Category Archives: Fun Off-Topic

In this series of articles, I will highlight some less serious topics related to energy and policy. These topics will be light-hearted and fun, a break from the more data and factually heavy topics, including pop culture depictions of energy topics, looking into the energy related topics of some of my other personal interests and hobbies, or anything else that might pop into my head.

Never Tell Me the Watts! Energy and Power Use in the Star Wars Universe

As is quickly becoming my favorite holiday season tradition, a new film in the Star Wars franchise is about to be upon us with the release of Episode VIII- The Last Jedi on December 15! Star Wars has officially been in the cultural consciousness for over 40 years, and as someone who has grown up at any point during those 4 decades, I am a huge fan. Among the many great aspects of a series so long-lasting and deep with rich canonical story-telling, be it through films, books, or video games, is the prevalence of debate it offers for the real-life implications of a fictional universe. Star Wars is the at the pinnacle of such analyses and debates– from economists calculating the cost to build the Death Star (an analysis even cited in an Official White House document) to scientists debating the reality of lightsabers— so it only seems right that this blog dives into the real-life energy implications of various notable Star Wars scenes.

Because Star Wars is so entrenched in pop culture, especially among young boys and girls who eventually become scientists, mathematicians, and engineers, many of these topics have already been explored from academic, scientifically rigorous, and painfully detailed perspective. As such, I chose to allow these crusaders of over-analysis do the digging for me and just cite their work instead of doing the number crunching on my own. Not only would it seem that the hours and immense attention to detail these people have poured into these questions would come to a much close answer to the ‘truth’ than my patience would allow me, but it also allows me to spend my anticipatory re-watch of the entire series without diligent note taking!

So strap in and take a tour of a galaxy far, far away as it relates to energy.

Preliminary notes

A couple important preliminary notes about the calculations cited and used below:

  • Certain questions have been analyzed be numerous people across various fields leading to competing answers to the Star Wars questions. For this exercise, I’m choosing to identify the conclusions that I find to use the greatest scientific rigor and attention to detail, as well as those that show their work and cite their sources. My goal was to find the closest to the ‘true’ answer as possible, but if you find a different number or calculation to be more accurate then I welcome the gloriously nerdy debate in the comment section below!


  • It is also necessary to state that almost every data point going into the below calculations are estimates and approximations. Many of the numbers needed for the calculations simply aren’t provided in the source material, so these mathematical Jedi have resorted to options like determining size of equipment by comparing it to the known size of a human standing adjacent, analyzing the known energy required to melt certain earthen material and assuming the materials in the Star Wars universe are the same or similar materials, or even slowing down clips of the movies to get a frame-by-frame rate of speed.  All that’s to say that the resultant numbers are estimates– diligently arrived-at estimates– but estimates nonetheless that do as good a job as possible at determining the relative order of magnitude. So take them with a grain of salt (which is better than a grain of sand, which is course and rough and irritating, not to mention it gets everywhere).
  • And lastly, with that grain of salt comes another huge one– I know these are movies. They are fictional, the directors often care more about how cool a scene looks instead of how it might break the law of physics, and the small details we analyze were probably not overly scrutinized for adherence to reality. These things don’t matter, but who cares? They are fun to think about and talk about and add depth to one of the greatest sagas in pop culture– so don’t strain yourself thinking too hard about them!


Power required for uses of the Force

Emperor Palpatine’s Force lighting

Description: A number of times throughout the saga, we see Palpatine use his Force lighting, a unique aspect of his Force abilities. In the conclusion of Episode VI- Return of the Jedi, he uses the Force lightning on Luke after Luke once again refuses to join the Emperor on the Dark side and replace Darth Vader as his apprentice (click here for a YouTube link to the scene in question).

Calculation: This calculation is a rather tough one, but we do gain several clues from the scene, as pointed out by Joshua Brown.

The first clue is Luke’s reaction while being struck with the Force lighting, as he is able to call out in a plea for help, and though he is in obvious agony the attack is not fatal. Based on the science of the effect of electricity on the human body, this reaction from Luke would suggest he was experiencing between an AC-3 or AC-4 injury from the Force lighting.  Given the evidence that the longest continuous length of time that Luke was being struck exceeded 10 seconds, the below chart would suggest the current coursing through Luke’s body likely didn’t exceed 30 milliamps (mA).


With the current of the Force lighting in Luke’s body established, the other piece of data we would need is the resistance of Luke’s body– which we can assume is about 100,000 Ohms, the upper limit for the internal resistance of the human body (Luke is a trained Jedi, after all).

Referencing our high school physics textbooks, we’ll remember that power equals current squared times resistance. Plugging in a current of 30 mA and a resistance of 100,000 Ohms gives a Force lighting power of 90 Watts.

Real World Comparison: To put that power in perspective, 90 Watts is about the upper limit for power adapters for Macbook laptops. Surely you don’t want that much electricity coursing through your body, but it’s also an amount of power we routinely carry around in our backpacks.

This amount of power might not seem like much, but watch the scene again and consider whether it truly looked like the Emperor was using all his strength to kill Luke– or was he instead using just a portion of his powers to torture Luke as a message to Luke and/or Darth Vader? It also does end up being a deadly amount of power, as it serves as enough to knock out the electronics of Darth Vader’s life-supporting suit and causes his death.

Darth Vader Force choking and throwing into the ceiling a Rebel trooper

Description: Among the many aspects of Darth Vader that makes him such a menacing presence is his combination of raw power and his tendency to use that power to intimidate those weaker than him. This combination is displayed each time he uses the Force to choke a subordinate or adversary without ever laying a finger on them. This power was on display in the final scene of Rogue One, as he laid waste to a number of Rebel troopers who stood between him and the stolen plans for the Death Star, with one poor trooper being lifted and slammed against the ceiling in a fit of rage (one of the biggest on-screen payoffs in Star Wars films, in my opinion, which can be watched here).


Calculation: Rhett Allain, a physics professor, analyzes this scene for Wired to determine the power of this demonstration of the Force. Allain has to make a couple of assumptions and educated guesses– namely that the Rebel trooper is the size of an average man (1.75 meters tall and 70 kilograms in mass) and that the gravity inside the ship is the same as gravity on Earth at 9.8 Newtons/kilogram.

With that information, Allain then uses a video tracker on the scene to determine that the trooper is lifted up to a height of about 1.5 meters in 0.46 seconds at a constant speed of about 3.3 meters per second.

Time once again to employ the high school physics text book to find that the total work done is calculated as the change in kinetic energy (0.5 times mass times velocity squared) plus the change in potential energy (mass times gravity times height). Plugging in the values listed gives a total work done of 1,410 Joules, which when divided by a time of 0.46 seconds gives the total power output of 3,065 Watts.

Real World Comparison:  To put the power output of 3,065 Watts, or about 3.1 kilowatts (kW), in perspective– consider that 3.1 kW equates to about 4.1 horsepower. Commonly found outboard engines for small motorboats, such as this one, are rated at 4 horsepower as well– so at a moment’s notice Darth Vader is summoning the strength of a small motorboat. While that again doesn’t sound particularly scary, the clip shows the effect that this amount of power output can have when put in the wrong (robotic) hands.

Yoda lifting an X-Wing out of the swamp

Description: In Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back, Luke visits the planet of Dagobah to train with Master Yoda. Seeing the small stature and confusing training tactics, Luke begins to doubt the power of Yoda and question whether he is benefiting at all by being there.


Disappointed by Luke’s insolent attitude and lack of faith in the training process, Yoda provides one of the greatest raw feats of Force strength we’re shown in the films– lifting Luke’s crashed X-Wing ship out of the swamp and into the air using the Force alone (again, the scene in question can be found on a YouTube video).

Calculation: Randall Munroe tackles the question of how much power Yoda outputs in this scene in his ‘What If?’ series. Munroe starts with a series of important assumptions, namely that:

  • The X-Wing is about 12,000 pounds (based on the weight of an F-22 fighter jet and the relative lengths of an F-22 and an X-Wing, Munroe scales the weight of an F-22 down to the proportional weight of the X-Wing), and
  • The gravity on Dagobah is 90% the gravity on Earth (according to sources on the highly detailed, extensive, and canonically accurate website Wookiepeedia).

Munroe then also broke down the video of the scene on a frame-by-frame basis, determining that Yoda lifted the X-Wing to a height of 1.4 meters in 3.6 seconds.

By plugging all these numbers into the equation power = mass times gravity times height divided by time, we find a power output of 19,228 Watts.

Real World Comparison: Sticking with the horsepower comparison, this power of about 19.2 kW equates to about 26 horsepower. What’s the first hit on Google when looking for a vehicle that’s 26 horsepower?

Riding lawnmowers!

Sense in you much fear, do I?

Click to enlarge

Energy Associated with Star Wars Weapons


Description: Lightsabers are the first and foremost among weapons you think of when you think of Star Wars, possibly of sci-fi in general. They are weapons mastered by Jedi and replicated by kids everywhere for the last 40 years. Lightsabers really don’t need any introduction, but the scene that is used to calculated the power of a lightsaber possibly does– as our best data points for lightsaber power use come from an early scene in Episode I- The Phantom Menace.


In the scene in question, Qui-Gon Jinn uses his lightsaber to get through a thick, metal door– first he makes a significant cut in the door, and then he sticks his lightsaber into the door for a period of time that allows it to melt a hole in the door (here is a clip of that scene that is for some reason repeated for an entire hour). This quick scene was enough to send Star Wars sleuths to the whiteboards to calculate the power output.

Calculation: For this calculation, we again to look to Rhett Allain at Wired who uses this scene to determine the power needed for a light saber.  This calculation is the most complicated yet, so I would urge you to read the full article to learn more. But in summary, Allain uses the color that the door changes to as it heats up, the dimensions of the cut that Qui-Gon cuts initially,  an assumed set of material characteristics for what this door was likely made out of, and the total time taken to make that cut. Put them all together using equations that would require your graduate-level physics books this time, and you get a power requirement of 28 kilowatts.

Real World Comparison: Rather than looking to the power outputs of an engine, it seemed useful this time to compare this power output to as similar a type of weapon as possible. As it turns out, Lockheed Martin created a laser weapon system for the U.S. Army that is rated at a comparable 30 kW. This Advanced Test High Energy Asset (ATHENA) system has proven capable of shooting down outlaw drones and disabling a truck from a mile away.


Considering the Jedi are carrying around that kind of power in a handheld weapon, you can understand the awe they inspire while expertly and effortlessly wielding lightsabers.


Description: While lightsabers get all the buzz, Han Solo is famously quoted as saying that those “ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.” For the non-Force sensitive players in the Star Wars universe, blasters are the go-to firearm and are thus the most commonly used weapon in the galaxy, according to Wookieeepedia.


To determine the energy of a single blaster bolt, the team at Ebates analyzed an escape scene in Episode IV- A New Hope where Princess Leia takes a blaster and shoots a hole through a metal grate for her, Luke, Han, and Chewbacca to crawl through. Not only does Leia succeed in winning the audiences heart by showing that this Princess is no damsel in distress (toward the end of this YouTube clip), but she also gives us the evidence needed to estimate the destructive energy of a single blaster bolt.

Calculation: According to the numbers crunched by eBates, the shot with the blaster created a hole about 3 feet in diameter in the metal grate, seemingly by vaporizing the metal.  Estimating the dimensions and density of the metal that was vaporized (about 54 kilograms) and knowing the energy needed to vaporize a kilogram of iron (6.34 Megajoules) leads to a rough conclusion that the blaster shot yeilded about 342 Megajoules.

Real World Comparison: Because the result of the blaster bolt here appeared to be a literal ‘blast’ of energy, it would be useful to know what would be required to yield the same explosive blast in the real world. Luckily, a unit of such destructive energy is standardized by the gram of TNT and is directly convertible to and from joules (one kilogram of TNT yields 4.184 Megajoules).  Thus for our lovely Princess to have blasted through the iron gate with the same energy of the blaster, it would have required about 82 kilograms of TNT.

Star Destroyer’s turbolaser

Description: The devoted fans at took on the question of the energy from a shot by the empire’s domineering Star Destroyers.  In terms of military might (outside of the megaweapons to be discussed next), the Star Destroyer certainly stands as one of the most intimidating shows of military force in any galactic fleet.


In one particular scene of Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back, a single blast from the turbolaser of the Star Destroyer is shown to clear asteroids right from its path. This show of firepower gives us a good idea of exactly how much destructive energy is contained in these blasts (watch in action in this YouTube clip).

Calculation: This calculation is another fairly in-depth and complicated one, so I would again recommend reading their entire write-up of the topic in full. However, the basic gist is that one bolt was able to instantaneously melt an asteroid (composed of the average asteroid composition) that measured on the order of 20 meters in diameter. Knowing the science behind the melting of such an asteroid leads to the calculation that the energy in a single turbolaser blast is 30 Terajoules or 30 million Megajoules.

Real World Comparison: A single shot of the Star Destroyer’s turbolaser has the destructive energy of 30 terajoules, which for context is about half the total energy released by the bomb dropped on Hiroshima to end World War II. Given that the Star Destroyer was releasing dozens of these shots over the course of its chase of the Millenium Falcon, you would understand why those being pursued might ‘have a bad feeling about this.’

Original Death Star’s superlaser

Description: The Death Star is the Ultimate Weapon of the Empire, the presence of which alone was enough to inspire fear and garner compliance from every corner of the galaxy. That fear is well-deserved because this awe-inspiring weapon was created to have the power to completely destroy planets.


That’s not some sort of hyperbole, as we saw in the scene of Episode IV- A New Hope when the Empire demonstrates the power and unleashes the Death Star to destroy Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan. This show of force gives us the information we need to estimate how much destructive power is unleashed with the superlaser of the Death Star (watch the clip here, trigger warning for anyone who may have had friends or family on the planet formerly known as Alderaan).

Calculation:  Our friends at also did the analysis on how much firepower was behind this blast from the Death Star. These calculations might be the most scientifically detailed yet, so definitely check out the full analysis. In the end, they used three different methods to estimate the energy of the weapon (calculating the surface escape velocity that would be required for planetary destruction, the constant gravitational binding energy that would need to be overcome, and the variable gravitational binding energy that would need to be overcome). Each of these calculation methods resulted in a final figure betweeen 2.2 x 10^32 and 3.7 x 10^32 joules. This range is a wide one in terms of an exact answer, but they are all in the same order of magnitude and thus inspire confidence in their approximate accuracy. For the sake of argument, we’ll go right in the middle and assume the energy of the Death Star is 3 x 10^32 joules, or 3 x 10^26 Megajoules.

Real World Comparison: We’re up at a level of energy that doesn’t have any real Earthly comparisons, as the total annual world energy consumption is on the order of 10^14 Megajoules– many orders of magnitude less than a single shot from the Death Star.

Instead we have to go, rather appropriately, into space. The 3 x 10^26 Megajoules of energy used to destroy Alderaan is equivalent to the total energy output of the Sun over the course of about 9 days.

Starkiller Base’s superweapon

Description; In the first film of the latest Star Wars trilogy, Episode VII- The Force Awakens, the Death Star gets completely outclassed as a weapon. The First Order takes the idea of a planet-sized battle station capable of wiping out a planet and inspiring fear-based obedience and cranks it up to 11, as their Starkiller Base is a superweapon built into a mobile planet that is capable of wiping out an entire star system.


In this scene that shows the first ever shot from the superweapon, the massive scale of the destructive energy being unleashed is evident and is used to wipe out five planets like they were never there– something never before seen in the Star Wars universe. The energy needed for this weapon is literally siphoned from the energy/plasma of a nearby star and then unleashing it in one blast. As you can imagine, this amount of energy is almost unthinkable.

Calculation: Jason Haraldsen, a physics professor, tackles the science behind Starkiller Base in a piece he wrote from the Huffington Post. Despite his conclusions that there are a number of aspects of Starkiller base that would be scientifically impossible (for one, Starkiller Base and its weapon are hosted on an ice planet– yet the harvesting of energy directly from a star does not end up overheating the planet or even melting the snow on it?) Haraldsen calculates the amount of energy that is needed to charge up the superweapon by converting the mass of the nearby star into pure energy. Keeping things way oversimplified, just converting the mass of the star to energy using E = mc^2 results in an energy output of 2 x 10^41 Megajoules.

Real World Comparison: If the Death Star’s energy required us to go from the Earth to the Solar System, Starkiller Base forces us to go on a galactic scale to find an energy equivalent. The 2 x 10^41 Megajoules of Starkiller Base’s superweapon is equivalent to the energy released by 1,000 supernovas. Talk about unlimited power!


Click to enlarge


Do the filmmakers put as much attention into the minute details as we fans do in splicing apart and analyzing those details? Probably not. But that’s fine because the debate can be fun and educational and open up our eyes a bit about the comparable calculations in the real world. While thankfully it seems unlikely that any ill-intended human will create a sinister weapon as destructive as the Death Star or Starkiller Base, let us not forget that sci-fi can and has influenced the imaginations in the real world– from President Reagan’s Star Wars missile defense initiative to the ever-increasing presence of droid-like robots in our life.  So pay attention to any new inventions while you’re watching The Last Jedi, and let me know in the comments if you have any other Star Wars (or pop culture in general) energy-related questions you’d like to read about next!

Sources and additional reading

Ask Us: NASA

BP Statistical Review of World Energy

Death Star Firepower:

How Many Batteries Would It Take to Power a Lightsaber? Or the Death Star? infographic journal

How strong is the Emperor’s lightning attack?

In Which We Literally Calculate the Power of the Force: Wired

Lockheed Martin’s laser weapon takes down 5 drones in live-fire demonstration: New Atlas

Power Source for a Lightsaber: Wired

Supernovae: Hyperphysics

The Physics Behind the Starkiller Base in Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Huffington Post

Turbolaser Firepower:

US Army gets world record-setting 60-kW laser: DefenseNews

What was the yield of the Hiroshima bomb? Warbird Forum

Worker Deaths by Electrocution: NIOSH

Yoda: What if?

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

Solar Power and Wineries: A Match Made in Heaven…and California

As the amount of power generation from solar energy continues to rise in the United States, more and more businesses are realizing the benefits of utilizing solar energy on their own properties. This type of small-scale solar generation is rising across industrial and commercial sectors, and no where is it more prevalent than in California, home of 43% of the nation’s small-scale solar output in 2016. California also leads the nation in another crucial area– wine production! If California were its own country, it would be the fourth largest producer of wine, accounting for 90% of wine produced in the United States.

Seeing as California tops the list in solar power and wineries, it only makes sense that vineyards in the state have been rapidly adopting the renewable energy source on their properties. Exactly how much solar power is being captured on these wineries, and what wineries are doing the most to implement solar systems? This article will answer those questions. Also, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m more of a beer drinker than a wine connoisseur (see this write up on which breweries use the most renewable energy), but the last part of this article outlines a California wine road trip that hits the top 10 wineries by solar energy capacity that has me already looking at flights to the West Coast.

Why solar and why California wineries?

Many wineries across the country and the world, not just in California, have realized the benefits of solar power and installed solar systems to meet part of or all of their energy needs. For example, Lakewood Vineyards in New York,Tenuta Delleterre Nere in Sicily, and Domaine d Nidoleres in France have all installed solar power systems on their wineries.
But this article focuses just on those wineries with solar power in California, as it is the region foremost afforded with the scale, climate, and policy to really promote both the solar and wine industries.

Solar power in California

California is not the only state to be embracing solar power at breakneck speeds, but there are a number of reasons why the state was always primed to become the nation’s leader. California tops the United States as a solar energy generator  so much, in fact, that it’s had to pay other states to take the excess generated power off its hands. California’s dominance in solar power can be attributed to the following:

Wineries in California

California is obviously also not the only state in the wine business, but it completely dominates the U.S wine industry in terms of volume of wine produced, as well as reputation for quality. Not only does 90% of total U.S. wine come from California, but the quality of California wine is considered today to be at it’s highest ever stature in quality according to many experts. The modern boom of the California wine industry has a number of causes, including the following:

Putting the solar and wine industries together

When you look at the massive advantages California has when it comes to cultivating a solar power sector and a wine industry, having the two fields overlap appears to be an obvious marriage throughout the state. Fortunately, the integration of solar power into winemaking is a natural fit.

With California being such a hospitable region for both solar power and winery, the logical question becomes how can the two be combined into a symbiotic and fruitful relationship. Wineries have been installing and taking advantage of solar power for years now due to the various benefits it provides the winery business. Fetzer Vineyards has run on 100% renewable energy since 1999, while Shafer Vineyards have fulfilled all their energy needs with solar power since 2004.
In terms of why solar power works perfectly as a energy source at wineries and related facilities, there are a number of reasons. For one, solar panel technology is at its most efficient at about 77 degrees Fahrenheit and can absorb sunlight even on cloudy days— this warm/temperate climate that optimizes solar technologies also happens to be the right weather in which to grow wine grapes. Beyond that, wineries are operations that typically have a large footprint, making it easier to find area on roofs or in fields on which to place solar panels compared with non-agricultural industries. This abundant availability of solar panels at wineries means that the energy gathered from the sun can be used to power all sorts of facilities of wineries– the primary residence, workshops, tasting rooms, offices, industrial equipment, and more.
Not only does solar work better on wineries than many other industries, but it also provides some unique benefits to those wineries that go out of the way to install solar power systems. The technology itself is reliable for extended periods of time (warranties last 20 to 25 years, while the life of service is 40 to 50 years), with economics so good that wineries have the ability to earn a 20% return on investment in solar panels. In fact, the solar power haul at some wineries can sometimes be even more than is needed to run the winery, allowing these lucky business-owners to sell it back to utilities (though this type of net metering finds itself the subject of heated policy debate these days). Because of this, the technology is even being developed for on-site microgrids designed for self-consumption, load shifting, and peak shaving.
Beyond all that, those who work in the wine business have a personal stake in increasing the use of renewable energy sources in order to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. Wine grape vines are very sensitive to changes in temperature that climate change would bring, not to mention the difficulty faced by all agricultural businesses as a result of extreme weather and droughts, while the recent wildfires in California (which are more prone to happen as climate change continues) show the devastation that such fires can cause to the wine industry. It behooves the wine industry to embrace clean technologies wherever and whenever possible.

List of California wineries using solar power

Because of all these stated advantages, California wineries are absolute leaders in embracing solar technology. After extensive research and reaching out to individual wineries, I’ve put together the below list of 132 wineries across the state taking advantage of solar power. The capacity of these solar systems range from 2 kilowatts (kW) to well over 1 megawatt (MW), showing that all ranges of sizes are options depending on the level of commitment a winery is ready to make. Taken together, these wineries have a total peak solar capacity of 27.8 MW– which is a greater capacity of solar power than the total electric power industry in 15 different states as of 2015!
So if you’re like me and you have a difficult time at the wine store knowing what wine to buy because you don’t really know what to look for, you can now keep this list handy to support a winery that incorporates clean and renewable solar energy into its operations!
It’s worth noting that there are sure to be plenty of California wineries using solar power that are not included in the above table. Any winery that is listed in one of the cited resources as having an installed solar system but did not include its capacity was not included in the list, as these capacities are crucial to the later analysis of this article (this includes any wineries I reached out to but didn’t hear back from). There are also surely wineries that are using solar that don’t advertise it anywhere, or they do advertise it and my search failed to find it. If you’re aware of any wineries that should be included on this list but are not, please leave a comment below!

Quality and price of wines from California solar wineries

Beyond just finding and ranking the capacity of solar energy systems at various wineries, I thought it would be interesting to take each solar winery and compare them based on a noteworthy wine they produce. With that in mind, each solar winery in the previous list was paired up with the best wine it has (according to the top rating a wine of theirs received from Wine Enthusiast Magazine) along with that wine’s rating and price (both also according to Wine Enthusiast Magazine). That process led to the below table (note that some wineries from the first list are not included in this list because none of their wines showed up in Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s ratings).


It’s hard to really abstract anything by looking at that in list form. Instead, we can then take that list and look graphically at the solar capacity of a winery and the rating of it’s best wine:
The same can be done to compare the solar capacity of a winery and the cost of it’s best wine:

Looking at these graphical representations, you can see that its not just niche wineries that are embracing solar energy. Every sort of price range and a whole range of sophistication and repute of wine has a wine that comes from wineries with solar installations, both large and small in capacity. The solar capacity of the wineries does not say anything about the wine produced at that winery– the installation of solar cuts across all sorts of vineyards. This shows that there should be no reason solar power at wineries cannot continue to grow to new wineries and expand capacity at wineries already with solar.

Where are solar wineries located in California?

Another interesting data point for each of these wineries is the region of California they are in. The separation of the various areas of California into its wine regions is sometimes a bit of a tricky exercise, with some well-known regions being sub-regions to others, the existence of some gray areas, and different wine region names depending being used depending on the resource being referenced. For the sake of this exercise, I will be using the following five main wine regions of California (recognizing they can and often do get broken down even further into smaller regions):
  • North Coast
  • Sierra Foothills
  • Central Coast
  • Central Valley
  • South Coast
These five regions are found in the following maps:

Source 1 Source 2

Before analyzing each region as a whole, the below graphic shows each city/town in California where the cumulative solar capacity at wineries is above 500 kW. The size of the circles are proportional to the total capacity. Using this visualization, you can already see where the most solar capacity is concentrated, in the North Coast and Central Coast.
If you then total up the capacity for each of the five major wine regions in California, you get the following graph:
This could be a misrepresentation of how dedicated each region is to solar, however, as all the regions are not the same size. It could just be that the North Coast has the most wineries (which it does), but a lower percentage of them are utilizing solar. To test this, the total solar capacity of wineries in each region is divided by the total acreage of planted wine grape vines in that region:
The result is that the North Coast is still the region with the greatest concentration of solar capacity per acreage of winery, still followed by Central Coast (though it’s a more distant second), and then the Sierra Foothills get a boost (while still remaining in third place). In either graph, Central Valley and South Coast lag way behind in fourth and fifth, respectively.

Road Trip

The last piece of analyzing the solar wineries in California I wanted to look at was putting together an epic road trip of California wine country that enables you to hit up the wineries in the state that use the most solar power. Thanks to Google Maps, I was able to find a route that takes you across 372 miles over the course of 6 hours and 47 minutes and visits the top ten wineries in terms of solar power capacity. If you’ve always wanted to tour the best wineries and vineyards that California has to offer, but didn’t know where to start, then look no further!
The first day of the trip can take you to Meridian Vineyards, Estancia Estates Winery, and Carmel Road Monterey with only a bit over two hours of driving total, enabling you to see over 3 MW of solar powered winery. On the next day, after driving about three hours to get to the next batch of wineries, you’ll find yourself at the remaining seven wineries– total capacity exceeding 7 MW– that are within an hour and a half total drive from each other.
If you’re interested in driving this solar winery route (or maybe paying someone to drive you on this winery route– it is TEN wineries, after all), see the Google Maps route linked below.

Sources and additional reading

Solar Energy in the Winemaking Industry: Green Energy and Technology (Preview of book herelink to purchase book here)
About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

Stranger Things Season 2: A Pointed Comment on the Department of Energy’s Nuclear History and Future?

This post is written assuming you have watched both season 1 and season 2 of ‘Stranger Things.’ If you have not yet watched and want to avoid potential spoilers, consider this your warning!

‘Stranger Things’ was the Netflix sensation out of nowhere in 2016, which made season 2 one of the most anticipated TV releases of this year. While this sci-fi mystery thriller seemingly had something for everyone– parallel dimensions, 80s nostalgia, mystical and mysterious forces, pop cultural references– I was also drawn in by the depiction of the Department of Energy (DOE) as the malevolent government forces behind the secretive experiments. Seeing DOE scientists at the fictional Hawkins Lab, rather than the typical Hollywood choices to use the FBI or the CIA for supernatural government cover-ups, was exciting for all of us who have worked in or with DOE and created a buzz in DOE offices and labs across the country.

Leading up to the release of season 2, I wrote about the interesting parallels that existed between Hawkins Lab and the real DOE labs. Some of these parallels appeared to be intentional similarities written by the Duffer Brothers (the show’s creators), while others were likely coincidental. With that in mind, I was very eager to watch for anything DOE-related in season 2 to see if I could gather more information about what it was the Duffer Brothers might have been trying to say about the real government agency, or would season 2 put to rest the connection between Hawkins Lab and the real DOE.

Well after just three nights on the couch, I’ve finished by ‘Stranger Things’ season 2 binge and have two main takeaways:

  1. I can’t believe I’m already done with the new batch of episodes and now have to go through another year at least before getting to do it again with season 3!
  2. One scene in particular has convinced me that the choice to use DOE was intentionally symbolic and is a pointed metaphor for the history and future of the agency.

The scene in question

Honestly, I would have been bingeing this show regardless of the DOE connection. So after a few episodes I had ceased paying terribly close attention to potential DOE parallels and was simply enjoying the story. But a specific scene in ‘Chapter Four: Will the Wise’ hit me over the head with its metaphor enough that I had to pause the episode to excitedly discuss it with my wife.

To set the scene, Nancy Wheeler and Jonathan Byers had called the mother of the missing and dead (from season 1) Barb Holland to admit that they hadn’t been fully honest about the night that Barb went missing (they knew the truth that Barb had been lost and killed in the parallel dimension of the Upside Down, but Barb’s parents had been shielded from this fact). They expressed their hesitation to discuss the matter on the phone, as they were correctly concerned that their phones were tapped by the government monitoring forces, and instead requested to meet in person in public. When Nancy and Jonathan go to the meet up spot, they are sitting ducks and get intercepted by undercover Hawkins Lab agents. They are taken to the lab to speak with Dr. Sam Owens, the new head scientist at Hawkins Lab, replacing the evil and manipulative Dr. Martin Brenner. Immediately, this situation looks like it will end poorly for the teens, as it surely would have were Dr. Brenner still in charge– he was never overly concerned with protecting the citizens of Hawkins and might have resorted to threats of violence. However, Dr. Owens’ approach is instead to explain the difficult scenario he inherited and hope the Nancy and Jonathan understand why the secrets of the lab cannot be made public.


The following is a transcript of the dialogue of this scene:

Dr. Owens: Men of science have made abundant mistakes of every kind. George Sarton said that. You guys know who George Sarton is? Doesn’t really matter. The point is mistakes have been made.

Nancy: Mistakes? You killed Barbara!

Dr. Owens: Abundant mistakes. But the men involved in those mistakes– the ones responsible for what happened to your brother and Ms. Holland’s death– are gone. They’re gone, and for better or worse I’m the schmuck they brought in to make things better. But I can’t make things better without your help.

Nancy: You mean without us shutting up?

Dr. Owens: She’s tough, this one. You guys been together long?

Jonathan: We’re not together.

Dr. Owens: You want to see what really killed your friend?

The three of them enter the area containing open portal to the Upside Down, which has grown much larger and more dangerous looking compared with what we saw throughout season 1. There are tentacles coming from the portal.

Dr. Owens: Teddy– brought you an audience today, hope you don’t mind.

Teddy (lab agent who is getting dressed in a protective suit): The more the merrier, sir.

Dr. Owens: I’d call it one hell of a mistake, wouldn’t you? The thing is, we can’t seem to erase our mistake. But we can stop it from spreading. It’s like pulling weeds. But imagine for a moment if a foreign state, let’s say the Soviets, if they heard about our mistake. Do you think they would even consider that a mistake? What if they tried to replicate that? The more attention we bring to ourselves, the more people like the Hollands that know the truth, the more likely that scenario becomes. You see why I have to stop the truth from spreading too, just like those weeds there. By whatever means necessary.

Teddy begins to spray fire all across the portal and the tentacles of the creature coming from the portal, which leads it to squirm and let out a noise of pain.

Dr. Owens: So, we understand each other now, don’t we?

After this scene when Nancy and Jonathan leave the lab, it is revealed that Nancy had a tape recorder and recorded Dr. Owens’ admission that Hawkins Lab, and thus DOE, was at fault for the death of Barb and all the other ills that had befallen the town due to the opening of this portal.

How does this relate to the real Department of Energy?

After hearing Dr. Owens describe the creation of the portal to the Upside Down and all the associated technology as a mistake and express the fear that enemy nations might replicate it, it immediately signaled that this scene was intended to describe the way many scientists and government officials felt during and after the Manhattan Project was used to develop and deploy the world’s first atomic bomb during World War II, as well as the fear and regret about the continued existence of nuclear weapons since that time.

The Manhattan Project was the government sponsored effort to develop the technology behind nuclear weapons, and it is to this effort that the Department of Energy traces its origins. These efforts were marked with secrecy, espionage, and a recognition of the vast worldwide implications of a potential development of a nuclear bomb.

The quotes from Dr. Owens during this scene, if interpreted as an allegory for the development of nuclear weapons by DOE in the 1940s, provide a number of clues as to the parallels between the Manhattan Project and the ‘mistakes’ to which Dr. Owens refers.

Men of science have made abundant mistakes of every kind…The point is mistakes have been made.

Noting that all the experimentation and resultant terrors performed by Hawkins Lab during season 1 were mistakes does nothing to change that these mistakes were made. However, such an admission is one way to begin a healing and repair process. Similarly, many of the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project have been noted in the years that followed to have found the entire effort to have been a mistake, using such admission to spur discussion about the future use of nuclear weapons, deal with personal guilt, and find any potential good that can come out of the situation.

Despite the official stance that DOE is “proud of and feels a strong sense of responsibility for its Manhattan Project heritage,” many people would still contend that it was wrong to bring nuclear weapons into the world. In the years that followed, various levels of regret have been expressed by the physicists involved in the creation of the nuclear technology.

  • While Albert Einstein was not directly involved in the development of nuclear weapons for the Manhattan Project (the government denied him the necessary security clearance to be involved), it was a letter he wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt urging him to support the research and development of atomic weapons before Germany could do so that prompted to U.S. government to launch the Manhattan Project. Einstein would come to regret his role in kicking off the age of nuclear weapons after finding that the Germans never did produce an atomic bomb, stating that if he had known that would be the case he “would have never lifted a finger.”



  • At the same time, 70 scientists who actively worked on the Manhattan Project wrote and circulated the Szilard Petition that asked President Harry S. Truman not use the atomic bomb on populated land. Instead, they urged him to deploy an observed demonstration of the power of the bomb. The hope of these less hawkish scientists was that they were creating a weapon the threat of which would end the war, and if deployed on a remote island for the enemies to see its devastating power then that would be enough to earn surrender (in an odd footnote of history, the petition never made its way up the chain of command to reach the President). Obviously, the efforts of these scientists to delay (or ideally make unnecessary) the dropping of the atomic bomb failed.


  • The most famous Manhattan Project scientists who would openly consider the dawn of the age of nuclear weapons a mistake was J. Robert Oppenheimer– considered to be the father of the atomic bomb that came out of the Manhattan Project. At his farewell ceremony from Los Alamos Lab, Oppenheimer speculated that if atomic bombs were now to become a regular part of war then “mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos and of Hiroshima.” Even more famously, in a meeting with President Harry S. Truman after the war, a still-shaken Oppenheimer confided that he felt he had blood on his hands. While Truman dismissed those concerns by insisting the responsibility for the deaths of the tens of thousands of Japanese who died was his own, Oppenheimer was instead concerned about the countless potential deaths his atomic bomb could cause to future generations.

While the Manhattan Project scientists like Shachter and those who signed the Szilard Petition were focused on whether the development and use of the bomb was the right move during World War II, Oppenheimer was forward looking and was contemplating if the development of the technology was one of those abundant mistakes that science makes. Several years later, Oppenheimer would confirm this position, stating that “we have made a very grave mistake” in even considering the massive use of nuclear weapons.


But the men involved in those mistakes– the ones responsible for what happened to your brother and Ms. Holland’s death– are gone. THey’re gone, and for better or worse I’m the schmuck they brought in to make things better. 

When Dr. Owens says that those responsible for the nefarious actions of Hawkins Lab are gone, he seems to be suggesting that because the original architects are gone that those in charge are largely inculpable. They are gone, and now the new leadership can only do what it can to make things better.

Similarly, in the years that followed the dropping of the atomic bombs, much was made about the need for new leadership behind the research, production, and regulation of the technology. Along with the uncertainty the scientists of the Manhattan Project had regarding the appropriateness of using the nuclear weapons was the uncertainty that that power belonged in the hands of the government. As such, some of these scientists joined and formed the Federation of Atomic Scientists in 1945 and pushed for civilian control of nuclear research and production. These scientists thought it was the scientists, not the policymakers, who were the best stewards for the technology and that a change in this leadership would allow them to make things better.

Another leadership option that was widely discussed in the years following World War II was the possibility of a United Nations Atomic Energy Commission to take worldwide responsibility for atomic energy. The idea was that worldwide leadership would ensure that nuclear technology was only developed for peaceful purposes, rather than the destructive and warring use that was immediately developed under the leadership of the U.S. government. The agreements of the Commission would have called for the United States to destroy its atomic arsenal and a disclosure of the atomic secrets, but disagreements between the Soviet Union and the United States ultimately undermined and tanked the Commission. This failure would point the world towards a future Cold War and a path where the nuclear question still loomed.

In the end, the U.S. government settled on passing the Atomic Energy Act in 1946, which created the Atomic Energy Commission (the predecessor agency of DOE) as a civilian committee that took over responsibility of legacy U.S. nuclear development from the Manhattan Project. While the agency eliminated complete military control, a Military Liaison Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission kept the military involved and there was still a “strict government monopoly on both scientific and technological knowledge, and fissionable materials.”

In the end, despite efforts on the national and international scale, the leadership was never changed completely away from the U.S. government that created the nuclear weapons in the first place. In the absence of such real change, it appears that things have predictably only gotten worse– with nuclear warhead inventories skyrocketing to above 60,000 at their peak during the Cold War and remaining around 10,000 warheads across 9 countries today. Perhaps if a real schmuck, an international equivalent to Dr. Owens, had been given control and leadership, then things would have been made better.

I’d call it one hell of a mistake, wouldn’t you? The thing is, we can’t seem to erase our mistake. But we can stop it from spreading. It’s like pulling weeds.

While Dr. Owens and the new leadership at Hawkins Lab were not responsible for the creation of the portal to the Upside Down and the unleashing of the creatures that inhabit it, the job of containing the mistake did fall to them. They couldn’t undo the past even if they wanted to, so instead they continually try to clean up the mess and stop it from spreading.

This weeding metaphor is very apt for the responsibilities DOE continues to manage after the predecessor agency brought for the age of nuclear weapons. As Oppenheimer noted, “the physicists have known sin: and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.” While the scientists cannot take back the knowledge of nuclear weapons and how to create them from the world, they have a responsibility to do what they can to prevent its spread.

During the Cold War, DOE was in charge of nuclear weapons development and production. While the goal since the end of the Cold War has been to decrease stockpiles of nuclear warheads across the world, DOE has remained involved in the fallout of these nuclear weapons of the past. In 2000, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) was formed as a semi-autonomous agency within DOE whose jobs include managing the nuclear weapon stockpile, promoting international nuclear safety and nonproliferation, and more. Also included in these efforts is managing the environmental aspects of past and future nuclear development, such as managing and storing nuclear waste. These waste storage sites are managed by DOE across the country, often sparking outrage and controversy wherever they go, and are one of the ongoing containment activities required by DOE after the ushering in of nuclear weapons. DOE also finds itself at the table during discussions of international nuclear issues, such as its role in negotiating the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in an effort to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons.
In addition to storing new nuclear waste, a large part of DOE’s mission (and associated budget) is to provide environmental cleanup at “107 sites across the country whose area is equal to the combined area of Rhode Island and Delaware” where nuclear weapons were developed, tested, and stored. Not only that, but DOE also finds itself continuing to pay for healthcare costs to those in the Marshall Islands that ended up affected by radioactive fallout of nuclear tests conducted in the 1950s on nearby islands. The need to perform these actions now and for the foreseeable future are possibly the best examples of DOE’s need to continue ‘weeding’ to prevent the spread of ills from its previously developed nuclear weapons.

But imagine for a moment if a foreign state, let’s say the Soviets, if they heard about our mistake. Do you think they would even consider that a mistake? What if they tried to replicate that?

One of the chief concerns at Hawkins Lab is that an enemy nation will find out about the technology they created and then assume it was done to create a weapon and/or replicate that technology for a weapon of their own. These fears are what drives the massive amount of security, secrecy, and monitoring at Hawkins Lab. These ideas are also directly applicable to the use of nuclear technology– both in its origin in the United States and in modern times across the globe.

In the days of the Manhattan Project, chief among the priorities were keeping the entire program secret from Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union. While fission, the core scientific discovery behind the atomic bomb, was discovered in Germany, the ability to harness the resultant chain reaction and use it as a weapon was what was at stake. The result was a period of extensive espionage between the United States and these enemy nations, with Soviet spies actually successfully penetrating the Manhattan Project at several locations. Between these governments, it was no secret that the technology was actively being pursued and that the goal of doing so was for anything but peaceful means. However, the secrecy about the progress and scientific breakthroughs were critical– and in these ways the Manhattan Project embodied the paranoid secrecy that Dr. Owens and Hawkins Lab felt about their dimension jumping technology falling into the hands of enemy nations.

Even after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the war ended, the efforts of the U.S. government continued to focus on making sure the nuclear capabilities stayed out of the hands of the Soviets and other nations. This secrecy was so important to the U.S. government that one of the main reasons the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission failed to become a reality was due to the proposed requirement that the United States turn over the scientific and technological secrets behind the nuclear bomb. This fear went to such an extent that when the Cold War started to heat up, accusations that Oppenheimer, the central figure in the development of the atomic bomb for the United States, was a communist resulted in a repeal of his security clearance.
Even today, the United States finds itself as the country with the most nuclear weapons in its arsenal but also leading the conversation in ensuring additional nations do not acquire these weapons and working to reduce the existing stockpiles of weapons across all nations. The desire to ensure foreign states do not acquire the technology that the United States developed decades ago rings true to the fears Dr. Owens expresses about the past mistakes at Hawkins Lab.

The more attention we bring to ourselves, the more people like the Hollands that know the truth, the more likely that scenario becomes. You see why I have to stop the truth from spreading too, just like those weeds there.

Lastly, the highly secretive nature of Hawkins Lab is very true to the situation across U.S. towns that were home to Manhattan Project facilities. Despite employing 130,000 workers and spending $2.2 billion during the course of the Manhattan Project, most people across the United States were floored to find the extent to which such a large operation could have been kept such a secret. The entire town of Oak Ridge was built around the secret project, with the existence of the town itself kept a secret as well. Even among employees at the Manhattan Project facilities the end goal of the labs were kept secret, with most lower level workers at the facilities simply performed whatever rote task they were assigned without being explained what its purpose was or the big picture. Many workers simply watched large quantities of raw materials enter the facility, saw nothing coming out, and were tasked with monitoring dials and switches  behind thick concrete walls without knowing the purpose behind these monitors or their jobs. This extent of secrecy was seen as critical to the mission of the Manhattan Project, as any amount of information spreading out to the outside world would put the mission at risk. Secrecy defined the early stages of the nuclear age, as it also defined the work going on in Hawkins Lab. The secrets behind the real DOE and Hawkins Lab only remained secrets, however, until the scientists lost control of their creations as they started to affect the unsuspecting public.


Is this reading too much into one scene of a TV show?

While I don’t particularly like over-analyzing metaphors and symbolism that aren’t intended by creators to be there (shout out to literature teachers everywhere insisting that Fahrenheit 451 is about something Ray Bradbury himself denies), due to my experience with DOE and focus on its depiction in the show I couldn’t help but find some real world parallels that I think might have been an intentional metaphor included by the writers.

Admittedly, it seems that this part of the episode that is midway through season 2 might just be meant to signal shift in the plot. Whereas the antagonists in season 1 were Dr. Brenner and his team, with the Demogorgon being the unintended creation of these bad guys, it seems the Duffer Brothers used this scene as an opportunity to reset and shift the plot. The scientists at Hawkins Lab no longer have nefarious intentions (in a later episode, Dr. Owens is even the voice of reason in not allowing Will to die as a means to an end of defeating the mysterious forces putting the town at risk), and instead the main antagonists of the show are now the forces and creatures that continue to make their way through from the Upside Down.

Despite this function of the scene as a story-telling device that sets up the rest of season 2, it does also appear to speak to advent of nuclear weapons as the reason why DOE was chosen as the dark government agency in the series instead of the more commonly used FBI or CIA (seriously, can you name another pop culture avenue in which the Department of Energy plays a main role in the plot? The only two I could come up with are 1) Captain America, Campbell’s Soup, and DOE teaming up in comic book form for energy conservation and 2) the selection of ‘Dancing with the Stars’ participant Rick Perry as the Secretary of Energy.


Source 1 Source 2

Because of the seemingly deliberate choice of words for Dr. Owens in this one scene, I believe the Duffer Brothers are pointing to the proliferation of nuclear weapons as the large mistake made by DOE in the past, which to this day requires constant weeding to prevent the effects of this mistake from spreading. Further, the devastating impacts shown by the creatures of the Upside Down when released into our dimension serve as a small reminder of the apocalyptic effects that the use of nuclear warfare could have on the world– a point that is made all the more poignant with nuclear tensions as high as they are today between the United States and certain hostile foreign states. For that, let’s all just hope diplomacy and cool heads prevail, lest the metaphorical Demagorgons of the world show what devastation really looks like.


Sources and additional reading
A Petition to the President of the United States:

As Hiroshima Smouldered, Our Atom Bomb Scientists Suffered Remorse: Newsweek


About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

How would Hawkins National Lab from ‘Stranger Things’ fit in with the real Department of Energy Labs?


Unless you were living under a rock and/or don’t subscribe to Netflix, you know that the 2016 debut of the television show ‘Stranger Things’ was one of the surprise pop culture hits of the year. The story follows a small town in Indiana where a boy goes missing, a girl with supernatural abilities is found, and it all unfolds in the shadow of dark and mysterious government agents.

While I loved the show and would recommend it to anyone who likes a good sci-fi mystery, what really grabbed my attention was that those dark and mysterious government agents were from Hawkins National Laboratory—a fictional Department of Energy (DOE) laboratory. While DOE’s National Labs are often referred to as ‘crown jewels’ of national science and research, they are not fully understood by the general public. So even though Hawkins Lab is fictional (and sinister), ‘Stranger Things’ shined an unfamiliar light on DOE labs that are not usually recognized outside of the federal energy policy and energy technological research spheres.

With season 2 of ‘Stranger Things’ set to hit Netflix on October 27, 2017, I thought it would be fun to explore the similarities and differences that Hawkins Lab shares with the 17 real DOE labs across the United States. While DOE has already commented on how DOE doesn’t deal with monsters or evil scientists—isn’t that exactly what evil scientists who deal with monsters would say? Seems like some outside research is warranted.



In ‘Stranger Things,’ Hawkins National Laboratory is located in a federal complex in Hawkins, a fictional city in Indiana. Depending on where in Indiana the fictional Hawkins is located, since that is never made specific in the series, the closest DOE lab is either Argonne National Lab just outside of Chicago, Illinois, or Oak Ridge National Lab in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Either way, DOE has labs in the Midwestern states, making Indiana a realistic place for a National Laboratory.


City of Hawkins

The city of Hawkins, Indiana is portrayed to be a small city where everyone knows each other’s business and the local police force is a very small operation. Of the options that are near to Indiana in real life, this type of town is certainly more reminiscent of the town surrounding Oak Ridge National Lab, where the sum of employees, students, visiting scientists, and facility users is equal to over 35% the total city population. The city of Hawkins might even have a much larger population than the non-laboratory citizens realize if they are all housed inside the secret laboratory campus, making the parallels in type of location between Hawkins Lab a real DOE lab even stronger than they initially seem.

One note here is that, originally, the show was going to take place in Montauk on Long Island. If this were the case, it would have placed the setting of the show only 60 miles from Brookhaven National Laboratory, also on Long Island. It appears that even in an alternate dimension (something the kids in ‘Stranger Things’ know a lot about…) where the showrunners ran with Montauk as the location, Hawkins Lab was destined to be located in a place that mirrors where a real DOE lab might be.


Due to the secretive nature of Hawkins Lab, it is hidden in a forest, surrounded by a barbed wire fence and heavily guarded by security and police.


None of these lab complex features could be considered outside of the norm for various DOE labs:


According to the bits of history peppered in during Season 1 of ‘Stranger Things,’ Hawkins Lab was created in the wake of World War II and the scientific endeavors sponsored by the U.S. government during that time. As was the case during the timeline of the show in the 1980s, Hawkins Lab was formed in secret due to the sensitive nature of the work going on there.

This aspect of Hawkins Lab is probably the most closely mirrored in actual DOE labs. The entire Department of Energy also traces its lineage back to the Second World War and the scientific pursuits of the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project was the government sponsored effort to create the atomic bomb that ultimately brought World War II to an end. Specifically, DOE worked on the research and development of the atomic bomb in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Hanford, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico—present day homes to Oak Ridge National Lab, Hanford Site, and Los Alamos National Lab, respectively. Not only that, but DOE also notes that when the existence of the Manhattan Project and its various sites (accounting for 130,000 workers and $2.2 billion in spending) was made public, it came as a shock that the government was able to run such far-flung secret operations. Hey residents of Hawkins, Indiana, sound familiar?


While never stated explicitly, much of the subtext and fan speculation of ‘Stranger Things’ pins Hawkins lab as being controlled by the CIA– either with the DOE label as a cover or in tandem with the DOE due to the dubious nature of the operations and what would happen if the public found out. Hawkins is the location of the top secret experiments conducted by the U.S. government. Based on the specific projects we know about (discussed next), the mission of Hawkins appears to be pushing the boundaries of science and the understanding of physics by any (dubious) means necessary.

The mission of each particular DOE lab varies depending on the program office it serves. The 10 labs under the Office of Science support the advancement of “the science needed for revolutionary energy breakthroughs, seek to unravel nature’s deepest mysteries, and provide the Nation’s researchers with the most advanced large-scale tools of modern science.” The three labs under the National Nuclear Security Administration serve the mission of “enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science.” The missions of the remaining four labs include energy efficiency and security, national security, and the environment.

Based on these options, it seems reasonable that the mission of Hawkins Lab lines up with the mission of labs under DOE’s Office of Science—as both are focused on using DOE labs to advance science and solve the physical mysteries of the universe.


From creation in the 1950’s through the 1970’s, Hawkins was home for Project MKUltra, which exposed human subjects to psychedelic drugs and extreme isolation to test the boundaries of the human mind (the CIA actually did conduct a ring of experiments called MKUltra on that aligns with this type of description, though there was never any indication that the Department of Energy was involved).

One of the test subjects at Hawkins was pregnant while undergoing the experiments of MKUltra, leading to her daughter, who we only know as ‘Eleven’, to be born with telekinetic abilities.  The discovery of her abilities led Eleven to be subject to intense testing and experimentation on those abilities. One discovered ability was to connect with other living creatures when she was placed in sensory deprivation, which the scientists at Hawkins worked to leverage to gain intel on a Russian enemy (the show takes place during the Cold War).

While conducting one of the tests on Eleven to gain access to the Russian enemy, Eleven encountered a mysterious monster-like creature (known in show lore as the Demogorgon) from another dimension, called the Upside Down. This discovery led the scientists to aggressively pursue and continue this line of experimentation on Eleven to gain more information about the Upside Down and the Demogorgon.


So in short, at Hawkins you have projects dealing with:

  • Human test subjects;
  • Telekinetic powers;
  • Espionage on enemy nations; and
  • Alternative dimensions containing scary monsters.

For the real-life DOE parallels, let’s break that down:

Human test subjects

Unfortunately, this aspect of projects at Hawkins Lab cannot be unequivocally declared to have no parallel to the DOE labs. The truth is that the Atomic Energy Commission, which became the Department of Energy in 1977, has a history of human experimentation. These shady tests dealt with the effects nuclear exposure had on humans, and a Freedom of Information Act inquisition revealed that DOE still to this day provides “healthcare to people in various Pacific Islands affected by nuclear tests.” So again, the origination of the labs and these tests comes from World War II era science, just like we learn is the case for Hawkins Lab.

Telekinetic powers

The development or research into telekinesis is one aspect of the fictional Project MKUltra that does not appear to have any parallel in the DOE lab system. Though this must obviously come with a caveat of—well, if they did have such abilities, would we as the public necessarily know about it yet?

Espionage on enemy nations

If any sort of actual top-secret espionage activity had technology developed by DOE, odds are that information wouldn’t be publicly available and thus would not end up in this article. However, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has billed itself as the ‘real’ Hawkins Lab and is responsible for “certifying the safety, security and reliability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent in a post-nuclear-test-world.”

With their state-of-the-art supercomputers, radiochemistry team, and asteroid defense (too bad this is comparing DOE to ‘Stranger Things’ and not ‘Armageddon’), LLNL boasts that its scientists are responsible for “technical guidance to the policymakers who struck the recent Iran deal, they certify airport security equipment to ensure bad things don’t make it onto planes and they are cyber defenders tasked with thwarting attempts to bring down critical U.S. infrastructure.”

If these are the projects they are telling the public about, its only up to your imagination the types of projects that are considered hush-hush…

Alternative dimensions containing scary monsters

On DOE’s website, they admit that the closest DOE labs come to exploring parallel dimensions is contributing to various NASA technologies (such as nuclear batteries for deep space probes) to explore new worlds in this dimension. In contrast to that message, though, former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz did coyly tell Chelsea Handler on her talk show, when asked about whether DOE explores parallel universes like in ‘Stranger Things,’ that DOE’s support of basic science and theoretical physics “looks at things like higher dimensions than three dimensions, and parallel universes.” However, your mileage may vary on how directly to connect that type of research to Hawkins’ research into the Demogorgon and the Upside Down.


In its 40-year history, scientists associated with DOE have been bestowed many awards– including a host of Nobel prizes. Accounting for all of DOE and its predecessor agencies, science and research at DOE and DOE labs have accounted for 115 Nobel Laureates across the fields of chemistry, physics, and physiology/medicine.

A key characteristic of Hawkins Lab is its intense secretiveness. As such, it is reasonable to assume that most revolutionary projects in the lab, whether the creation of a human with telekinetic powers or the ability to open up a rift to the Upside Down, are not public knowledge to the scientific community and thus have not received the Nobel prizes such discoveries surely would have warranted.



So if you take all that information in, and line it up side-by-side as I’ve done below, it becomes clear that the distance between real DOE labs and Hawkins Lab is not as far as DOE would want you to believe. But at the very least, we can breathe easy that it does not appear that the parallels that are still in existence today encompass any of the sinister motivations or human rights violations found in Hawkins Lab. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that no future FOIA’s reveal anything sinister, and, if anything, we simply find out that Barb was found safe and sound.

Click to enlarge

Is there anything about Hawkins National Lab that I missed? Let me know! Also, I’ll do an update of deemed necessary once I’ve completed my binge of the second season. While everyone else is desperate to learn the fate of Barb, find out more about the Demogorgon, and watch to see if Will makes it out of the Upside Down alive, I’ll be glued to my TV to try and get a peek at the administrative structure of Hawkins Lab and find out which DOE Program Office it falls under! (Update: Read about what season 2 of ‘Stranger Things’ might be saying about DOE’s nuclear past and future!)

Sources and additional reading

A government official confirms the scariest thing in ‘Stranger Things’ may actually be real: Business Insider

Come work at the ‘real’ Hawkins Lab

DOE National Laboratories Map: Department of Energy

Hawkins National Library– Stranger Things Wiki

Honors & Awards: Office of Science

Labs at-a-Glance: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Manhattan Project Background and Information and Preservation Work: Department of Energy

Nuke Lab Can’t Keep Snoops Out

Our Mission: National Nuclear Security Administration

Science at its Best Security at its Worst: Department of Energy

Stranger Things: Netflix Official Site

Stranger Things but true: the US Department of Energy does human experiments, searches for The Upside Down

Stranger Georgetown: Declassified: The Hoya

The Office of Science Laboratories: Department of Energy

The Stranger Things creators want some scares with their Spielberg: AVClub

What “Stranger Things” Didn’t Get Quite-So-Right About the Energy Department: Department of Energy


About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

Brewed with Renewable Energy- Best Beers for the Green Consumer

As microbreweries and craft beers have really blown up in recent years, it’s easy to forget that the beer brewing process goes back millennia.  Archaeologists have noted that nomads may have made beer before making bread, ancient Babylonian’s kept beer recipes on clay tablets, and European monasteries in the Middle Ages took beer brewing out of the home and into centralized production.

All of this ancient brewing was fairly unstandardized, relying on fermentation and chemical reactions and, when needed, cooking by fire.  It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that the production of beer scaled up massively, inventions came along to ensure the consistency of brewing, and the energy required to brew beer became substantial, powered by the revolutionary steam engine. Since that time, the energy intensity of brewing beer became substantial– today’s breweries typically use 50-66 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per barrel of beer. With a barrel of beer containing 2 kegs of beer and an average U.S. home using 10,812 kWh  per year in 2015, that means that it takes  less than 400 kegs of beer production to account for an entire household’s annual energy use– while places like Boardy Barn in Hamptons Bay, Long Island can sell up to 600 kegs in a single day!

All this lead up is to get to the question– why do you care? Well at the time that craft brewing has come out of the niche to become mainstream, so has personal responsibility to be energy and environmentally conscious. So at the intersection of these two pushes is the trend of breweries to utilize renewable energy in their production process. This post is meant to not only call out and give props to all the breweries that are incorporating green practices into their fuel mix, but to show you the best tasting beers you can buy that are ALSO incorporating the most renewable energy production.

In short– green beer appears to be a brewery cultural movement (and not just with food coloring you put in one day a year)!


As stated in the introduction, the goal of this fun exercise is to cross-list breweries who have publicly available their power generation from renewable energy or their total renewable energy generation capacity with a rating of the most popular beer brewed at that brewery. As such, the methodology can be broken out by energy and by beer:


Many breweries today are installing renewable energy generation, and luckily for this exercise they also love to talk about it. And why shouldn’t they? Making publicly available your renewable energy generation is not only great PR for a brand, but it can also lead to other breweries making the energy conscious decisions as they follow the leaders in the industry. As such, you can usually count on breweries to advertise their use of renewable energy:


With this in mind, the data collected all came from publicly available sources– a section on a brewery’s website about sustainability, a news article announcing a new solar system install, etc. Based on what data was and was not available, it made the most sense to collect and rate based on total capacity of renewable energy used at the brewery. As a result, the following factors were not considered:

  • The percentage of energy use at a brewery that is accounted for by renewable energy (apologies to the smaller breweries that have a large percentage, or even all, of their energy use come from renewable energy– obviously the larger breweries have more energy use overall and thus have a higher ceiling for total installed capacity, but this analysis is only counting the raw total capacity);
  • Commitments to switch to renewable energy in the future (though there will be a list of ‘honorable mention’ breweries with such initiatives at the end);
  • The installation of renewable energy sources without the listing of capacity or energy generated (sorry to these breweries, you’ll be in the honorable mentions as well); and
  • Energy savings, energy efficiency initiates, and sustainable practices that don’t include installation of renewable energy (these will also be included in ‘honorable mentions’ to give credit where credit is due).


After assembling the list of breweries with renewable energy capacity, it sounded fun to cross-list those capacities with the rating of the most popular beer at that brewery to find the ultimate beer to reach for at the bar or grocery story that tastes great and contributes to the world’s renewable energy supply. was used as the repository for information on beer ratings, as it had the most extensive and widely available information for this process.

For each brewery identified on the below list, the beer with the most ratings on was identified as the most popular beer. The most popular beer was chosen to ensure a high sample size of ratings and to best represent the beer made at that brewery. So while there may be beers more highly regarded at the breweries identified, the chosen most popular beer is more likely to be that brewery’s flagship beer and accounts for the highest portion of the brewery’s production energy compared with any other beer.


Below is a table of the 57 breweries found with advertised renewable energy capacity, with the greatest capacity at the top.  After a quick glance at this table, a few tidbits jump out:

  • Renewable capacities found on this list starts at 10 kilowatts (kW) and goes all the way up to 3,733 kW (or 3.7 megawatts). This wide range shows how varied the efforts are to incorporate renewable energy, from a small solar system that only has minor contributions to overall operations to a massive renewable energy installation that contributes most (if not all) of a brewery’s power needs.
  • Solar power is by far the most prevalent form of renewable energy found at breweries. This may seem striking, but it actually makes sense because solar systems are the easiest and most feasible system to install on a building basis. Other forms of renewable energy (wind power, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass) are not as well suited for individual building complexes to harness.
  • Heineken, as a parent company, appears several times towards the top of the list. Many of these breweries existed for many years before Heineken bought them, but it does appear to be a trend that breweries have become more likely to install renewable energy capacity after being brought under the Heineken umbrella.
  • There is also a clear spread of locations where these renewable energy breweries are located, on both coasts of the United States as well as three other continents. We’ll look into this more in a later graphic.

The next step is to plot these renewable capacities against the rating of the most popular beer. See the below graphs for this visual. When shown this way, a couple more conclusions can be made:

  • It turns out that the beer from the brewery with the highest renewable energy capacity (The Abyss from Deschutes Brewery) is actually the one with the highest rating on this list, making the decision at the bar that much easier!
  • However, dedication to renewable energy does not necessarily correlate with a well-received beer, as Birra Moretti (Heineken) and MillerCoors have discovered.
  • While a smattering of breweries have made the commitment to exceed a megawatt of renewable energy capacity, the majority of breweries have started smaller in the 500 kW range.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The last graphic put together is a map to represent where these breweries are spread across the country and the world. These maps show the top 20 breweries by capacity, with the size of the beer mug icon representing the relative size of that capacity (though note that between the U.S. map and the world map, scale of the maps are accounted for. For example, the Anheuser-Busch brewery has about half the capacity as the Namibia Breweries Limited. However because the U.S. map is about twice as big, both of these beer mug icons appear the same size).

The conclusions to be drawn from these maps include the following:

  • Within the United States, the most breweries with the most renewable energy capacity are mostly focused on the coastal regions. Specifically, the largest capacities are found on the West Coast in California and Oregon. These are two states that are known to have among the most progressive energy policies, so it’s no surprise that breweries in these states have jumped in feet first to the renewable energy revolution.
  • The United States does not have a monopoly at all when it comes to beer brewed with renewable energy. Not only are there a number of prominent breweries with renewable energy in Europe, but both the African and Asian continents are represented as well.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Honorable Mentions

As mentioned in the methodology section, there were a number of breweries that have initiatives in energy efficiency, sustainability, or other ‘green’ practices that were unable to be captured in this exercise that purely focused on renewable energy capacity. However, it only seems appropriate to still give these breweries a shout out for the positive efforts being put forth as well.

(Updated Honorable Mentions after originally posted– please keep these suggestions coming!)

  • Yards Brewing Co. in Philadelphia became Pennsylvania’s first 100% wind-powered brewery in 2011 (though figures on the total capacity were not available, which is the only reason they’re in the honorable mentions and not the main results).
  • Sawdust City Brewing in Ontario, Canada treats their wastewater on site.
  • Cowbell Brewing Co. is North America’s first 100% carbon neutral brewery.
  • Beau’s Brewery was the first Canadian brewery to be powered by 100% ‘green electricity.’
  • Sleeping Giant Brewing Company uses a host of sustainable practices, including the increasing use of renewable energy.
  • Steam Whistle Brewing in Toronto sources its energy from 100% renewable sources (also no mention of total use/capacity, so can’t add to the main results).
  • Rock Art Brewery became Vermont’s first 100% solar powered brewery in 2017.
  • The Alchemist in Vermont also sources nearly 100% of its energy from a local solar farm.
  • Moonraker Brewing Company boasts 1,100 solar panels on site.
If you know any other breweries that should be included in either the main results or these honorable mentions, please reach out to me by commenting here or heading to the contact page to let me know. Hopefully all breweries who deserve their pat on the back can get them!

Sources and Additional Reading

Beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev commits to 100 percent renewable energy: CNBC

Beer History Timeline:

Carlsberg aims to produce beer with renewable energy: Justmeans

Deschutes Brewery 2015 Sustainability Story: Deschutes Brewery

Early History of Brewing: Michigan State University

Green Beer Not Just for St. Patrick’s Day: Power Finance & Risk

Prost! 5 Breweries Embracing Renewable Energy: Renewable Energy World

Renewable Heating and Cooling for Breweries: Environmental Protection Agency

Renewables roadshow: how the people of Newtown got behind solar-powered beer

Top 50 Solar Beer Breweries: Solar Plaza (and all sources cited therein)

What is the Combined Heat and Power System (CHP)?: Yuengling Brewery

Wind Powered Brewery: Great Lakes Brewing Co. 


Updated on 10/6/17 to fix units

Updated on 10/8 to include additional breweries (Yard Brewing Co., Sawdust City Brewing, Cowbell Brewing Co., Beau’s Brewery, Sleeping Giant Brewing Company, Steam Whistle Brewing, Rock Art Brewery, The Alchemist, and Moonraker Brewing Company). 



About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.