Clean Energy Deployment Administration

Innovation Pays Off, But Can We Afford It?

Another increase in college tuition in California. More courses cut. I wonder how that combination will affect our future down the road. Maybe that's why I've been thinking a lot about innovation, and whether we have the necessary infrastructure in place to encourage it.

Clean and renewable energy could be a growth sector in California and elsewhere. California recently passed the 33 percent renewables standard. More businesses, such as GM and Hyatt, are incorporating sustainability policies. The military is strongly promoting the virtues of going green. An increasing number of homeowners, property owners and agricultural entities are installing solar arrays, rooftop systems and wind turbines to help offset energy costs.

Lots of exciting research is going on in a variety of fields - from heat exchangers to solar to biofuel - but can it continue? As Devon Swezey says in Forbes , and as Martin LaMonica notes in a Green Tech piece that bounces off a Foreign Affairs article, there is a global austerity movement that threatens clean-energy subsidies.

The authors of the Foreign Affairs story say some niches, such as rooftop solar and biofuel from sugar cane, are likely to thrive, but they say investing in innovative technologies is the key to longtime viability. They call for the formation of a Clean Energy Deployment Administration, or something similar, with an initial capitalization of $10 billion.

Of course, coming up with $10 billion in this economic and political environment would be a challenge, but the importance of finding the money (could some come from NASA's budget?) can't be ignored.

Jane Long of Lawrence Livermore lab said the same thing in a presentation to the state EPA. Faced with a 33 percent renewable mandate and a governor's order for an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, California needs to devote some major resources to innovation, she said in this report.

And why not? Going green is good for the environment and profit margins. Studies have shown that clean energy - and we include efficiency in that - can benefit the bottom line. As Swezey notes in this closing graph, "By repurposing existing clean energy policies and investing in clean energy innovation, the United States can be the first country to make clean energy cheap and reliable, a distinction that is sure to bring major economic benefits in a multi-trillion dollar energy market."