The U.S. is About to Get Smoked

Commonwealth%20Club 6%20crop The U.S. is About to Get Smoked

California will miss its 20% RPS target in 2010, and the very issuesthat caused the state to miss its 2010 goal will persist as we slogtoward a 33% RPS goal by 2020. So say some folks that ought to know.

Last night, Climate One and the Commonweatlh Club of Californiahosted a roundtable with four highly successful professionals, eachdedicated to achieving California’s aggressive RPS goals while alsoestablishing a robust clean tech industry that creates and keeps jobsin the state of California. On stage was (L to R) a pro-renewablechairman of the California Public Utility Commission, Mike Peevey, anexecutive from a progressive utility, Nancy McFadden of PG&E, a CEOfrom the #1 solar capital equipment company, Mike Splinter of AppliedMaterials, a practical environmentalist, Bob Epstein of Environmental Entrepreneurs, and, no, that’s not an oxymoron, as well as moderator, Greg Dalton founder of Climate One.

Individually these are impressive people and collectively you (read:me) could easily assume that if only this gang of four aligned ongoals, opportunities, and barriers to address, then rapidly scalingsolar in California would be vastly simplified.

If you (read: me) made that assumption, you (read: I) would be wrong.

After the hour I left somewhat discouraged. There was nodisagreement and all aligned (at least publicly): we don’t need newtechnology breakthroughs; solar is becoming cost effective today; solaris important and can scale but we need all forms of energy in ourportfolio; and we need an effective federal energy policy.

The solution, they said, is within our grasp. But each panelistexpressed profound frustration at the rigidity of government.Frustration at the pace and complexity of decision making coveringscores of federal, state, local agencies that need to act in concert.Frustration at the myriad land use issues surrounding transmission andrenewable power plant development. Frustration that agreements getsigned but nothing happens. Frustration at the lack of accountability.(The Federal Bureau of Land Management and the California Department ofFish and Game were mentioned several times.)

Meanwhile, China is cranking away and is poised to capture thesupply line of another industry. Fifty percent of all modulemanufacturing is now in China; that’s double from a few years ago. Thepoint isn’t new and Thomas Friedman wrotepassionately about this back in September. However, somewhatironically, all the panelists sounded downright wistful when discussingChina’s ability to accelerate and forge action given their centralcommand and control. And when asked the ONE thing they would changeboth Peevy and McFadden suggested an uninspiring call for moregovernment cooperation.

The most positive thing I heard was Bob Epstein talk about theenormous economic leverage a community can gain if it stops exportingenergy $$ and, instead, develops a self-sustaining local ecosystem – anecosystem that manufactures solar panels and deploys those panels inlocally built solar farms. Instead of sending your precious energy $$to, say, Canada to buy natural gas, those same energy dollars are usedto locally manufacture energy which fuel local jobs and economicdevelopment. Re-circulating those dollars has a multiplier effect.Epstein estimated a 50:1 leverage. If you’re serious about developing arobust industry, focus on keeping the jobs local and building out thesupply chain. Without knowing it, Bob was describing what we at AppliedMaterials are calling fab2farm- a solar deployment model that links communities, utilities and solarpanel manufacturers to meet peak energy needs while generating billionsin local economic development.

It was good to see accomplished leaders dedicated to addressingchange. The alternative could be far worse, such as a place where theutility commission and utilities are full of climate denialists. But ifthis is the best it gets, we have to ask ourselves, are we (the U.S.)still going to get smoked?