Ralph Schoellhammer, Spiked, July 16, 2023
In 2021, Jeremiah Thoronka was making a name for himself in clean-energy technology. The then 21-year-old Durham University masters student had invented a device that uses kinetic energy from traffic and pedestrians to generate electricity. It certainly sounded groundbreaking. In a pilot project in Thoronka’s native Sierra Leone, two devices had apparently provided free electricity to 150 households and 15 schools.
Thoronka’s work clearly impressed awards panel judges. In 2021, he picked up the Commonwealth Youth Award and the Global Student Prize, which was presented to him by filmstar Hugh Jackman at a virtual ceremony, broadcast from the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Thoronka was the man of the moment. There was a profile by the BBC, an invitation to give TED talks and, in May 2022, an audience with the pope. He was celebrated as a green-tech innovator, someone setting a clean-energy example for the world to follow.
The accolades have continued to flow. Last month, at the Green Tech Festival in Berlin, he won the Youngster Green Award for 2023. It was this that prompted German journalists to ask if it might all be a little too good to be true. They contacted the organisers of the Youngster Green Award and Greentech Festival to find out a bit more about Thoronka’s pilot project. After all, it sounded incredible. But the organisers said that wouldn’t be possible because the pilot had since been dismantled. They asked if the device was being used anywhere else, and were told that it wasn’t. One journalist even asked if there were any videos, blueprints or other documentation of this unprecedented breakthrough. Again, nothing was forthcoming. In fact, no one could tell journalists much about the device or the pilot project at all.
It seems the Youngster Green Award and Greentech festival organisers, and potentially others, have been willing to take Thoronka’s achievement entirely at face value. Perhaps the pilot was a success; perhaps it wasn’t. That no one really knows – or cares to know – is telling.
Clearly, Western green elites want to believe in the success of Thoronka’s device. As journalist Alexander Wendt concluded, perhaps Thoronka’s genius lies not in the field of piezoelectricity – the conversion of kinetic energy into electricity – but in ‘psycho-engineering’. He is telling the West’s green establishment what it wants to hear. It wants to believe it’s possible to meet Africa’s growing energy needs without fossil fuels or nuclear power. And so this kinetic-energy device is catering to their environmentalist fantasies.
The tale of Thoronka’s device captures well the wishful thinking that dominates the worldview of Western green elites. They are determined to believe that there are quick and easy routes to decarbonising the economy. That it’s possible to meet people’s energy needs today without using fossil fuels or nuclear power. That the transition to clean, green energy is just around the corner, and the only thing standing in its way are the evil fossil-fuel companies.
[Editor’s Note: Jeremiah Thoronka is black.]