Voices: Benicia man explores greener world in book
By Irma Widjojo, 05/16/16, 7:18 PM PDT
Benicia >> Grant Cooke said he’s always been a writer, even after not being able to find a job as a reporter as a fresh college graduate in the 1960s.
Undaunted, the Benicia resident of 30 years went on to write four books with his writing partner, Woodrow Clark II.
Clark was one of the contributing scientists to the work of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
Most recently, the duo published “Smart Green Cities,” which provides a guideline for modern cities to move away from a carbon-intensive energy culture, Cooke, 69, said.
“The only way we can mitigate climate change and global warming is by addressing the issues going on in cities and mega cities,” he said.
The writers took about a year to write the book, visiting more than two dozen of the cities in the book, including Beijing, London, Paris, Copenhagen and Berlin for research.
Cooke did not always live in the center of technology.
Born in a “small farm town” in California’s Central Valley, Cooke eventually left the area for a college education in Berkeley.
After working as a college administrator for almost three decades, he helped a small engineering company to write and design projects for the California energy efficiency program in 2006.
He then started a mechanical engineering company in 2010, the Benicia-based Sustainable Energy Associates, but decided to scale down to focus on writing more books — combining his passion of sustainable energy, technology and writing.
“My field is emerging technologies,” Cooke said. “We are on the cusp of the beginnings of what I consider to be a technological and scientific renaissance. I think from what I understand and where I stand now the future is more interesting and full of technological breakthrough.”
Through his work, Cooke was also able to “witness a little bit of history.”
In December, Cooke was part of the United Nations conference in Paris on climate change.
“It was really fascinating,” he said. “I got to see U.S. and China, the two world’s biggest polluters, sit down and discuss ways to address this issue.”
He said the United States is slower than the European countries to adopt greener technologies and habits.
“America tends to be lazy and tends to be dominated by carbon-related wealth,” Cooke said, pointing to his own hometown. “In particular towns like Benicia and Richmond that are so dominated by their heavy fossil fuel industries.”
However, Cooke agrees that California leads the nation in addressing climate change and related issues, but he said more money needs to be injected into the industry.
“No major change of this magnitude is going to come about without money,” he said. “Global investors, of large quantity, have suddenly realized that we are on this cusp of green industrial revolution — that money could be made in green technology.”
Cooke’s latest, and other books, can be found on Amazon.com.
For Benicia business owner and writer Grant Cooke, the question isn’t whether crude oil should come in by rail, pipeline or tanker ship. Nor which is better, hybrids or all-electric cars.
Cooke is looking ahead to hydrogen-powered vehicles that are no more combustible than those powered by gasoline and emit water vapor, not carbon gases, as they travel down roads and highways.
Now, in collaboration with Dr. Woodrow W. Clark III, winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize as a contributing scientist to the United Nations Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change, Cooke has written about what he calls the “third industrial revolution” — a revolution based not on the carbon-intensive industries of the past but on energy sustainability.
The book, “The Green Industrial Revolution: Energy, Engineering and Economics,” is the third collaboration between Clark, founder of environmental and renewable energy consulting firm Clark Strategic Partners, and Cooke. But if not for an unexpected career change, it may never have happened.
Cooke originally planned to be a writer in a different genre. He earned degrees in journalism and political science at the University of California-Berkeley and a master’s degree in journalism at the University of California-Los Angeles.
But witnessing the demise of evening newspapers, Cooke said he realized he might do better in a different industry.
He went to work at Diablo Valley College in promotion and administration, marketing the college for 28 years. Then, in 2005, “I decided it’s time to leave,” he said.
He had been networking with some young engineers, and realized he, too, had “a knack for design.” The result was writing third-party utility-sponsored energy-efficiency programs for schools and colleges, with data centers in California, Texas and New York.
“It was a start-up company. We got bought out,” he said. That gave him the chance, in 2010, to start his own business, Sustainable Energy Associates, a mechanical engineering company focused on renewable energy and water conservation.
But along the way, he said, he wrote a sustainable energy program for Southern California Edison. That led to his connection with Clark. “He had become a leader in the sustainability world,” Cooke said.
Funding for the program got deferred, but the collaboration lasted. The duo have worked on three books so far; one, “Global Energy Innovation — Why America Must Lead,” primarily can be found in libraries, though it also is available through Amazon.com, where readers can learn that the book explains why the United States must leave behind lethargy and defeatism to take the lead in technological inventiveness in the areas of green jobs and carbon-neutral communities.
A second book, which experienced delays Cooke said were prompted by political change, isfocused on China and its “green” revolution. It is being translated into Mandarin before being released.
“The Green Industrial Revolution” has been out since Nov. 20, 2014, and Cooke called it “a major reference book of its type,” adding, “We are fairly serious scientists.”
The authors’ contention, Cooke said, is there is a “mega-trend change” in how energy is going to be generated.
For instance, he said, China “came of age” with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when it became what he called “an essential part of the world economy.”
He said that country is moving fast to set aside its dependence on coal and investing trillions of dollars to clean up its environment.
“China,” he said, “is more serious than the United States.”
But it isn’t just about the environment: “We’re talking about a social, political and economic transition.”
Cooke said the upcoming change is on par with such significant events as 17th century Industrial Revolution, the switch to steam engines, the 19th-century discovery of oil as a fuel and the development of the internal combustion engine.
“My contention is, we are on the verge of the third industrial revolution,” he said. adding that some places already already are involved. That third revolution will be powered by renewable energy, with onsite distribution and a change from centralized to a decentralized, smart grid system.
“We’re at the end of a carbon-intensive lifestyle,” he said.
The change needs to happen, he said, because weather patterns are becoming unstable: the American Northeast is being inundated with snow, ice caps are melting and “the atmosphere is a garbage can for heavy carbon users.”
Not only that, but the change can reduce the cost of energy, he said, and that includes reaching a zero marginal cost.
“We’re economics-driven,” he said. He compared it to the production of any item, such as shovels: If he produced 10,000 shovels, the first hundred could cost $9 each, because part of the production costs are about building the system, such as the assembly line that makes the shovel.
But once he had paid for the system, the cost of making those shovels diminishes, Cooke explained. “Eventually, the only cost is resources, so you make more profit per shovel. That’s what is happening in renewable energy.”
He cited Moore’s Law, developed by Gordon Earle Moore, co-founder of Intel Corporation, and said based on that law technology doubles in strength and capacity every 18 months.
“My contention is, the same law applies to the growth of renewable energy,” Cooke said. “At the moment, the world uses six percent renewable energy. Each 18 months, it doubles. As it increases, costs go down.”
Those who put solar panels on their homes pay the cost of that installation in seven to eight years, Cooke said. “Once you reach seven years, the cost to generate energy is no cost.”
He said the business model for sustainability is better than for carbon-intensive industries, which is “a failing business model. It will be supplanted by renewable energy,” adding that in 19 regions of the world, solar energy is less expensive than carbon-generated energy.
One reason that is happening, he said, is the supplanting of fossil fuel by hydrogen energy in the transportation sector. “Norway, Sweden and Germany have relatively small but effective ‘hydrogen highways,” roadways where motorists have access to hydrogen “refills.”
In 2016, he said, California will launch its own hydrogen highway, along Interstate 5 from Mexico to Oregon, capable of supporting the hydrogen-fueled vehicles he said are in development by all major automobile manufacturers.
“Each has a prototype car,” he said, and Toyota and Honda already have such cars in Southern California.
He said several investment banks are reporting that carbon-based industries are losing money, and are predicted to lose $28 trillion in revenues in the next 20 years.
Cooke, who also is writing “Smart Green Cities,” which will be published this year by Ashgate/Gower in England, recognized that Benicia depends on carbon-based industries for its economy, and the largest of these is Valero Benicia Refinery.
He said this city has “geographic advantages” that those who are knowledgeable about economics find attractive. Those people could help Benicia change from counting on revenues from carbon-based companies to what he called a “smart-driven economy.”
“It’s happening before our very eyes,” he said.
He said there are places in Solano County where wind turbines generate energy for a few pennies per kilowatt, and solar arrays do the same for a little more than a nickel per kilowatt. “The average resident or small business owner pays 19 cents a kilowatt,” he said.
He predicted that renewable energy would overtake industries based on petroleum, and Benicia needs to join that change. “It’s time. The industry is declining, and it’s starting to accelerate,” he said. “Renewable energy is overtaking petroleum. It made profits at $140 a barrel. Now it’s looking at $50 a barrel or less.” He said the petroleum industry will never return to the prices of old.
“As futurists, Woody (Clark) and I are looking at a world that’s coming,” he said. Europe and Asia — especially China and India — are making greater efforts toward sustainable lifestyles, he said, an area in which the United States is lagging because of politics.
“Leadership is so bogged down,” he said — even as millions die from pollution-related illnesses, the world economy loses $1 trillion in global gross domestic product, increased salinity affects the world’s drinking water supply and marginal farmland fails to produce, leading to famine.
If this country is going to get pushed into a higher gear regarding sustainability, he said, “it will have to come on a local level. California is starting take on a leadership role. New York, too — New York has banned fracking.”
Ultimately, he said, he hopes the books he and Clark write explain to people that the world in which they grew up is changing, significantly.
“The sooner they understand the world’s environment is in danger, the sooner they can mitigate the danger for subsequent generations and move to a carbon-less lifestyle.”
“The Green Industrial Revolution: Energy, Engineering and Economics” is available on Amazon.com.