G.E. MORTIMORE: Academia speeding along the solar revolution

Texas-style clean energy can strengthen B.C.'s framework of public power

With a brainwave that can push sun-power ahead of oil and coal, Texas A&M University is about to become the world’s first solar university.

A solar farm of up to 800 acres will generate all the electricity Texas A&M needs, plus enough surplus to light 20,000 homes. Surplus electricity will be sold through the local grid.

Given a little time, the Texas clean-power enterprise looks strong enough to outrun the whole fossil-fuel stable of oil, tar sands, underground gas and coal mines.

I believe organizers when they say the $600-million sun program, designed to save $250,000 a year, will start within six months and move forward phase by phase. The key to success is collaboration linking together 100 sun-power operators, ranging from those who use mirrors to boil water by sun heat and drive engines that generate electricity, to firms with assorted inventive visions that draw solar power directly from photovoltaic panels.

Today’s low-efficiency panels transform only a small part of the sunlight into electricity, but they are improving.

Members of the partnership, stirred by one another to hatch new ideas, can work together and raise the sun power industry to levels beyond today’s dreams, as well as provide training and new jobs for thousands of engineers and technicians.

This is a smart replacement for the wasteful Industrial Revolution process which frustrated inventors, when leaders in target markets failed to see the value of their machines. Such leaders included early 20th-century generals, admirals, postmasters and transportation chiefs who moved sluggishly in contriving uses for airplanes – a puzzle for the Wright brothers.

A story on theeagle.com, Texas A&M’s online voice trumpeted the advantage of having expertise and technology concentrated under one roof. University officials indicated solar technologies that normally take six to 10 years to commercialize will be produced in two years through the Centre.

Estimates are that between $400 million to $500 million worth of research will be done at the centre in the first five to six years of operation.

Canadians can take example and transform our lives by calculated investment in clean energy, rather than betting the whole bundle on dirty fossil fuels. So a conservative university in a Republican oil-producing state becomes a leader of technological co-operation for sun-power; and conservative truly blends with progressive.

By similar focused capitalism applied in different regions, including Vancouver Island, solar, tidal and wind power can be put to wide use, become efficient and avoid killing birds and fish.

Action in Texas is being mobilized by PPA Partners of California. That state has abundant sunshine, as Texas does, but political bureaucracy prevents California from putting its sunbeams to effective use.

The departure of long-time Texas governor Rick Perry has helped the state wriggle free from extreme right-wing control.

Perry and colleagues tried to coerce and dominate professors with such measures as a requirement that they read a set number of research papers each year. Perry will not run again, therefore Texas A&M can focus on research, teaching and calculated social change.

Texas-style clean energy can strengthen B.C.’s framework of public power, but that is another argument for another day.

George Mortimore is a longtime columnist with the Goldstream News Gazette.

 

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