was watching a meeting on fossil fuel industry trying to sell what they call blue hydrogen. And it's sort of like, oh, um, a fourth grader trying to fudge on, um, what they, uh, previously said to, uh, not to fail their class, because it turns out the, uh, uh, and the whole idea of carbon, um, storage. You have these that are very powerful, that are trying to continue breathing right as, uh, by, by, by basically, um, bold faced lying.
John Schaeffer (34:02):
I can't really think of any barriers other than inertia, just that, uh, it takes our species so long to come to its senses there. The financial barriers are gone with, with financing and the, uh, environmental barriers are gone. There used to be fossil fuel industry used to talk about how there were, it would take 10 years of embodied energy to, to create one photovoltaic panel, but that was disproven, um, to certainly have enough sand in the world to make the Silicon that's needed. So there's no shortage of materials, prices down to can't get much lower than what it is now. So I, yeah, I can't really think of any great barriers to, uh, adoption. It's just, uh, the slowness of people to act
John Perlin (34:47):
Well. Well, I would say too, and that's one thing. Uh, so we mentioned not only has the price gone down about the, uh, efficiency has dramatically, uh, gone up.
John Schaeffer (34:58):
Yeah. Back in the fifties, people used to think, or in the seventies, people used to think that 6% was about all, we were gonna be able to get outta PVS. And what are we up to now? 30, 35% on the average now, John,
John Perlin (35:10):
Well, actually, actually we're at about 24% E efficient, uh, but getting up to like 26%, and then they're talking about, uh, uh, tandem, uh, Silicon with, uh, what's called Parsco, is it, uh, you know, uh, together, uh, getting, uh, beyond the, um, uh, theoretical limitations of a single, um, uh, band, uh, band gap, a cell, and, yeah, it's just amazing. Like, but, but, but what's really interesting too, is you have little tags that were installed in 1980 and they're still like, uh, doing quite well.
John Schaeffer (35:50):
Yeah. My house is like a museum. I've got, uh, I've got ones from 1980 and I've got ones from 1995 ones from 2018, all working side by side and generating it out. But it's interesting. And I go
John Perlin (36:05):
Ahead. I was, I was just gonna ask you who made the first, uh, modules that you talked about being delivered to your store?
John Schaeffer (36:12):
Yeah. Arco solar.
John Perlin (36:14):
So Arco solar. Those were the first,
John Schaeffer (36:16):
Yeah, those were the first ones that we had. There was a company in LA called the William Lamb company and they got 'em from, from the space industry, I think from NASA. And that's where we bought the first ones that were used, that were made by Arco. And then Arco was the only game in town. And then they sold out to Siemens and then Exxon came through and solar power corporation, midway, solar doing concentrators and yeah, they all, all started getting into it.
John Perlin (36:43):
Yeah. So, so, uh, basically, uh, as I see it, uh, we have another solar revolution. Uh, the cause, um, from my research, uh, in the history of solar, there's been these multiple, um, solar revolutions where solar dominated the, um, society, uh, in architecture with the Chi ancient Chinese, then, uh, the classical Greeks, then the, the Romans. And, uh, and then the Chinese also, um, uh, monopolized the, uh, fire lighting, uh, you know, you'd focus a mirror on, on, um, Tinder and, uh, then, uh, you know, you'd get a little fire and then it would, uh, produce the, uh, you know, the fuel for the meal. And, um, then, uh, this is kind of interesting. And then in the Renaissance, it became the main way of, uh, concentrating solar became, um, the way people, um, uh, soldered, you know, work, worked the metal industry. And then, uh, you had the solar water heater, solar water heater industry, which dominated a first in Southern California than in Florida than in, uh, Cyprus and Israel, and then in China. So we have different aspects, different, different, we have, we have, uh, both solar photoable ticks and we have solar thermal, which, you know, people tend to forget.
Will Szamosszegi (38:14):
So one of the big, uh, themes just within Bitcoin is this idea of, uh, self sufficiency, the idea of decentralization and hearing you guys talk through, uh, solar. It seems like there are certain parallels between both industries, but from your point of view, how are you guys looking at the, the Bitcoin mining industry and Bitcoin as an asset class?
John Schaeffer (38:38):
I don't really think I know enough about it to be, to have much intelligence, but it, uh, like I was saying earlier, I think the same, it comes from the same mindset of independence and not wanting to be, uh, under the scrutiny of, you know, the power companies or the us treasury or the us financial industry or the government people want to be individuals. And, uh, crypto does that as well as solar does that.
John Perlin (39:06):
Well, well, see, I think that's more of an American mindset than a world, a mindset, and also, um, what what's quite ironic once again, I, I, the, I, I love ironies is that the right now, uh, the major generator of solar power are the large, um, centralized installations.
John Schaeffer (39:26):
Well, I'm, I'm curious to ask you that the question about, you know, one of the biggest, uh, barriers to people accepting the crypto industry is the supposed use, you know, rampant use of renewable energy or not use of renewable energy, but the use of fossil fuels and, and bit mining technology. So, and it wasn't that the reason why, one of the reasons why Elon Musk got out of it was because he claimed that it was so inefficient. So what, what is the, is that really true or is that just a nasty rumor? And is this something that photovoltaic can rescue? Yeah,
Will Szamosszegi (40:04):
Well, first off I think that, that question right there is one of the most important questions to be asking right now. And the way that I like to go about speaking about it is really what's the goal of what we're trying to accomplish. And if the goal is we want to move off off of a fossil fuel dependent society into a renewable driven society, then what you have to do is you have to find a way to meet the energy demands of society through renewable energy sources and, and not need fossil fuels and tying this all back to, uh, to Bitcoin mining. The way that we see it is that this is one of the greenest industries out there. And the reason for that is because the way that it operates in the energy sector is it makes it easier for renewable projects to get up and run.
Will Szamosszegi (40:52):
And why is this, why does, why is Bitcoin mining the, one of the secrets to getting renewable energy projects funded? It's because Bitcoin mins are a consumer of power that can be located anywhere around the world at the source and consume the power of last resort or the excess power or the power that may need to be curtailed and use that to mind Bitcoin. Um, and when you look at Bitcoin at its core, it really is a, a decentralized monetary network. Um, it's a network that, as you mentioned, any single person around the world with an internet connection can plug into. So for the marginal energy and society, or the wasted and excess energy in society, you're powering a decentralized network that gives people around the world hope at economic self preservation, the, the hope of being able to go and have, self-sufficiency not be reliant on the institutions of your state, especially if you're in a corrupt state and be able to go and plug into this decentralized financial system that no single government organization or entity can control or shut down.
Will Szamosszegi (42:02):
And I think that that's one of the most powerful and important things about Bitcoin is that it's decentralized. It's not like a monetary system that are Fiat currency driven monetary system, where a government can go and print more of the currency. Uh, if I'm providing someone a service or any of you guys are providing someone a service you're being paid in monetary energy, um, basically the work that someone else had to, to go and do to, to get that money. And they're paying you for that work. And you're providing value in the open market. When we go and we click the print button on money that isn't work, that was earned through, through society, through the monetary energy and the work that I performed that is money and energy, that's being printed and devaluing all the other holders of that currency, devaluing the amount of work and contribution they've contributed.
Will Szamosszegi (42:55):
So over time, you're fighting an uphill battle. If you're holding onto a currency that's being printed away. And I, I think that a clear example of what we've seen is what has happened in Venezuela. It's happened in Cyprus. It's happened in many different countries where currencies fail and you see a tremendous amount of harm done to the citizens of that country. You, they don't have enough, uh, they, they don't have the capability to pay for, uh, a, a livable standard of living because their living in a regime where their currency's been devalued in their wealth has been evaporated overnight. Having the decentralized monetary network powered by renewable energy powered by the energy of, of last resort, the marginal cost energy to society to support a system that gives 7 billion people around the world, hope to have financial services and the ability to preserve their wealth.
Will Szamosszegi (43:50):
I think that that's, what's really important. And, and the last piece on, on, on that front with the energy consumption and going back to what happened with Musk and everything else is when all it, I think it was actually a good thing that that question was brought forth. And someone as, uh, high, highly profiled as Musk was speaking about it is because what ended up happening was it, it got the industry to come together and really start looking into what is the power, uh, mix powering the Bitcoin network. What's the renewable energy makeup. And what we really found is that it really is as green of an industry as you can get. I mean, if I look at this shirt or, or you look at, um, any of the things that we use on a day to day basis, we don't look at anything else under the same light that we're looking at Bitcoin.
Will Szamosszegi (44:40):
Cause if we go and let's say you plug in your Tesla, are we asking what the energy mix of the grid that powered your Tesla is using? Because the answer to that is it's primarily fossil fuels. Um, that's powering your Tesla. And so, uh, that's one of the things where it's having an honest discussion about, okay, what's the goal with renewable energy. What's the goal of, um, the role of energy in our society and how do we want to, uh, look at energy consumption and energy use, um, and particularly how do we wanna evaluate the use of Bitcoin's energy consumption? So there's a long
John Schaeffer (45:18):
Answer. Can you explain, can you explain how the mining process works and why it uses so much energy? What it, what does it actually do? I'm unclear.
Will Szamosszegi (45:25):
Yeah, it, the mining process, uh, for Bitcoin in particular, what we're talking about, it stands for proof of work. And so the whole idea of proof of work in Bitcoin mining is you have all of these different minors around the world that are like nodes in the network. And they're trying to uphold the protocol for Bitcoin. You can think of the protocol as like the rules governing Bitcoin and making sure that transactions are going through fairly no single person can print more Bitcoin, there's gonna be 21 million. So basically all the different mins are processing data processing transactions and providing security for the Bitcoin network to uphold the proper rules of the Bitcoin network and the ledger and the genius of the system. And the reason why you see the energy consumption that you do have in Bitcoin, because there's no doubt, it consumes a solid amount of energy.
Will Szamosszegi (46:22):
That's, highing the real world monetary value to real world energy, which is something that I think inherently you need within sound money. You, you want to tie that to work and ideally want to tie it to real world energy rather than the decision of a small group of people. And so the reason being, again, that, that mining is so important and the system is so important is because for the first time ever in human history, we found a way to fix the money and have that money tied to real world energy and the base layer one money that no single person can corrupt or devalue.
John Schaeffer (47:01):
So what happened last night that apparently dropped the, the price 10 or 15% was that somehow the us department of justice was able to hack out, I don't know, 200 million in Bitcoin or something. So does that, was that a failure in the mining system to police the network so that something like that couldn't happen?
Will Szamosszegi (47:22):
That's a, that's a great question. So the way that, um, the way that that happens is not at a failure of the mining layer, one network, the, the way that the Bitcoin mining network works, it's just basically like code and math. It's like putting through everything in the way that are going to make transactions happen properly. What that was, what that's a failure on is whoever's in control of the keys to the wallet. They're the ones that can, that it can be seized. So in many times when we, what we saw with the pipeline, um, and the hackers who were trying to charge, um, and extort money in Bitcoin, what you can do is if you're the government is, if you go and you follow the wallet addresses of the, of the bad wallets, where, you know, the hackers are using this wallet and the Bitcoin in here was done for a legal activity, they can contact the exchange, the custodial provider, the actual organization that has control over that wallet and seize those funds if they, if they so choose to do.
Will Szamosszegi (48:24):
Um, so that's when a lot of people have that, that conversation crypto, where they say, not your keys, not your crypto. You have the ability with Bitcoin to set up your own private keys and to take full responsibility and custody of your crypto. If that's the case, then you're managing your own private keys. There's no bank account, uh, or password reset button that you can call, but you have complete control over your wealth. Whereas at a bank, for example, you could go and you could have a million dollars in the bank account, but what you're seeing in a lot of other countries, and with corrupt, uh, regimes, you might not be able to withdraw your money. And so this is the first time where you can go, you can have value in Bitcoin and you can travel across borders and you can access that Bitcoin from a fully, a fully different location. And you don't have to worry about dealing with banks or other intermediaries to access your funds because you can take full control. So yeah, that, that's a, that's a great question. <laugh>
John Schaeffer (49:21):
Yeah. Someday I wanna fully understand Bitcoin, but it, it's still a bit of a mystery to me.
Will Szamosszegi (49:26):
Yeah. It's, uh, it's a very, very early industry. I I've got one final question for you guys, but before I ask it, just for everyone listening, uh, could you guys share where everyone listening can connect with you online? And, uh, if there are any resources or things that you recommend that they check out to learn more about everything that we've discussed here today and the work that you guys have done, uh, that would be
John Schaeffer (49:51):
Great. Okay. Well, I'll give you, my, my email address is John J O HN, solar living.org. And, um, yeah, that's, that's about, uh, that's the easiest way to contact me. Um, I still, I have a book that I published that he's real good solar living source book. I think it's still available on Amazon. If you can't find it, you can get it. It's like 400 page book on history of solar and how solar works and how renewable energy, um, natural building, pretty much anything for off the grid living, uh, is in that book. We have have another book called place in the sun about the history of the solar living center and how it was built, and some ideas on how to build, um, two natural buildings and do landscapes that are in tune with nature and regenerative agriculture. So those are the, the two books that I put out, um, and feel free to contact me via email. Anyone who has an interest in discussing it further.
John Perlin (50:52):
Yeah, well, um, my email address is J is all lower case, no punctuation, J O H N P E R L I N U C S B for university of California, Santa Barbara EDU. And, um, as I said earlier, um, my book, which is considered the history of solar energy is, uh, coming out in paperback and answering these questions that we discussed, uh, today. Um, you know, the, the, the, the, what, what's, how solar is be, how we are enduring solar age, um, is, is going to, uh, part of, uh, the book, uh, let it shine, uh, the 6,000 year story of, uh, solar energy. And it will be in paper back in, uh, February of, uh, next year, also the O my other book of forest journey, the role of wood, um, and civilization, um, will be coming out in an updated version by Patagonia books in September of next year.
Will Szamosszegi (52:03):
Right. So the final question for each of you is how important do you believe it is to begin that transition to a sustainable future with solar energy? And what would you like to leave the listeners with in regards to solar or anything else on the topics we've discussed
John Schaeffer (52:21):
Today? I would say it's absolutely essential. And, uh, hearkening back to my discussion of 1990s, when we first began to understand, uh, climate change and the realization that if we didn't do something pretty quickly, things were gonna get really bad. I think this summer is the really, the first indication of that that has hit a mass scale and that if we don't do something immediately, you know, it's pretty much all over for humankind. Uh, even though the planet will survive. So I would strongly encourage everyone who hasn't already to eliminate, or at least minimize their use of fossil fuels, uh, get an electric vehicle, put solar on your house and, uh, begin to walk your talk a little bit and help cure the, the ills that have, uh, that are destroying our, our planet. And, uh, uh, on, on the side note, getting, you know, ruining our democracy, et cetera.
John Schaeffer (53:19):
I think we need to take a, a rapid look at ourselves and where we're going and make a sea change immediately, or it'll be way too late. And I've, I've got five grandchildren myself. And, uh, it just really pains me to think of them growing up in the world. If we don't do something right away to, to fix things, you know, we're kind of at the very tail end of being able to do something to fix it. And, um, I would just strongly encourage everyone to open up their eyes and think beyond the next three months and think about their grandchildren and their children and get it together once and for all, and listen to Greta Thunberg and, uh, the rest of the folks out there that are, uh, looking to save the planet.
Will Szamosszegi (53:59):
I just wanna say that this has been absolutely incredible. Thank you guys so much for taking the time and talking through these topics there. I mean, it's very, very important to have these types of discussions and really share what's going on, share, uh, views from, from experts like yourselves.
John Schaeffer (54:15):
Thanks will for getting in. We look forward to seeing the final product.
Will Szamosszegi (54:19):
Okay, thanks again, guys. This was a lot of fun byebye
John Schaeffer (54:23):
Will Szamosszegi (54:23):
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