Solarise Con 2022 live-streamed on both PeerTube and Youtube last week, and I was quick to promise a brief review of the panels. As mentioned in my preview, four panels are devoted to different topics: tech, renewable power, aesthetics, and narratives. As previously noted, the topic of most panels did not match the title of the panels, and it was pretty important to read over the descriptions to tease out the real topic.

The Overall Review

Now, the Con did have a little bit of technical trouble. Everything ran smoothly on YouTube. However, the live feeds on PeerTube had some issues: sound cutting in & out, fuzzy/blocky images, occasional (brief) outages and the 4th panel didn’t really work at all. The recordings do not have the same issue. These kinds of problems are actually pretty common in the live-stream world, especially for the first time out, so they’re only really worth mentioning for the necessary post-con “what went wrong” breakdown. I expect the organizers will look into what happened and if they choose to run another event, make the necessary corrections.

Overall, the Con was decently well run. The moderators varied in their ability to steer conversations. There was a little bit of railroading in one panel, with the moderator very tightly going back to the topic questions. Additionally, the train went right off the tracks for part of another, and it was very hard for the moderator & panellists to steer it back to the topic at hand. Having attended a significant number of panels at a significant number of conventions, this is all fully as one would expect. Again, one of the take-aways for the organizer will be looking at what derailed the panel, and coming up with ways to steer back to the topic when it happens again (because it will).

I am relatively pleased with Solarise 2022. Yes, there were things that certainly could have been better (including matching panel titles to topics), but as a whole, the organizers made a good show for their first convention.

Panel Review: Real Solarpunk Tech

My personal focus is on solarpunk application, however, the convention focus is solarpunk fiction. As a result, I was very interested in this panel. Unfortunately, the panel didn’t really focus on solarpunk tech & how people could implement it themselves. That’s not to say the panel wasn’t interesting, just that it went in an unexpected direction.

The panel began by naming the tech that we use every day as some of the most unappreciated technology available: cell phones, the internet, and cellular banking technology. Ok, fine, we can start there I guess. We’re going to talk about decentralized computing, mesh networking, and open-source utilities right?

Eh. Not so much.

Instead, the talk moved into tackling the issue of market value as opposed to helping the commons, and how we need to move toward global knowledge & local effort. The panellists stressed finding the local narrative, local needs, and finding individualized solutions.

They touched briefly on the importance of Food Sovereignty (good) over Food Security (bad). I’m not in disagreement that food sovereignty is better, but if you don’t have food security you’ll never be able to move toward food sovereignty. I personally feel it’s a spectrum that you move along as you improve and you learn (plus it’s a major part of my focus).

Given that food sovereignty can be a whole conference series in and of itself, it was not surprising that the panellists quickly skipped over that topic and returned to the global knowledge & local effort topic. They focused on how there are generally two types of people: those who can make, but not buy and those who can buy, but not make.

How to bridge the gap? Global knowledge, local effort.

Avoiding Technocracy?

As time closed, the moderator asked one of the big questions: how do we avoid technocratic rule? The panellists were cagey in their responses. The solution is to involve people. Have “the people” work together & control tech instead of being run by tech. People need to build the technology, it should not be controlled by billionaires.

Given the resolutely post-capitalist element of solarpunk, the final point sat in stark contrast to much of the rest of the panel. Global knowledge & local effort was repeatedly framed in an economic “for sale” manner. The global knowledge was very much “for sale”, or presented as a way for the customer (locals) to create something “for sale”. It was a very pro-capitalism panel, with some recommendations for forming cooperatives to pool money for the purposes of purchasing land, buildings, equipment & knowledge.

Panel Review: EmPOWERing Communities

As noted, this panel’s topic was on electricity generation and had absolutely nothing to do with empowering communities. Well, the panellists made a weak attempt to claim localized power generation would empower a community, but they steered clear of anything particularly concrete in that area. Power generation is still a valid topic, so worthy of a review.

The panel began with the big question: what if we run out of fossil fuels?

According to the panellists, it would be disruptive, but “hopefully” we’d wean off quickly. Larger-scale renewable power, such as hydro, is not feasible everywhere (not to mention changing weather patterns) and hydro takes a long time to get up and running.

Wealth disparity & the implementation of renewables

The panellists were concerned wealthy people were better positioned to weather the change. As wealthier individuals move off utilities and onto their own solar, the price of those utilities would increase, leaving already poor people holding the bag on coal & methane.

There was also a focus on a need for more infrastructure. Not just storage but also transmission lines, many of which lose over 30% of the power that is fed into them.

There was a brief review of how to cut costs, such as people doing the work themselves and 3D printing to distribute manufacturing. However, the permitting & construction process is time-consuming, and the red tape creates an artificial scarcity of electricity. This leads to more power cuts. Additionally, despite online tools like Appropedia, many don’t have access to the knowledge & skills needed to do the work (especially if the power or internet is offline).

The panellists batted about other models of getting the infrastructure in place: a federation of microgrids vs a central power centre, bureaucratic control vs individual choice, central providers loaning the system & charging for the power use (renter capitalism), etc.

And then it went off the rails…

The moderator noted there was some pushback in the YouTube comments about the pro-capitalist discussion. One panellist went silent. The second promoted capitalist solutions while saying “it would be nice” to move beyond it. While the third seemed to mock the idea a little.

It took quite a while for the panel to get back on track. Panellists stretched further statements in an attempt to frame them in a non-capitalist manner. It was a little painful to watch, but I commend them for trying to carry on.

The panel’s call to action:

The big question: “How can we mobilize enough people to exact the change needed to force energy giants to transition from fossil fuels & invest in renewable energy?”

The responses were various forms of “Vote with your wallet.”

Seems counterintuitive considering:

  • Many places won’t let you disconnect from the power grid
  • Generally homeowners need the utility’s permission to turn on their solar systems
  • And there often isn’t a choice of electrical provider…

But that’s a rant for another time.

Panel Reviews: Just Another Style / What’s holding us back?

These two panels were a lot of fun, and I highly recommend watching them yourself.

The first, Just Another Style, focused on the aesthetics of solarpunk. It’s little light on solarpunk fashion (which I hoped to learn about), but did a great job all around. In addition to a review of their own art, the panellists play with the ideas of solarpunk quite a bit. This provides a wide-ranging panel that touches lightly on a large number of different topics.

The last panel, What’s Holding Us Back, discussed how to change the narrative from the lone hero to the community. As I suspected, the focus was more on changing the narratives in stories (both written & scripted). Despite this, once the panellists got going, it was a fun & interesting panel that I highly recommend you review.

What’s next?

That’s the real question. Will there be a Solarise Con 2023? And what might the panels look like?

Will an anticapitalist group run their own con and what topics might they cover?

Will working groups form to help the makers become buyers and the buyers become makers? Can there be workshops to find ways to solve some of the problems holding us back from a solarpunk future? How do we improve food sovereignty, distribute manufacturing, go about powering & empowering communities, and work for people, not profits?

As with any series of panels, they often lead to more questions. It’s up to the attendees to work together to find solutions so the solarpunk movement can grow.

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