Norberg travels the world in Power to the People to peel back the layers of this global challenge, often questioning the conventional wisdom on what works and what doesn’t. His journey starts in the Moroccan bazaars of Marrakech, which functioned fine for eons without modern conveniences, but where electric lights, computers, cell phones and credit card readers are now everywhere. Even more telling is Norberg’s journey to a remote Berber village in the Sahara Desert. More than half the world still cooks its food over open flames but this is rapidly changing, including here, where women now cook on gas stoves, and some even have refrigerators.
The revealing program examines global efforts to solve our energy dilemma—and how even the best of intentions sometimes result in unexpected consequences. For example, Germany’s decision to abolish nuclear power and increase the use of renewable energy has sent retail prices soaring, among the highest in Europe. It also resulted in an actual increase in the use of lignite coal-burning plants as the Germans discover that it takes temporary dependence on energy from fossil fuels to build a new clean energy economy. Imposing tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels to protect the German solar industry also slowed things down.
In the U.S., Power to the People explores the great debate in a country whose energy consumption is now only surpassed by China. He reveals, perhaps surprisingly, how cities like New York consume far less energy per capita than the rest of the country. The controversy over America’s promising new energy source in hydro-fracking is also examined, as is the folly of top-down government-imposed solutions. Witness the continued federal subsidies for corn ethanol, which have sent food prices soaring and not produced the promised renewable energy return.
Although daunting, the energy challenge can be met, Norberg believes—especially if governments step back from top-down imposed solutions. From a solar facility in Morocco to wind farms in England, a hydraulic fracking site in Pennsylvania, and a trucking company in Florida that is converting its fleet to natural gas, potential new sources and solutions abound. Coal, Oil, Natural Gas, Nuclear, Hydro, Biomass, Wind, and Solar are all in the mix and all come with their own problems.
As Norberg finds, the world is overflowing with energy. The sun is shining, the world is turning, the wind is blowing, and water flows downhill. The only bottleneck when it comes to energy is our ability to safely convert, store and pay for it.