Figuring out "Solarpunk"?

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MormonMobster

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So I've had an idea (not an original one of course, but one that hasn't had a lot of use) that I think has lots of mileage; solarpunk. I like the idea of solar technology, and I like the idea of cyberpunk. What I want to do is combine the two into one cohesive theme/worldbuilding idea.

I'm struggling a bit in figuring out exactly what the details are, so I'd like help in doing that. I don't want anyone to dictate my writing, but simply provide some thoughts to give me a bit of creative juice.

What I have so far is only basic, simple thoughts.

-Obviously, there needs to be a reason why solar technology is used so cheaply and so frequently. Perhaps oil/coal/etc has run out/is only the resource of the very, very rich, and to accommodate everyone's needs, solar power was heavily developed? And maybe the earth's ozone layer or whatever is changed in such a way that solar power is more powerful?

-Since Cyberpunk frequently deals with the fusion of man and machine, I'm wondering how that could work with solar power. For an idea as to what I'm looking for, I was listening to the Writing Excuses podcast, and in a discussion on a hypothetical Cyberpunk story. They mentioned that there could be cybernetic tattoos that replaced the idea of ports or wires that is prevalent in cyberpunk, and that these tattoos could be solar-powered. I think that is a very interesting concept, but I hesitate to use an idea others have come up with. I still like the concept of solar power being so attached to our bodies, though.

-There also needs to be a cynical side to all of this, which I'm not at all sure of; I know cyberpunk tends to have the "all-powerful corporation" theme going on, but unfortunately, I have not read too many cyberpunk books (though I have read a good amount of sci-fi), so I don't know a good scenario for a corporate greed plot. I should probably get to reading a bit of cyberpunk, but regardless, I need some ideas to get my brain moving.

-I can figure out the main character, of course, but what sort of unique occupations would arise in a solarpunk world that I could use?

-What are interesting real-life emerging technologies that I could modify to use in this setting?

-What could be a good general "aesthetic" for the setting: I.E, in cyberpunk there's wires, internet ports in the skull, and etc. How would solarpunk look?

Again, I don't want anyone to feel like they're dictating a novel to me; I just want ideas to start flowing. Thanks in advance.
 

druid12000

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First off, there was a bad Steven Seagal movie, also starred Michael Caine, called 'On Deadly Ground'. The only reason I mention this is a quote from his final speech in the film saying "The concept of the internal cumbustion engine has been obsolete for more than fifty years". He goes on about alternative fuel sources. Check it out on Youtube, it might give you some ideas. Also, Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman had a fantasy series, 'The Death Gate Cycle', and the main character had magical tatoos all over his body to aid in regeneration, protection, etc.
Another writer that I checked out recently was Syne Mitchell's 'The Last Mortal Man'. Lots of cybernetics and a pretty cool story.
Good luck! I'd love to read it if you pursue that line.
 

Dreambrewer

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An easy way to make solar power viable is to have the orbit littered with satellites that gather the solar energy with huge panels, then beam it down to the Earth. All cities(and cyborgs too), will have receptors which take the power to themselves(perhaps visually crystals or glass lenses or something). As far as I remember, this is a not-so-far-in-the-future sort of proposed solution to making solar energy viable.

As for the cynical corporate side, perhaps the satellites beam the energy accurately to a single place, but much of the energy is dispersed in a wider area. This means cities will always have safe, clean power as much as they need, but the nearby countryside is fried with too much amplified solar power, slowly drying and burning them up. Arable land will perhaps be ruined by this, and be concentrated in areas away from the cities, which are dependent on energy being brought there with huge powerlines, controlled by the corporation. This means the corporation will have a stranglehold on both energy as well as food. Perhaps the corporation wants to make the ozone layer disappear more, so they can harness the power of the sun with even more efficiency.(Makes little sense to me, since it'd make ground-based solar energy better, but who knows.) Or perhaps they intend to manipulate the weather on the planet to their ends, since clouds and such hamper their energy delivery. Diverting the clouds from the cities to their farms means more efficient energy and food, but causes tremendous ecological disasters elsewhere on the planet.

The only really unique occupation for the aforementioned ideas would be:
Sun-predictors, a sort of meteorologist that monitors the sun instead of the Earth, and predicts both solar flares and sunspots, which hamper and aid power generation. Predicting them will make stuff more efficient.
 

Anaximander

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Reminds me of a book whose title I've forgotten in which the Earth has no ozone layer left, and people can only go outside at night or when wearing suits. Everywhere has UV-filtering glass and stuff.

For the aesthetic, solar panels make a cool one. Maybe solar-panel tattoos to power personal gadgetry like phones? Solar cells in clothes or on backpacks?
 

BunnyMaz

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Looks wise, you're looking at a lot of highly reflective surfaces, curved to reflect light towards collectors, lots of glass tubes and highly polished metal.

Hmmm... hair replaced with fibre-optics? flexible, transparent polymer fabrics interwoven with fine wiring and absorbent, black polymers? Garish, but very vintage scifi.

As far as the integration of technology into biology goes...

I read an interesting short story in one of the Best New SF books about humans having developed the ability to subsist entirely on solar energy, like plants do. It was quite a cute story - about a group of people who decide to experiment with eating actual food for a celebration, and how they approach it. There was another more serious piece I read ages ago which examined the way the economy changed to an energy-based, rather than money-based one, after someone infects an entire continent with a virus designed to make them photosynthesise, as a means of avoiding a forthcoming famine.

So, you could integrate the technology that way and have some fun with it. Or, people could still get their bodily energy as they do now - food - but power implants etc using solar batteries, which could make for some interesting issues for say, people who can only afford the cheap(er) models having to carry batteries, jack up at mobile power ports or risk losing power to their eye/arm/nose/whatever when extended poor weather occurs.
 

ColoradoMom

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I think the major problem with solar right now is that it is extremely inefficient and let's face it - no one's going to buy the idea that you're running anything "substantial" with it without some sort of explanation. So, for people who are up on the science you'd have to be able to weave the plausibility part in the story without resorting to an infodump.

Of course, that doesn't mean it can't be done...it's all about your idea and how you present as to whether or not it takes off.
 
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Reminds me of a story idea I had awhile back, although I didn't think of it as solarpunk. Now I'm gonna have to come up with tidalpunk and windpunk. XD


Skin circuitry is actually an idea I have seen ued quite often in space opera. Peter F. Hamilton has a space opera series where many characters have circuitry tattooed on the surface of their skin, although I believe it is powered by some form of energy generated by the human body.
 

lauralam

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In Winter Song by Colin Harvey the main character is enhanced with nanobots and can photosynthesize, which I thought was a nifty idea. He needed less food.

Solar power is something that could be toyed with, both as a primary power source and something for entertainment, like Scott Westerfeld does with magnetic windsurfing in his Uglies series.

It's a neat idea and would give your world an interesting flavour.
 

Ardent Kat

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I think the major problem with solar right now is that it is extremely inefficient and let's face it - no one's going to buy the idea that you're running anything "substantial" with it without some sort of explanation. So, for people who are up on the science you'd have to be able to weave the plausibility part in the story without resorting to an infodump.

Yep. My house is run entirely on green energy purchased through a green energy program though my power company. Only 2% of their total energy comes from solar power. Something like 50% comes from wind, and a good amount from sustainable hydro, too.

Although solar is asthetically cool, wind power might be an easier technology to develop and convince readers to believe.

Is your culture developing solar power for the first time and never relied on petroleum fuel, or is this a post-oil future where our oil reserves have run out and we turn to solar power instead? The first scenario sounds like a more interesting read, but the second seems more plausible to allow the characters to create remotely plausible solar panels (or get satellites into space as per Dreambrewer's suggestion)
 

veinglory

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IMHO whatever-punk is already a cliche. if you think this idea can support a new buzzword/sub-genre name I would suggest not using that one. I also think solar-only is too narrow, but renewable-energy-punk is blinding tautological.
 

Jersey

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For the greedy corporation angle. Possibly someone has come up with a way for average people to use solar power without it going through a meter. Not only do the energy corporations lose the revenue from the solar power, but they also lose the revenue from the petroleum based energy that is no longer being bought. Their next move must be to regain the status quo or go out of business.

Actually, the corporations could be both good and bad. They want the revenue, but they also have concerns about jobs and the economy. Too much change too fast for the economy to handle?
 

Mutive

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Just going to throw in my 2c as I'm currently working in the solar industry...

Solar has hit the point where it's actually pretty damned competitive with conventional energy. I am not making this up. Seriously. One of the main reasons is that stuff can be powered locally (transmission is a fair chunk of energy cost). So that you can basically power stuff right where it needs the power is a huge energy.

In addition, solar tends to = peak energy = expensive energy. (As people tend to use the most energy during the day when they're awake.) So this is also a major plus. It's part of why solar is booming (along with Moore's law).

The major disadvantage, of course, is that when the sun is not out, no power. If you want to go solar punk, think about the cloudy days, the long winters, and everything dying at night. You can always use batteries, true. But they're still expensive (this may go down), and you're going to have to have people hauling around huge battery packs if they don't want things like, say, their car to shut down half way through the day. (And which may leak and cause problems, set on fire spontaneously, etc.)

Solar also takes a lot of land. Not impossibly large amounts, but even with a focused system, you probably won't be able to gather the energy in as small a land area per kWhr as, say, in a coal or nuclear plant. So it's not going to work for, say, driving a car. Instead, power will be generated by your back yard, which is now covered in solar panels. It will be transmitted to your car, which will slowly charge and run on a battery.

I'd leave out the evil corporations. Solar companies really aren't any less evil than big oil (I've worked for both...), and there isn't a grand conspiracy. (At least not that I know of.) It really does come down to economics, energy use, and transmission. It's boring, boring stuff...
 
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IMHO whatever-punk is already a cliche. if you think this idea can support a new buzzword/sub-genre name I would suggest not using that one. I also think solar-only is too narrow, but renewable-energy-punk is blinding tautological.


Enviro-punk? Powerpunk?


I don't think the punk suffix is palyed out, especially not as a joke name.

Plus what else are you gonna use for a sub-genre name? Environmental SF just doesn't sound as cool as "solar-punk".
 

MisterFrancis

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There also needs to be a cynical side to all of this, which I'm not at all sure of

In Fallout: New Vegas, the solar power plant provides limitless, clean energy to the Mojave. Oh, and the satellites that use mirrors to focus the light onto the power plant's receivers can also be repositioned to fry your enemies.
 

Mutive

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There also needs to be a cynical side to all of this, which I'm not at all sure of

In Fallout: New Vegas, the solar power plant provides limitless, clean energy to the Mojave. Oh, and the satellites that use mirrors to focus the light onto the power plant's receivers can also be repositioned to fry your enemies.

Oooh, I like it!

Also, one could always go for solar panel manufacturing. It's pretty nasty stuff, and most of it takes place in China. (PRC) You could probably have great fun with either a geopolitical plots or environmental destruction right there!
 

MormonMobster

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Thanks for all the suggestions, everyone. All of this really helps me to figure exactly what I want to do with this theme of solarpunk. Mutive especially has given me great insight into the solar industry.

If anyone has any more thoughts about this, please put them in this thread, but I have more than enough info already. Thanks again, all of you.
 

MormonMobster

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I don't know whether I can bump a thread after a little over a month of not touching it; if I can, cheers, and if I can't, please lock it.

Thank you so far for your help.

Regardless, I've got a few more questions.

1. Someone earlier on in the thread noted that a solar power corp might not serve as the best antagonist, so I need some inspiration for who an appropriate antagonist could be for such a setting (assuming that one of the major differences between this setting and real life is that oil has become scarce since a couple of decades ago). I'm looking for a antagonist that is politically and economically powerful in the setting, and has enough control to have (somewhat credible) delusions of grandeur.

2. I'm trying to think of a good name for whomever the antagonists are going to be; something sun related. I'm aiming for a mythological theme for the antagonists. The only restriction for that is that it has to work well as a last name. So "John Helios" is good, but "John Quetzalcoatl" is not. I'm trying to get ideas flowing for this, and I may not use any of your suggestions in the end.

3. Since this a pretty specific idea, there probably isn't any "solarpunk"-inspired artwork (I've checked and haven't found any), but is there any similar kinds of artwork that could get the creative juices flowing?

4. I'm planning on putting this story in the 2050s somewhere in the Mountain West states of the US (or California, I'm not picky); I'm wondering where exactly would be most useful for a setting engrossed in solar power. Also, how would the the demographics in this setting/area likely change in an interesting way?

5. Emerging technologies; are there any in particular I might want to look at? And are there any important articles about them (especially cyborg-type ideas and solar power) that I might have missed with a couple of Google searches (as I do not have very much disposable income and have troubling figuring out the most obtuse scholarly journals about these things)?

6. I'm trying to figure out the aesthetic of this kind of setting, but I think an interesting reversal would be figuring out what is not present in this setting. I'm figuring that out myself, but again, any ideas to get the creativity flowing would be appreciated.
 

AceTachyon

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Research whatever tech you need to tell your story.

Then write your story however way you want to write it.

Don't worry about naming your sub-genre. It's all a matter of marketing. You're writing science fiction (or spec fic, if you prefer that description).

Go. Write.
 

buzzheadchick

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IMHO whatever-punk is already a cliche. if you think this idea can support a new buzzword/sub-genre name I would suggest not using that one. I also think solar-only is too narrow, but renewable-energy-punk is blinding tautological.

It's not like they created the word, so it's not new. Solarpunk is actually a fairly popular movement, in the sense that it has been gaining more and more traction. It essentially is "renewable-energy-punk," except it's called "solar" because it (as a general movement) is a response to the nihilistic and dystopian cyberpunk, their main theme being, "The future is bright." Other concepts popular in the movement are going back to nature in order to improve technology.
 

JDlugosz

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A couple ideas: 1) cheap mass produced film that produces power. Even if it's not very efficient, it’s cheap and you can put it everywhere.
2) postulate problems with distribution in the future. Can’t maintain the long distance wires through different territories now, and can’t reliably bill consumers so far away.
3) have cheap or at least practical energy storage.

BTW I have a 10kW solar array on my roof.
 

wirehead

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Punk also implies fringes. What about free-wheeling solar-punks on the roam versus the very fixed and established geothermal-powered city of Yellowstone?

So far, all of the solar tech requires a set of materials, some easy-to-find (Silicon), others hard-ish-to-find (Lithium), some requiring an industrial base (semiconductor fabrication resists and other chemicals, including some very toxic gases). And the factories have been getting progressively more complicated as the feature size goes down.

So, there's the establishment that is built around cities and factories and steady power, in conflict with the more freewheeling solar people who farm and ranch and adjust their lives to the surrounding, but who can't fit the production plants necessarily into their lifestyle. Which you can directly compare to modern farmers hacking the firmware on their modern tractors so they don't need to pay absurd rates to Caterpillar or other farm-engine companies.

There's a branch of robotics that was really neat for a while called BEAM robotics that did more biological-inspired solar-based robotics, so picture a solar robot that has a not-super-large solar panel and a battery and moves in bursts, where the battery charges high enough to move the motors and then discharges again.
 

stiiiiiv

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A possible antagonist: a fusion based power company (capturing a piece of the sun on the earth instead of harnessing solar power) that has a monopoly on power distribution. Solar power can be produced locally and doesn't need their distribution network, making it an unwanted competitor. Microwaves can be used to send and receive energy without a power grid, and there's the obvious military applications of microwave tech as well (frying enemy electronics etc.)

Also, have you considered the concept of genetic engineering to make human skin and hair into solar cells to power all the personal electronics a cyborg might have?
 

Polenth

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It's not like they created the word, so it's not new. Solarpunk is actually a fairly popular movement, in the sense that it has been gaining more and more traction. It essentially is "renewable-energy-punk," except it's called "solar" because it (as a general movement) is a response to the nihilistic and dystopian cyberpunk, their main theme being, "The future is bright." Other concepts popular in the movement are going back to nature in order to improve technology.

It wasn't so popular back when the thread was started, which is why no one commented on it. Now, talking about solarpunk would get a different reaction, because there are solarpunk books and genre conventions. A lot can change in a few years.
 

TiPerihelion

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Aesthetically, what about a comeback of hats, headscarves, and parasols? I also imagine cool, flowing layers, reminiscent of cultures near the Equator. I like the juxtaposition of high-tech with traditionally low-tech aesthetics. I notice the more technological we grow as a society, the more we value understatement and minimalism and retreat into natural materials like wood, stone, and cotton; as opposed to metal and plastic. For inspiration, I'd get really surreal. Shaun Tan's work is very whimsical. I use Pinterest to narrow down the aesthetic I want.

Concerning the antagonist: Since the push to renewable energy is deeply intertwined with the morality of environmentalism, what about a Big-Brother style antagonist who prioritizes conservation over freedom? Imagine littering as a criminal offense subject to mandatory minimum sentences. Imagine travel highly constricted so as to preserve natural habitats. Vegetarianism/veganism as the standard rather than the exception. Who would be powerful in this society? Who would be marginalized?

I don't imagine very many new occupations unless the economic model gets an overhaul. Are we still a capitalist society? Did the moral purists incite a socialist revolution? Does the concept of "occupations" even make sense in this Brave New World?

What do people look like? Are we all beautiful and slim and homogenous? Are we all having identity problems? Have we solved sexism, racism, ()ism?

It would be easy to devolve into tropes and cliches -- the old dystopian utopia model. But I think it's possible to pull off.

Hope this helps? Maybe?
 

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