Monday, March 17, 2008

Solarcon Valley


Tucson, Arizona. A group of extremely intelligent and highly educated scientists from the University of Arizona and certain high technology companies gathered at a home on Fourth Street this morning to listen to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other members of the Congressional Committee on Science and Technology. Most of the conversation at the house involved education (math and science in particular), funding for research, and energy. Giffords chaired a field hearing of the committee on solar energy immediately afterwards.

Started 50 years ago in response to the launch of Sputnik, this committee is the least partisan in Congress (Ralph Hall (R-TX) flew to Tucson for the hearing) and has close ties to education and a certain blogger’s heart. Sputnik and the cold war played a huge role in the Higher Education Act of 1965 and the explosive growth of higher education capacity. We created NASA and invested in cerebral horsepower that fueled the greatest economic expansion and propelled us into world leadership.

At both the house and the hearing, Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) addressed the audience via speaker phone, his ability to attend impacted by airplane trouble. Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ) spoke, pointing out that Arizona has sunlight over 300 days a year. Committee Vice-Chairman Lipinski (D-IL) spoke to the interest in solar power during the seventies suddenly dying in 1980. (He did not mention why, i.e. the election of Reagan and the reversal of pro-education sentiments, pro-solar sentiments, and the idea that government should do something other than favor friends and kill people in other countries.)

At the house event, Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) heaped praise on Giffords, in so many words saying she was the strongest advocate of solar power in the entire Congress and becoming a powerful leader in the committee.

At the hearing they got technical. Mark Mehos taught me a lot, first pointing out that the American southwest has the greatest solar capacity of any location in the world, with enough sunlight to generate ELEVEN TIMES the current electricity production of the entire country. Arizona, Nevada, and more than I thought, south eastern California kick solar butt.

Then Mr. Hansen of TEP discussed the The Solar Grand Plan published in the January 2008 issue of Scientific American. Solar energy uses proven technologies. They work. All of the systems have been developed to virtually bulletproof reliability. The article is quite "the thing" of the solar energy community.

I'll skip the technical details of utility scale solar energy either dispatchable (parabolic trough, power tower, linear fresnel) that use sunlight to create heat to produce steam for turbines vs. the non-dispatchable (dish/engine, concentrating photovoltaic, flat plate) that generate electricity directly.

What happened today was solid cerebral horsepower engaged in intelligent discourse, part of what is desperately needed if this country is to avoid going off the cliff Eggplant has pushed us towards. The hearing was necessarily very structured, but at the house Rep. Giffords fielded intelligent questions from assembled experts. Today confirmed my speculation of four years ago. She is an information and personal development sponge exhibiting extraordinary growth. Tim Bee has no idea what he is up against, and his gripe last week about her denial of Eggplant's surveillance immunity is barking up the wrong tree.

4 Comments:

Blogger Framer said...

eleven nickels is still only 55 cents. It's better than a nickel, but it won't buy you a Coke. Until solar energy is cost effective, reliable, and the infrastructure upgradeable, we need to put out money into nuclear and clean burning coal, especially on a state level.

If solar ever does become feasible on a large scale, the technology will have little resemblance to what is being employed now. That means that we would need to buy today's AND tomorrow's technology. I'm OK with Europe being the trailblazers here. We'll go ahead and join in later, once everything is figured out.

Let's be honest, did you buy HD-DVD , x4mr? :)

3/17/2008 10:17 PM  
Blogger Casey DeLorme, APR said...

I couldn't find the video on short notice, but on CSPAN I caught a presentation NYT columnist Thomas Friedman gave to a recent U.S. governors conference. In it, he outlines his argument for how placing the same kind of motivation, leadership support, and dollar resources behind solar and other renewables that the U.S. once did for "...landing a man on the moon..."

Three elements of his argument struck me. 1) This would wean us of our addiction to oil... which he connects to pretty much ALL the turmoil in the middle-east (terrorists being funded largely by oil dollars) 2) This would help us solve the global warming crisis and 3) It would put the U.S. on the technological cutting edge of the next major advancement... especially as we globalize and other countries are eating our intellectual lunch.

Somewhere in the conclusion he worked in... even if the global warming fears turn out to be wrong, you gotta admit that points 1) and 3) hold up pretty well on their own.

He followed that with... our country has shown again and again that we will make sacrifices and endeavor to achieve a great common cause. You saw that in our founding. You saw that in what Tom Brokaw dubbed "The Greatest Generation". You saw that in the moon landing. The desire is out there... you just need someone who can lead us in the right direction.

Though solar is a technical challenge... so was the microchip way back when. So were cars and and interstate freeway system 100 years ago. So was democracy 200+ years ago. With our brainpower, financial resources, and collective might, how can solar be that far off?

3/18/2008 11:30 AM  
Blogger John Rose said...

A couple weeks ago I went to the Ray Kurzweil lecture (part of the "Edges of Life" series) (http://uanews.org/node/18510). He's a futurist with an amazing record of predicting huge technological achievements 10 or 20 years in advance. Part of what he spoke about in his lecture was about how he and Larry Page of Google have collaborated on a project to see 100% of U.S. energy needs satisfied by solar power by 20 years from now. (http://www.livescience.com/environment/080219-kurzweil-solar.html)
He reaches this goal by simply extending the rate of solar growth that we currently have (doubling every 2 years) to the next 20 years. I admit, I'm a bit of a Kurzweil-groupie, but I really think it's possible. And even if he's off by 10-15 years, it really reveals how uptight the thinking of some of our policy makers has been. While politicians are hesitantly setting goals of 33% of our power coming from solar by 2050, scientists are going to get 100% by 2030!

3/18/2008 12:08 PM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

The issue with solar energy, or wind energy, isn't so much the generation of it, it's where to hold it.

I am entirely in favor of a massive solar energy project. I am even more in favor of a project to develop some form of "super battery" to hold all that power.

3/18/2008 7:01 PM  

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