Cleveland Rocks!

That’s the motto for Cleveland, it being the home of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

For those of us who care about the clean tech arena, Cleveland also rocks because the area is making bets on advanced energy technologies. Many local constituencies recognize that the clean energy sector represents a tremendous opportunity for the region to pursue a new front for economic growth.

And so it is that I have decided to move to Cleveland and attempt to make an impact there. Effective last week, I have accepted a role at The Cleveland Foundation to lead regional efforts to build and catalyze economic activity in advanced energy technologies.

Press Release

I suspect that many of those in clean tech would be surprised at Cleveland’s interest level and current activities in developing commercial activity in advanced energy. With this posting, I invite you to contact me at the Foundation to learn more about what’s going on in Northeast Ohio. Who knows? Maybe you will find out, as I have, that Cleveland is a land of great opportunity.

A Tale of Two Companies

The strength of the PV market over the past year has enabled rapid growth for many companies and not just among the big boys. I am struck by the progress of Evergreen Solar and the similarity with a much smaller company, EPOD.

A year ago Evergreen was a small company whose revenues were growing fast – $23.5 million in 2004, up from $9.3 million the year before. They have grown again in 2005 to $44 million, but it is not the growth that attracts me – in last year’s climate, everyone with product to sell did that – rather it is some of the deals they have struck.

• In July, they broke ground on a 30MW solar wafer, cell and module manufacturing plant in Germany in a collaboration with Q-Cells called EverQ. Established in 1999, Q-Cells is one of the world’s largest solar cell manufacturers in terms of production output and is the largest group-independent manufacturer of crystalline silicon cells in the world. The plant is scheduled to come fully on stream this summer. Given the buoyancy of the German market this was a good move.

• In November, the Norwegian solar silicon manufacturer REC joined EverQ. In return for 15% equity REC, gave a 7 year supply guarantee (of solar grade silicon ) – 60 metric tons per year to Evergreen and 190 to EverQ, with potential to increase the supply. Given the current silicon supply pressure this seems an even better move!

• Then in between November and February they announced three impressive four year sales agreements:

o $70 million to Powerlight with potential to increase it to $170 million.

o $100 Million Sales Agreement with S.A.G. Solarstrom AG , builds and operates solar power stations, and sells the generated energy to corporations and utility companies. Sounds almost like a captive market.

o $88 Million Contract With Global Resource Options a Vermont-based solar power distributor and system integrator.

Before these deals, Evergreen had a fully fledged marketing department and was working on the design of new roofing applications. With their production apparently sold, they no longer need to make their own end products and the marketing team has been disbanded. Hard on the team, but good result in terms of lowering costs!

Now consider the case of EPOD – a very much smaller, Canadian company specializing in power management. Essentially a startup, they appear to have reported no revenues in 2004. Although operating on a different scale, here are the parallels with Evergreen:

• In July they set up a German subsidiary and formed a solar panel (amorphous silicon) and BIPV joint venture Heliodomi S.A. These are to give them manufacturing and marketing capability in Europe, especially Germany. Given the better profitability of the German market compared to North America. This should allow them to maximize whatever potential they have with their own PV product, inverters and power management expertise.

• While they have not secured any silicon supply guarantees, their dependence
on amorphous silicon makes this moot although their growth may be limited
by manufacturing capacity.

• In August they announced their first sale in Germany (100kW) and this was followed in January with their first California sale. In August they announced
that their production is committed through 2007.

Sales figures excite many, if not most but they are only part of the story. The robust growth demonstrated above, does not describe companies making big profits! Evergreen reported a net loss of $17.3 million last year and EPOD had a smaller loss only because its expenses were only a fraction of Evergreen’s.

$1 Billion Rare Isotope Accelerator Delayed 5 Years

Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman has informed Congress that the $1 billion Rare Isotope Accelerator (RIA) will be pushed back five years. The massive superconducting accelerator was intended to be the world’s leading facility for exploring the fields of nuclear structure and astrophysics in areas that are central to applied fields such as energy, security, and medicine.

Regardless of one’s political, ecological, economic, or philosophical perspective, nuclear energy will continue to be a very big piece of the energy puzzle for the next several decades, at the very least. While the bulk of this will come from fission, there is considerable effort being made to develop fusion energy as well. Given the importance of fission and fusion, it is strange that R&D on atomic nuclei—the part of the atom that produces nuclear energy—is being put on the back burner by the DOE.

“The main sources of energy in the universe, and on earth, are fusion and fission,” commented Witek Nazarewicz, Scientific Director for Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility at Oak Ridge National Lab. “If we say that we are not interested in how fusion and fission work, we are giving up an important, strategic area of knowledge for human civilization.”

As it stands, President Bush’s proposed 14% budget increase for the DOE’s Office of Science reportedly does not provide enough funding for continuation of the program in 2007, and it is possible that Congress’s final budget will be lower. Hence it is hoped that, at best, R&D on RIA will continue with $5 to $6M budgeted per year until a preliminary engineering design could be prepared, hopefully by 2011.

Politicians and Physicists Miffed

Despite RIA’s troubled past (see Superconductor Week, issue 1904), many in the physics community expressed surprise at the announcement. One official working closely with the DOE on the project commented: “We got very mixed signals from the DOE. One day we were being told that we needed to finish our proposal quickly to get RIA in the FY07 budget, and the next day Bodman announced pushing the project back.”

Even insiders such as U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) seem to have been taken off guard. Only days before Bodman announced the decision to slow development of RIA, Durbin had met with Bodman and issued a statement that the DOE was in the process of finalizing the decision for the placement of RIA—Argonne National Lab and Michigan State University have been competing to host the experiment.

Durbin has often stressed the importance of funding RIA, and he expressed “serious concern” in early February that the Bush administration had yet to provide funds to move forward with the RIA site selection process. Indeed, many in Congress are increasingly disappointed with the Bush administration’s mixed support of basic research in the FY2007 budget (see Superconductor Week, issue 2003). The Ranking Democrat of the House Science Committee, Bart Gordon (D-TN), remarked: “The good news in this budget request is the proposed increase in Federal R&D. The bad news is that that increase is less than the projected rate of inflation.

“Once again, we are investing less than the rate of inflation at a time when many of our international competitors are increasing their investment in science and technology research faster than ever before. Even more alarming is the fact that the Administration’s Science and Technology investment is actually decreasing.” The Federal Science and Technology budget is a good method to evaluate research funding because it represents the amount of funding directed towards the creation of new knowledge and technologies as opposed to development activities.

Basic Research Key to Energy Independence

The U.S. has both the greatest energy needs and the greatest budget to spend on R&D—a fact which prompted an official close to the RIA project to comment: “It is absolutely ironic that everybody in the world can see benefits to building this kind of physics—which has considerable potential benefits to society—and the U.S. cannot.”

President Bush has stated that the U.S. must pursue technology development as a central pillar of our national energy strategy. Yet it would seem the federal government is unwilling to pursue key research initiatives needed for U.S. leadership in the basic research at the heart of energy technology. Indeed, in some areas, U.S. leadership is already diminishing, or has been lost outright.

It is indeed ironic that the major reason given by the President for pursuing energy-related technology was based on the strategic need to loosen our dependence on other nations for energy, yet the future may hold another form of energy dependence in store for us—only this time it will be on foreign technology, foreign intellectual property, and foreign researchers, rather than foreign oil.

Mark Bitterman, Executive Editor, Superconductor Week

Newly Formed Relationship Between and

I am pleased to announce a newly formed relationship between (RES), and that will see a merger of quality blog content covering the renewable energy industry. This partnership will incorporate blog postings from the Clean Energy News Blog written by our own weekly renewable energy columnist Catherine Lacoursiere, the RES blog covering market opportunities prepared by yours truly, and the group of highly talented bloggers and industry professionals that comprise the Cleantechblog. This syndication will be available on

In other news: Neal Dikeman, founder of the Cleantechblog, will be presenting at our upcoming online energy conference being held April 26th, 2006 on For additional information on the conference please visit: Working towards a diversified energy portfolio

About (RES) is an investor and industry news portal for the renewable energy sector. The RES website does not make recommendations, but offers a unique free information portal to research news, exclusive articles and columns, online audio interviews, renewable energy blogs, investor conferences and a growing list of participating public companies in the sector.

80 PLUS™ Not the Average ‘Wall Wart’

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Years ago, while doing technical marketing for a Unix system integrator, I lugged a mini computer and its paraphernalia to product demonstrations using a two-wheeled cart. I secured the clunky mass with bungee cords. The power supply – used by each of the dumb terminals of this Unix system – was called a ‘brick.’ Then, the ‘brick’ was bigger than a red-clay brick, heavier than a red-clay brick, and once plugged into electrical current, heated up like a red-clay brick baking in blazing sun. But it was black, as are most all power supplies (time to call Ideo).

Power supplies are the devices that convert incoming high voltage ac power from wall outlets into low voltage dc power needed by various electronic products. Power supplies can be internal to the product they are powering, as with televisions, or external, as with cellular and cordless phones. While the form factor of the ‘brick’ has slimmed down over the last 20 years, its energy consumption remains piggish. And, it has garnered more colorful names, too, like ‘wall wart’ for the bulky protuberance affixed to an outlet or power strip.

Run Cool, Run Reliably, Run With 80 PLUS™

In 2001, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) initiated a study of power supply energy efficiency and retained Ecos Consulting to “conduct initial research into the number of power supplies in use, their basic applications and technologies, energy efficiency differences, and national energy saving opportunities. Ecos found that improvements in power supply efficiency could save more than 1% of all U.S. electricity use. This would not require the invention of better power supplies, but the expansion of market opportunities for the highly efficient technologies that already exist.”

So began Ecos’ mission to transform the market of computer-based plug loads via energy-efficient power supplies…called 80 PLUS™. The name comes from the program’s requirement that the power supply for a desktop computer or desktop-derived server be at least 80% efficient at 20%, 50% and 100% operating loads, and have a power factor of 0.9 or better at full rated load.

Five years later, Kent Dunn, Senior Program Manager for 80 PLUS, describes the program’s well-turned channel marketing strategy – which he dubs “guerilla marketing.” The strategy is multi-pronged and involves outreach directly to multiple stakeholders: utility sponsors (which provide program funding) and two industry sectors (power supply suppliers and the computer industry). Not to overlook federal agencies and standards, Ecos corresponded with the Environmental Protection Agency to find synergies and establish a good working relationship. (80 PLUS power supply specifications were, ultimately, included in proposed EPA 2006 ENERGY STAR® desktop standards, according to the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, one of the program’s funders. These new standards are scheduled to go into effect the end of 2006, along with standards for desktop computers operating in active mode; standards already exist for sleep, or stand-by, mode.)

To fuel market transformation through a business-to-business, one-to-one strategy – one aimed to build awareness and interest with these multiple stakeholders – things had to happen in concert. In keeping with Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” guidelines, Ecos chose and coordinated its discrete markets and channels carefully.

Utilities. Ecos established partnerships – through direct outreach, events, and large meetings with existing sponsors – with utilities in markets experiencing very high electricity rates or those known to be progressive, such as those in the Northeast, California and Canada. Targeted utilities include those on the West Coast, in the Pacific Northwest and some interior mountain states, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, and the Midwest. Adds Dunn, 80 PLUS has great representation in Canada.

“Though the energy efficiency benefits of better power supplies are compelling, the non-energy benefits may be even more important to the companies that purchase power supplies for their finished products, the retailers that sell them, and the consumers that buy them. Highly efficient power supplies tend to be smaller, lighter in weight, and more convenient. They operate at cooler temperatures, contain fewer parts, and are likely to result in greater product reliability.” NRDC: Power Supplies – A Hidden Opportunity for Energy Savings

Power Suppliers. Ecos solicits mostly (and directly) in China (Taiwan, specifically) as well as to representatives of the power supply industry in the States (California, primarily). Dunn says “this is very guerilla marketing…phone calls, encouragement, market benefits, differentiating opportunity to them.” He says suppliers can see the advantages to those suppliers that get a leg up on market demand. And, they see that ENERGY STAR is going to push for energy efficiency (so, it’s in the interest of power suppliers to begin adoption).

“The principal challenge is that the purchaser of the power supply is not the one that pays the electric bill. While the consumer pays the electric bill, it is the large companies such as Sony, Hewlett Packard, and Black and Decker that buy the power supplies for use in their TVs, computers, cordless telephones, and portable vacuums and power tools. This is a classic split incentive case where the purchaser, of the power supplies, is not the one that benefits directly from the reduced electricity bills.” Ibid.

Computer industry. Ecos understands the main barrier to adoption facing the computer industry: slim margins. However, according to Dunn (and Sun Microsystems, see below), the industry also sees that energy efficiency is now technically feasible…it can be good PR…its energy and non-energy benefits are measurable…and there are tools (like 80 PLUS) to make it possible. With ENERGY STAR standards fast approaching for computers operating in active mode, it behooves the industry to co-brand with 80 PLUS, as the language and specs will be the same as these new federal standards. Says Dunn, the incentives are there for the computer industry to do supply changes and implement new product into their supply line. These external forces help along Ecos’ ‘guerilla marketing’ efforts.

Consumer Marketing, Co-Branding
I asked Dunn if the public would see the 80 PLUS logo in retail stores any time soon. He said it won’t show up in retail for some time, but that Ecos has already completed marketing and style guides to share with industry, along with approved language and creative. However, computer retailers are already running advertisements that can be heard on the 80 PLUS website (“Every business wants to reduce costs and everyone wants to save energy. Computer Systems West can help you do both. As a comprehensive technology company, Computer Systems West is always looking for ways to provide the most cost-effective computers for their clients. Now Computer Systems West offers 80 PLUS power supplies…it’s good for the environment and good for business…”).

Dunn said that after the computer industry gets involved, the marketing money will be made available by utilities to work with the computer industry to sell product to consumers. Ecos is talking with some of the big Tier 1 OEMs like Apple and Hewlett-Packard, as well as system integrators. They are working with the small and the large and moving through a targeted customer list. Again, it looks like Geoffrey Moore would be pleased.

Eschewing advertising and favoring direct sales, of a sort, Ecos created a suite of standard marketing collateral and technical material with consistent messaging, including pull sheets such as 80 PLUS Benefits, Power Quality, 80 PLUS Reliability, 80 PLUS Procurement Guidelines, and a list of Approved Products. Their website is clean, informative and current. This collateral is standard marketing delivery for the computer industry.

Followers or leaders? In February 2006, Sun Microsystems held a joint conference with the EPA to market its push for SWaP (space, wattage and performance) – energy efficiency metrics for data center servers. It may be just a marketing campaign, but they’re saying all the right stuff…“Sun’s sponsorship of the conference also builds upon the company’s continued effort to address global environmental concerns by delivering innovative and “eco-responsible” products to market. As a technology-driven company, Sun’s prime contribution to eco-responsibility is centered on innovation which not only benefits customer’s business, but also helps to benefit the environment, including improving energy efficiency, choosing less harmful materials, and encouraging reuse and recycling.” Sun says it’s time for the equivalent of the hybrid engine of the processing world, and that it has been working to reduce the energy demands of computing and networking for many years.

OK, but special thanks must go to Ecos Consulting for spurring energy-efficient technology forward, for acting as a conductor to orchestrate multiple stakeholders in good time.

More Technical Summary on Solar Concentrators from The Energy Blog

Jim Fraser of the Energy Blog wrote an excellent follow-up to our discussion on solar PV concentrators, with a lot of depth of several of the various technologies, which I felt merited its own posting on CleantechBlog. With minor edits, his note is below:

Excuse a few technicalities to keep the terminology clear. Solar energy devices can be divided into three types; 1) photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, composed of a number of PV cells, these are the type that are seen on the roofs of homes and covert solar energy directly into electricity 2) thermal systems that use concentrators to magnify the solar radiation so that it is more powerful. This concentrated thermal energy is then used to heat a fluid to a high enough temperature so that it can drive some sort of a generator to make electricity. These systems are of two types solar dish systems and solar trough systems and 3) concentrating solar photovoltaic systems that focus solar energy on an expensive, but very efficient PV cell, which can tolerate the more intensive solar energy.

These systems can either use a lens or mirrors to do the concentrating. An overview of concentrating solar power can be found in my blog.

Only some of these products use plastic Fresnel lenses, other use some form of a mirror which have less distortion and are more efficient. Most of these systems use advanced multi-junction solar cells developed by NASA with an efficiency approaching 40%, compared to the 12-22% efficiency achieved by cells used in typical solar panels. Their high cost is justified by reducing the number of cells by a factor of 25 or more in most systems. The concentration factor is limited to 250 to prevent degradation of the cells.

Energy Innovations was started by Bill Gross the entrepreneur behind NetZero, FreePC, CitySearch, eToys,, FirstLook and several other dotcom companies. Their product, the 25X Sunflower uses utilizes 25 – 1′ x 1′ mirrors that concentrate the sunlight by a factor of 25 and focus the light on a photovoltaic receiver which produces 200 watts of electricity. The system, as do most concentrating systems, uses an active tracking system to follow the sun in order to capture as much of the suns energy as possible. They claim their system would cost about $4.50 per watt installed, which is 25-50% less than traditional PV systems. My post on Energy Innovations is on my blog.

I was not at all familiar with Prism Solar, but a brief look at their technology indicates that they are using two stage (read 2X concentration) mirror like optics combined with holographic techniques to both concentrate and divide the light into the most desirable spectrums. The ability to select the desirable part of the light spectrum enables them to collect more sunlight at dawn and dusk. They call this passive tracking. They claim their system reduces the number of cells required by 50 to 85% and cuts the cost about in half compared to traditional solar panels. Using only 2X concentration allows then to use normal relatively low cost solar cells.

I couldn’t find any technical information on Whitfield Solar. They have artists renderings of their products on their website which don’t tell much. Three other companies in this arena, that you didn’t mention are Amonix, Sunball and SolFocus.

Amonix, which was established in 1989, uses plastic Fresnel lenses to concentrate the sun by a factor of 250 onto 26.5% efficient solar cells to produce 5 kW panels that are mounted to a tracking system. Amonix is focusing on utility scale applications. They announced in 2005 that they have plans to install a 3 megawatt system in the southwestern U.S. They also have a joint venture with Spain’s Guascor to build a 10 megawatt system in 2006. Installed costs of $3.00 per watt at production rates of 10 megawatts per year are anticipated.

Australian Green and Gold Energy has developed the SunBall rooftop solar concentrator which comes in two models, a 42 W model and a 1.3 kW model. They use a plastic Fresnel lens to achieve their concentration onto a high efficiency solar cell. They just started delivering the small unit and will start shipping the larger unit as soon as they iron out some supply problems. They anticipate that their units will be competitive with grid power in the sunniest parts of the country and slightly higher in the northern regions. Export to the US is anticipated later in the year. Initially their intended market is homes and small businesses. See my post at The Energy Blog for more information.

SolFocus who is collaborating with Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center is the most recent and one of the most innovative of these companies. They use precisely shaped curved optical mirrors molded or stamped from glass to focus sunlight on the solar cell. They point out that their optics are more efficient than a Fresnel lens. They end up with modules that are only slightly thicker than a conventional PV panel. Their design has been highly influenced by the ability to mass produce their product. Initially the installed cost is expected to be $5.00 per watt but in mass production they are targeting an installed cost of $1.00 per watt which is competitive with grid power. See my post at for more information.

Concentrating solar photovoltaic systems are still but one of several technologies in the run for the lowest cost solar technology. Currently the solar dish and solar trough technologies are believed to be the lowest cost of the solar technologies. A 354 megawatt complex built in California during the 80’s is still operating efficiently and delivering power to the grid with high reliability. Significant improvements in the optics, mechanical fabrication and the tracking system have been made since the original plants were built.

There are about eight plants of over 100 megawatts in capacity under construction in California, Israel, Nevada, Portugal and Spain. Six different companies are supplying the plants. The cost of electricity from these plants will be less that that from natural gas plants but more than from conventional power plants or wind power. Efficiency of scale and cost reductions discovered during this construction boom are hoped to keep them competitive in the future.

Thin film solar is finally coming into its own and production volumes are being ramped up to hundreds of megawatts of capacity. They are taking advantage of the severe shortage of silicon that is preventing significant growth of producers of the more expensive, but more proven conventional silicon solar cells. Cost projections by Daystar and ECD Ovonics, who are the leaders in this technology, indicate that costs of $1.00 per watt may be possible when they reach gigawatt production capacity. Daystar expects to reach that milestone by 2008 and Ovonics will lag by a few years.

The technology seems to be very sound as compared to some questions that were raised a few years ago. A recent happening was that Shell sold off its silicon cell production facilities in order to concentrate on its thin film product. (See Previous Cleantech Blog post by Peter Beadle) Sharp, the leading silicon cell producer, with capacity already near a gigawatt, expects that their costs will be cut in half by 2010. Evergreen who makes thinner silicon cells, by a different process than the rest of the industry, is making some inroads due to the lower silicon content of its cells. The eventual winner of the race to produce the lowest cost solar power is not going to be determined for quite awhile, but some strong indications should be available by 2010.

BP And Edison Plan $1 Billion 500MW Hydrogen Power Plant

Energy giants BP and Edison are considering investing $1 billion for a new use of hydrogen – generating electricity on a large scale. Instead of this large scale plant using coal, natural gas or nuclear, it will use hydrogen. The plant would be in Carson, California, near BP’s current oil-refining operations that heavily use hydrogen to produce cleaner, high-octane gasoline. BP America Inc. and Edison Mission Group, an unregulated subsidiary of Edison International, said Feb. 10 that they plan to develop a $1 billion, 500-MW hydrogen-fueled power plant near Los Angeles that will generate power with minimal carbon dioxide emissions. This would increase use of hydrogen in California by 2 million metric tons per year.

The project would also hinge, in part, on using financial incentives included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 for advanced gasification power technology. Petroleum coke produced at California refineries would first be converted to hydrogen and CO2 gases, and around 90% of the CO2 would be captured and separated.

The hydrogen gas stream would be used to fuel a gas turbine to generate electricity. The captured CO2 would be transported by pipeline to an oilfield and injected into reservoir rock formations thousands of feet underground, both stimulating additional oil production and permanently trapping the CO2.

BP announced a similar project in Scotland in June 2005 and shortly afterward Edison Mission contacted BP about teaming up for such a project in the United States.

Refineries in the South Bay and Harbor Area create about 17,000 tons of petroleum coke a day during the production of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, officials said. BP Carson, which makes the Arco brand, alone, creates about 4,000 tons a day. The coke is not thrown away. It is often shipped to Asia, where it is simply burned as a fuel.

The BP-Edison project would consume about 5,000 tons per day, according to Ted Craver, CEO of the Edison Mission Group, the Edison subsidiary which will work on the project.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger chatted with BP and Edison executives as he briefly strolled through the Watson site, where the light-green units burn a mixture of 70 percent natural gas and 30 percent refining gases to produce electricity for the refinery and for Edison to distribute to the state’s power grid.

Construction could begin as soon as 2008 and could be completed by 2011, when it will provide about 150 permanent jobs. Edison executive Craver said there is a similar plant in Scotland, but nothing else like it in the U.S. For more details:

John Addison is the author of the book Revenue Rocket (Executive Summary at and the upcoming book Cleantech Marketing. Since 2002, John has been a Board member of the California Hydrogen Business Council ( John Addison is president of OPTIMARK Inc. a firm that helps with marketing strategy and partner development. He is a popular speaker in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

A National Crash Project for Alternative Energy?

It is sometimes suggested that the U.S. should undertake a no-holds-barred crash program for developing alternative energy technologies, similar in scope to the Manhattan Project for the atomic bomb or the Apollo Project for moon travel.

While I agree that far more R&D on alternative energy technologies would be a good thing, and that the government has a valid role in stimulating efforts in that aim, I’m pretty sure that a project like Manhattan/Apollo for alternative energy simply wouldn’t work.

This is because there are two major differences between solving our energy challenges and either building an atomic bomb or landing a man on the moon.

First, it would be difficult to set a meaningful final goal for an alternative energy program. How exactly would success be defined? In Apollo, the goal was to send a man to the moon and bring him (male chauvinists!) back by 1970. For Manhattan, it was to build a deliverable atomic bomb as quickly as possible, before Hitler did. These were unambiguously clear and motivating goals. For energy, well, what? Should the goal be to completely eliminate the use of oil? To completely eliminate the use of all fossil fuels? Neither seems even remotely plausible in any time horizon of less than three decades – an impossibly long time to maintain focus. Should the goal be to create a solar cell that costs $0.25/watt? A fuel cell that costs $25/kw? Picking any particular technology to focus on, or any economic/performance threshold to achieve, will invariably be arbitrary and of dubious inspirational value.

Second, it’s hard to see how a major alternative energy effort led by the government wouldn’t lead to nationalization of all subsequent energy industrial activity – a potentially miserable outcome. The previous analogues are instructive: in both atomic weapons and space travel, stemming from their respective mega-projects, the government is the only buyer of the resulting product. There are essentially no markets, and hence no pricing mechanism to allocate economic resources. Entrepreneurial activity is limited to vendors in the supply chain – most of whom are members of the vaunted military/industrial complex. You think you hate ExxonMobil and Halliburton and your local regulated monopoly utility today? You think they lobby too much now? You think they’re too powerful? You think too much corruption derives from them? Imagine a world after an alternative energy program that has been driven by the government, where these companies and their peers negotiate contracts through bidding programs with government agencies for sole-source public supply of energy. As important as it is to dramatically advance alternative energy, I don’t want to see the $900 toilet seat coming to the energy sector.

So, I would submit that we need to think of more creative ways for the government to spur on the massive increase in alternative energy R&D that we badly need. Perhaps it’s well-funded grant programs competitively selected by unbiased expert panels associated with clearly-defined technical/economic challenges. Perhaps it’s tax deductions equal to qualified energy R&D expenditures.

Or, perhaps it’s just an appropriately high carbon tax, to drive fossil fuel prices faced by customers to levels sufficiently high to motivate more energy R&D. I bet we’d be amazed at what $10 gas and 50 cent/kwh electricity would bring out of the woodwork.
Nah, that’s too logical. It’s far more dramatic for politicians and pundits to grab the spotlight and ask for a Manhattan/Apollo program for alternative energy, which has no chance of coming to fruition or succeeding.