It is hard to stay hopeful amidst budget deficits and cost cutting, but one recent announcement brightened my spirits. NASA plans to expand facilities at NASA Ames Research Park in Silicon Valley to accelerate advancements in clean energy and other technology.
The goal is to share ideas and, in this era of austerity, provide an infrastructure for innovation in the emerging renewable-energy industry. Fascinating work is under way - from solar roads and sun-powered backpacks for the military to solar balls that create drinking water - but NASA's increased attention could spark even more.
Gov. Brown has an ambitious green jobs platform, and legislators have signed on with strong endorsement of a 33% renewables standard. The legislation, assuming Brown signs it, puts the standard in concrete and provides a foundation for investment. Much can be accomplished when research capability is combined with incentive.
Perhaps parity with other forms of energy could be achieved more quickly. Some experts predict that solar power in sunnier parts of the nation could be less than 10 cents per kilowatt hour by 2012 (the average retail price of electricity for businesses and consumers in the United States is 10 to 11 cents per kilowatt hour.)
More renewable energy is laudable, but it really makes sense when development is twinned with energy conservation and efficiency. Less consumption leads to lower power bills and more money in the pockets of consumers and coffers of local governments. If they reduce power bills, municipalities such as Fresno could possibly save jobs or avoid pay cuts.
All this could help expand a new emerging economy in the San Joaquin Valley, which is ideally suited for clean energy. We have robust population growth, high power bills, low incomes, lots of sun and vacant flat land, access to the transmission grid, a strategic mid-state location close to three major power-sucking metropolitan centers, and college campuses that are research leaders in solar, biofuel, agriculture and water.
Californians have embraced renewable energy. Big business and the military are on board. Maybe NASA will give a space-age boost to everything.