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Is Energy Technology Our Last Chance?

I know, I'm unfashionably late to the renewable energy party with this posting.  I've wanted to write about it for a couple of weeks now, since Governor Brewer hosted Arizona's Renewable Energy Future Summit at ASU SkySong.  Instead, I've been writing about our seemingly inexorable budget crisis, about Arizona taxes and fiscal reform.

But I realized that the issues are connected (and I've said this before): energy technology is the key to our competitive advantage, to rebuilding a stronger and more sustainable economy (which of course, is one of the keys to fiscal stability). 

As Thomas Friedman put it:

"...we are now in a hyper-competitive global economy, where the country that thrives will be the one that brings together the most educated, creative and diverse work force with the best infrastructure - bandwidth, ports, airports, high-speed rail and good governance.  And we're in a world with a warming climate that is growing from 6.8 billion people to 9.2 billion by 2050, so demand for clean energy is going to go through the roof.  Therefore, ET - energy technology - is going to be the next great global industry."

In her speech at the April 15 conference Governor Brewer echoed the sentiment of other Arizona policymakers when she said she wants Arizona to become the "Solar Capitol of the World."  In the two weeks since then, Yingli, the second largest solar-panel manufacturer in China and the fourth largest in the world, announced  that it is considering Chandler to locate its first U.S. factory.  The plant would bring 318 new jobs to the Valley but even more importantly, it would serve as another sign that Arizona is indeed the place for solar energy companies to be.  For that reason, Scarlett Spring, chief operating officer of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council called the potential move a "game changer."  Let's hope it happens.

Certainly Arizona "competes" with other states for solar technology jobs and investment.  But I cheer nevertheless, when I see energy technology development in other U.S. states - at least they're here, and not in Germany, Spain, or China.  So I was thrilled to read this morning that regulators had approved the first offshore wind farm in the U.S.  Of the decision, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said "we are beginning a new direction in our nation's energy future."  And, I would add, our economic future as well.

But then there have been some developments that that are outright disheartening in the United States' race to lead global energy technology development.  Like the decision made by Applied Materials, a U.S. Silicon Valley company that makes the machines that make sophisticated solar panels.  Last fall the company decided to open the world's largest commercial solar research and development center in Xian, China.

Ending her speech two weeks ago Governor Brewer said, "Having the sunshine and having the technology to harness it is only part of the story. The rest of the story has yet to be written."  We better get typing, because if we don't write these next chapters - for our energy industry, our climate, and our economy - China will write them for us.

Check out the presentations from Arizona's Renewable Energy Future Summit

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Written on Wednesday, 28 April 2010 17:21 by Gary Yaquinto

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