'Superpower,' Energy and Academic Transformation

Wind power, higher ed, and the five stages of driving change.

July 24, 2019

Superpower: One Man's Quest to Transform American Energy by Russell Gold

Published in June of 2019.

Our IHE community will appreciate Gold’s Superpower on at least two levels.

The first is where the book fits into our broader understanding of energy.  There seems to be a considerable Venn diagram overlap between those who are curious about energy, and those who work in higher ed.

Academics who spend their days teaching Shakespeare or writing down mathematical proofs seem to be strangely well informed about the details of energy production, distribution, and consumption.  Interest in alternative energy sources runs remarkably high among university people.

Superpower helped me round out my understanding of both the role of renewable energy and the grid system.

The book is an excellent follow-up and companion to Gold’s 2014 book The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World.

I’d add Superpower to my list of must-read books about the future of energy.

The second level that higher ed readers of Superpower will appreciate the book is as a story of change management.   

The quest to transform American energy is the story of an effort to build a set of cross-state power lines.  This project would enable the US to accelerate the transition from gas and coal generation plants to renewable energy.

Anyone who has ever tried to lead a transformation on their campus will be familiar with the five stages of change management that Gold describes in Superpower.  These stages are:

1:  Euphoria

2:  Despair

3:  The Search for the Guilty

4:  Punishment of the Innocent

5:  Glory for the Uninvolved

In my higher ed career, I’ve been the victim and the beneficiary of all of these stages.

There is a movement within higher ed these days that reminds me of the renewable energy movement that Gold describes in Superpower.

Our movement is to radically lower the cost of higher education, through the introduction of high-quality and lower cost online programs and the push for open educational resources. Part of our movement is to ensure that education is a relational enterprise, where the needs of educators and learners (not companies and administrators) are put at the center.

Every big effort to change the university status quo is likely to run into the five stages listed above.

Reading Superpower is a useful reminder that changing how the US produces and consumes electricity will be at least as difficult as changing our system of higher education.

A terrific book, highly recommended.

What are you reading?

What are you reading?


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