Building Solar Cities

Photo from The Sustainable City, Dubai – a world leader in solar-powered urban development

It’s a real delight to share that the world premiere issue of Solarpunk Magazine is now officially in print and available over at I highly encourage you to check it out. It’s got everything. Great stories. Great poetry. An interview with the incomparable Kim Stanley Robinson on utopianism. Well worth the read.

If you aren’t familiar with Solar Punk, it’s a new genre of fiction that seeks to understand, through narrative storytelling, art, and practice, what new kinds of worlds might be possible should we choose to shed our carbon habit and groove to a sustainable future. It’s utopian alright, but with a punk twist: that hard look into the utopian underbelly that reminds us that getting from here to there will be hard and undoubtedly come with a few scars.

You’ll also find a bit of non-fiction sprinkled in, including an essay from yours truly, “It’s time to build solar cities”. My two cents, as followers of the center know, is that we’re going to need a LOT of solar and that there’s no good reason not to build as much of it as we can inside city boundaries, where we can do good things with it beyond just generating electricity–and where those benefits can flow to those who need them the most.

Solar punk artists and writers seem to agree, as solar punk is chock full of amazing imaginations of solar cities of the future. It’s just that somehow we don’t seem to be getting on the stick. So, I sort of wrote a manifesto. Here are some teasers … If you want to read the rest, go get your copy of the magazine.

The city transformed is one of the most iconic images in Solarpunk art and literature: smoggy, concrete, auto-centric meccas replaced by flourishing ecoscapes of solar panels, wind turbines, urban farms, and abundant, thriving, sustainable life, all nourished by the power of sunlight. Sadly, in today’s real-world energy transition plans and strategies, the Solarpunk vision of the future city just doesn’t exist. It’s time to change that. It’s time to build solar cities.

Urban solar projects can be designed so that the financial revenues that flow from energy generation are shared with low-income households, people with disabilities, communities of color, indigenous communities, and others who could benefit from a little help, reducing energy burdens, creating alternative income streams, and reversing historical patterns of racial and environmental injustice.

The key to all of this is the amazing flexibility of the solar panel. Already, photovoltaics power a range of technologies from calculators and lanterns to GW-scale power plants, and every scale in between. Even more importantly, it can be layered into the social, cultural, and economic fabrics of people’s lives and livelihoods in an intoxicating variety of ways. Today, solar power is powering churches all over the globe, helping farmers water and shade their crops, facilitating the reconstruction of cooperatives in Europe, catalyzing grassroots resilience initiatives in the Caribbe-an, and so much, much more. Why would we limit our investments in solar to just one model of techno-economic logic—and just one vision of the future of electricity and electrified life?

And my recommendations for urban solar warriors …

  • Unleash solar imagination
  • Level the playing field for urban solar
  • Leverage utility investments
  • Demonstrate the comprehensive benefits of urban solar
  • Diversify, diversify, diversify
  • Do justice

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