8 Reasons To Be Optimistic About Clean Energy

It is easy to sing the blues over green energy.

Government budgets are in disarray. Subsidies are under attack, and climate change is suddenly a dirty word.

But all is not lost. Not by a long shot. Here are eight reasons to be optimistic about the future:

1/ Heavy hitters are entering the game. Google, Warren Buffet and others didn't reach their lofty levels by making mistakes. When they show interest, perhaps we should pay attention.

2/ The Department of Defense, saying our dependence on oil is a security issue, is deeply committed to going green. With a budget of $664 billion, the military should have some influence: If there is doubt, remember the Internet originally was invented for military purposes.

3/ Big Business is on board. Walmart and other companies are discovering that going green - either through renewable power such as solar or by becoming more energy efficient - adds to their bottom lines. Take a look at Walmart's 2011 sustainability report.

4/ Professional sports is getting up to bat: Hockey, baseball, football, basketball and other professional sports is a $19 billion per year enterprise that is gaining a green tint.

5/ Government agencies are pushing it through new programs and initiatives, such as "America's Next Top Innovator," a Department of Energy effort to find The Next Big Thing in clean energy.

6/ Energy conservation is going mainstream. Lowe's, Home Depot, Costco and other retailers are selling energy-efficiency and renewable energy off their shelves. Home builders include it in their sales pitches and awareness is growing.

7/ Costs are coming down. As clean energy grows, oil prices climb and technology advances, costs are decreasing faster than projected. It won't be long - next year, perhaps? - that solar achieves parity.

8/ California's requirement that utility companies get 33% of their power from solar, wind and other renewable energy sources by 2020. The mandate is incentive for more investment in clean energy in the state.

Could Solar Parity Lead To Solar Valley?

One of the biggest complaints against solar power has been that it can't survive without subsidies. Critics may have to soon come up with a new argument, a noted futurist says, because costs are coming down quickly as technological advances accelerate.

Ray Kurzweil told grist, an environmental online magazine, "The costs are coming down rapidly - we are only a few years away from parity. And then it's going to keep coming down, and people will be gravitating towards solar, even if they don't care at all about the environment, because of the economics."

Not everyone agrees. Brian Merchant of Treehugger argues that the powerful lobbying and political forces behind so-called "dirty fuel" won't let solar take hold anytime soon. "Relying on technology alone isn't likely to get us there," he says.

All this talk raises possibilities in the minds of myself and Mike Nemeth, my colleague, at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, which is dedicated to promoting energy-efficiency and renewable power in the resource-rich California interior.

Our office is in Fresno. Just a few miles away is some of the most productive farmland in the world. Agriculture here is a $20 billion industry, and it consumes a lot of power.

Plus, it gets hot here, as in I-can't-touch-the-steering wheel-of-my-car hot. Summer temperatures often are in triple digits, and residential and commercial power bills soar. A friend of mine once joked, "Is my power bill supposed to contain a comma?" As fuel prices climb, more people are thinking solar.

A solar boom could transform this region. The San Joaquin Valley could lead the nation in renewable energy, as well as agriculture. Farmers could, as this story in Agweek states, create a whole new cash crop.

The Valley has thousands of acres of former farmland sitting fallow. That land, which is laser flat and environmentally safe, is ideal for solar farms. A big transmission line extends down the west side of the Valley, and acres of warehouse rooftops in Fresno and Tulare counties are ideal candidates for rooftop solar systems.

There's a reason why University of California, Merced, which is conducting groundbreaking research in solar power, has dubbed the 240 or so miles from Stockton to the Grapevine "Solar Valley."