While in Austin for South by Southwest Eco (SXSW Eco), I met some of the folks behind Switch Energy Project. At its core, the Switch Energy Project is the new documentary, Switch, but it is also much more. The film follows Dr. Scott Tinker as he travels the world interviewing energy insiders and visiting various energy production facilities in places such as Iceland, Qatar, Spain and India. It's a good way to gain a wide ranging look at the source of the energy crisis and some of the people that are trying to help.
"Help" is a debatable concept when it comes to the energy crisis, however, because depending on who you ask, what some would consider helpful technologies are considered even worse ideas by others. That being said, Switch aims to be a thorough look at the many competing sides aiming to answer the question, "what is our path to a smarter energy future?"
There's no one solution to solving the energy crisis, but that's where Switch provides a valuable resource. In addition to the film, the Switch Energy Project also provides a deep video archive of the many interviews Dr. Tinker captured and used throughout the film.
If you're already familiar with energy issues, I would opt for watching the full documentary, but if you're new to the issue or you're interested in learning more or teaching others about the basics of the energy debate, this video archive has a lot to offer.
The interviews cover everything from diagnosing the problem to explaining types of energy. And this isn't just about solar and wind. Switch looks at geothermal, nuclear, natural gas, hydro and biofuels. It also touches on systemic problems, such as transmission, efficiency and energy policy. It really is a strong collection of material.
However, like anything that aims to be this thorough and fair, Switch also contains some spin and misinformation coming from the mouths of certain experts interviewed for the film.
For instance, here, you can watch Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, the second largest natural gas company in the US, lie about the potential risks of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas.
It's one thing to defend one's company and put your business in a positive light, but he overstates the safety, while minimizing the risks to an irresponsible degree. Though I did enjoy his throwing Halliburton under the bus as an example of a company that would develop a dangerous technology "under the dark of night," it was discouraging, though not surprising, to see McClendon in full-on spin mode claim that 3" to 6" of steel and concrete tubing will keep their mix of toxic chemicals out of our ground water or that surface water contamination "physically cannot happen." Both of these are false claims, even according to Chesapeake Energy itself.
In this Wall Street Journal article from March of this year, you can read about the problems with the cementing that McClendon is claiming to be fool proof and you'll see that Chesapeake itself admits their processes are not perfect.
"In an August 2010 letter to the state, a Chesapeake executive said that one of its wells "may be considered to be the most compelling source" of gas that reached the surface. Chesapeake found evidence suggesting the cement in one well had developed small channels that allowed gas to flow through it.
Overall, I would recommend these videos, but like anything else you may watch about a controversial (and immensely lucrative) issue such as energy, you have to consider who is saying what and consult other sources to backup facts. Thankfully, they provide a wide variety of views discussing each issue. Here you can see the rest of the natural gas fracking videos. In the right hands, the Switch Energy Project video archive would be a useful, go-to source of video content that a teacher or organization could use as supplementary material in a lesson. However, since so many of the videos are allowed to stand on their own, a good teacher would be wise to fact check any material for accuracy.
Switch is currently being screened across the country on universities, in film festivals and in select theaters. You can find a screening near you here or request a screening here.