Solar Cars–The Beginning of the Future of Transportation

An article in Solar Feeds describes the 6 coolest solar cars.   This is the beginning of the future.  As next generation solar technology (such as the new Solar3D solar cell) comes on line, making solar less expensive and more powerful, there is no doubt that developments like these will lead to the future of transportation.   It is worth looking at these cars so that years from now, when we are no longer dependent on oil, and cars are powered by the sun, you can tell your grandchildren that you saw these when they were the wild ideas by a few visionary inventors.

The President’s Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future is Great—as far as it goes

Last week, The White House released a “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future.”  The document was a thoughtful review of all the things that we should be doing in order to protect the United States from being held hostage by the oil producers of the world.   I felt amazingly patriotic as I read the things that the country (“we, the people”) have done and the determination that we have to go further in our quest for energy security.  Everything was mentioned and everything seems to be in process.

However, one of the key statements in the Blueprint was in the second paragraph, which said, “Every president since Richard Nixon has called for America’s independence from oil…” So why have we been so inept at getting it done?  The Blueprint blames Washington gridlock.

One of the great advantages of our Republic is that nothing can change to fast because of the checks and balances that govern the system.  However, when faced with something that is so obvious and critical to the future of America as reducing our dependence on oil, we need strong leadership to show facts and figures to our representatives that will bring the lawmakers to a meeting of the minds on the objectives and how to get there.

There are a lot of reasons why it is difficult, not the least of which is that the parties have a desire to differentiate themselves in order to get elected.   Also, millions in lobbying money is spent to persuade congress to do things in a particular way.  That money is spent in the name of profit, in indifference to the good of the people and the long-term interests of the country.   It is not inherently bad or immoral.  It just is the way it works.  Exxon’s interests are not the interests of the 300,000,000 American’s that don’t work there or own stock.   But Exxon, and other big oil companies have the singularity of purpose backed up by billions of marketing/influencing money to make their case in a very persuasive way.

I believe that what is missing from the Blueprint is a dramatic change or proposed change that will get people’s attention and focus our country on the critical issue at hand.  One proposal:  stop all government subsidies to big oil.

Just a few facts that might be interesting:

  1. The US uses more oil per year than the next five countries combined
  2. World usage of oil between 1980 and 2006 went up 41%.  World population rose over the same period by 44%.  During that same period of time, US oil usage grew 21% and its population grew 34%.  Some progress per capita.
  3. Big Oil spent $147MM in lobbying efforts in 2010 and $1B since 1997.


Government Finally Facilitates Entrepreneurship

Our Energy Secretary, Stephen Chu, announced a new program to dramatically reduce the cost and red tape required by entrepreneurs to buy unlicensed patents and begin the process of bringing the technologies to market.

This is an act that has warped in from a utopian world in which the government not only gets out of the way of innovative business, but they are actually facilitating it.

We applaud this move and encourage you to read about it in the link to the new program above.  So far, it seems that Secretary Chu has done a lot of things right.



Nuclear Power Safety in Question

The consternation over the damage to the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan underscores yet another reason that finding a safe economical alternative source of energy is desirable.   The ripple effect of the deadly earthquake is being felt all the way to Wall Street.

There is a lot of talk about the implications of the incident.   Chernobyl was dismissed as an aberration because of bad technology and poor upkeep.  However, this disaster is in Japan—the poster country for effective use of technology.   If it is not fully contained, it will be a severe blow to the public image of the nuclear industry.

I have been a proponent of nuclear power and the building of nuclear plants.  It is economical, clean and safe… or at least so far.  I am not yet running for cover, but my faith is shaken.  Let’s see how the disaster shakes out.  It is the nature of man to overreact to incidents like this—it is yet fully possible that the problem will be contained.

Solar power, if the human race can find an economical way of delivering it, will solve a lot of issues.  We hope to provide part of the means of doing it with our new solar cell.


Government’s Perpetuation of Oil Addiction

Recent civil unrest in North Africa and the Middle East has captured global attention, as many hope for more humane, democratic governments in that part of the world, while others express concern over what new leadership might mean for relations with the West. With large-scale unrest in a region so closely associated with oil production, it has been suggested that these events could impact energy markets, with an ensuing effect on Western economies.  For many reasons, including a clean environment, national security, and economic stability among them, it is critical that we drastically reduce our consumption of oil as quickly as practicable.

It is frustrating to America’s people of goodwill, who look forward to a day when our Republic is free of its self-immolating addiction to oil, that big money often trumps doing what is right for the country and for the future.

very interesting article in Renewable Energy News, by Dana Blankenhorn, spoke of knowing the enemy—the enemy being Big Oil.  The focus of the piece was on being able to identify some of the stealth organizations that are funded by Big Oil and advocate its cause.  But for me, what the article brought back to memory was that the Oil Industry has developed remarkable resources over the years that fight for its right to grow, make money and get the government help to do it.

It is the right and duty of Big Oil to do all that it can to increase shareholder value.  But its right and duty is not consistent with the best interest of the nation.   Our great free enterprise economy gives Big Oil the opportunity to compete in the market to sell its products.   At the same time, it is the obligation of the solar and other alternative energy industries to figure out how to be competitive.  As I have written before, it is economics, not policy, that should and will lead to widespread deployment of renewable energy.  But government makes this difficult by giving into the lobbying initiatives of an industry that is operating in direct opposition to our National Interest.

I was at a conference years ago where most of the participants were for-profit executives with a few public servants. In a casual conversation, one fellow made reference to increase profitability and how that is the objective of all of us.  One fellow in the conversation (WA state budget director) said, “Not all of us.”  And we all laughed.  Then he added the comment that made the conversation memorable:  “For me, it’s the good of the people.”

In order to achieve “the good of the people”, government must be smart enough to look beyond Big Oil’s self-interested uber-funded lobbying efforts that would have us continue our masochistic addiction to oil.  There should be a clear bi-partisan national policy to encourage economic clean and renewable energy and discourage use of oil, in the same way that we discourage use of tobacco.  Yet billions in subsidies continue to be funneled to the oil industry.  That must change to assure a stable continuation of the republic.


SunShot Initiative

We agree with and support the SunShot Initiative.

I wrote earlier this week about the California legislature moving toward making a law that 33% of the utilities power has to come from renewable sources by 2020. I said that I feel that is not a responsible approach.

The SunShot Initiative is a much more effective approach in focusing industry and public attention.  It zeros in on what needs to change–the economics of the industry–by challenging us to reduce solar energy cost by 75%.   The widespread, enthusiastic adoption of renewable energy will become a reality only when it is economically viable.  With the SunShot Initiative, Steven Chu and his team are precisely on target with this objective.

When I attended the Photovoltaic Summit in January, I was discouraged when many of the industry old-timers used words like “pipe dream”,  “ridiculously optimistic”, and “never gonna happen” in describing their feelings about theSunShot.  That is the same attitude that defines Solar as a mature industry that is bound to fleeting government subsidies for success.

Much more encouraging was a forward-looking article in Next 100 by Jonathan Marshall that was looking for solutions in each part of the value chain of solar power delivery.  The brief article identified some of the challenges, highlighting some of the reductions in cost that need to be achieved.   I believe that this is the type of thinking, in ever-increasing detail, that the entire solar industry should focus on to achieve our objective.

If our industry will take the approach of finding solutions instead of throwing their hands up with a “this-is-the-way-things-are” attitude, we will achieve grid parity in solar. That is why companies such as Solar3d are working from the ground level to achieve this goal.  We are here to help mankind access the sun for its energy needs.  We are supposed to do it as a human family.  It will only be done if the economics are right.  Our new solar cell will be one step toward that objective.


Solar and National Security

The last few weeks have seen turmoil in the middle east that has resulted in a dramatic up tick in oil prices that have rolled out all the way to our gas pumps. It is not relevant that the cost of the oil that is being sold as gasoline at the pumps is half of the current spot price–the way gasoline is currently priced is an economic fact of life. The sooner government quits subsidizing big oil, the faster innovation and implementation of next generation clean and renewable energy will free us from the oil addiction.

Perhaps more importantly, we must free ourselves of our dependence on oil for national security. At a conference that participated in a few years ago, I heard Victor Davis Hansen (former farmer, now a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution) speak. Afterwards, I asked him how we will ever achieve peace in the middle east. His response was: we can’t really hope for permanent peace in the middle east. But we can make the middle east irrelevant to our lives and land by creating an economy free of imported oil.

The way to do that is to motivate innovation of renewable substitutes for oil, and invest in new nuclear.  It is not enough however to know that renewable energy is better. It must be more economical.  Hence our dedication to a more efficient and less expensive 3-dimensional solar cell.