Ecotopia Westly for Governor, Westly for Solar

Updated: 2006 March 12 at 10:00 AM


I focus here on California activities which are on the cutting edge of renewable energy. California has great potential, perhaps even the greatest potential, to overcome the energy challenges faced by humanity. I have characterized each of these as a "Photo Op" and I believe we could recruit large numbers of solar advocates to participate in special solar energy and advanced transportation events with Steve in order to draw media attention to the issue. But they could also be effective if they had to be staged as "virtual Photo Ops" in the interest of time.

While Germany and Japan have come forth with political advances that have accelerated the global solar market, California is still the technology leader. Standing alone, California is the [6th? 8th?] largest economy in the world.

A hundred years ago, long before Texas and Saudi Arabia got into the oil business, California was the world's largest producer of oil. Today California has the technological expertise and Silicon Valley manufacturing savvy to become the "Saudi Arabia" of advanced renewable energy production. The only thing standing in the way is political advancement.

Until we have energy-savvy political leadership in the White House, that leadership has to come from Sacramento.

It may seem that the Republican administration has done a lot -- after all, the Governor did an end-run and persuaded the CPUC to approve $3 billion for solar, when Democrats shot themselves in the foot by voting down SB1 over prevailing wage provisions. But because of global warming and oil depletion threats, we are still doing far too little. Sweden has declared that it is going off the oil habit by 2020. [Source] Why can't California do the same (or better)?!

More on this general theme under Solar and Transportation below.


Since there is common understanding that energy is becoming more expensive, and oil supplies could be interrupted due to political instability, a safe policy platform is to alert the public to our dilemma in terms of energy independence.

While the policy people know that the real challenge is oil depletion ... (after all, why would energy even be an issue if the USA had its own oil and gas reserves sufficient to meet our domestic needs for the long term?) ... it is politically savvy to ask, "How can we achieve energy independence?" Here are a couple of examples showing how this affects us all here in California:

Energy Mix

Graphic Overview

California Energy Sources

Electricity (2004)
   In-State 80.92%
     Natural Gas 41.9%
     Nuclear 12.9%
     Large Hydro 14.8%
     Coal* 19.8%
     Renewable 10.6%
   Imports 19.08%
     PNW 6.33%
     DSW 12.75%
California Oil Sources, 2005
From thousand barrels percent
Alaska 135,906 20.99%
California (& minor amount from Gulf of Mexico) 240,982 37.22%
Foreign 270,625 41.79%
Total 647,513 100.00%
Natural Gas (2004)
   In State 15.5%
   Canada 24.0%
   Rockies 24.3%
   Southwest 36.2%

California Electrical Energy Consumption in 2001
Residential 76,233 30%
Commercial 91,593 36%
Industrial 52,190 21%
Agriculture & Water Pumping 18,659 7%
Other 14,940 6%
Total Consumption 253,614 100%

Solar Energy

Solar Electricity

[Terminology: solar cells, solar panels, solar electric, "PV" are all better terms than "photovoltaics" -- a mouthful!]

In a world looking for more energy to meet growing demands, all the established forms and all the new forms of solar electricity are valid and important. As technology evolves there will continue to be a place for each type. The train wasn't eliminated when cars and diesel trucks came along -- trains took on a different role, handling long-distance freight and passenger service and urban commuting.

Curved solar mirrors that concentrate sunlight don't work in cloudy weather, so they are best in the deserts where direct sunlight is at its highest level. These solar thermal concentrators have the advantage of being able to store a portion of the energy produced in large insulated tanks as heat and thereby smooth out variations due to clouds or to extend generation into the early night-time, or they can be operated 24 hours a day with alternative fuels (biomass, gas or oil) during non day-light hours, thus extending their economic viability. (See more details below.)

Solar electric panels ("PV"), on the other hand, can be placed directly on buildings anywhere, from individual homes to large industrial plants, and they keep right on producing on a cloudy day.

As natural gas prices continue to rise, solar hot water heaters will also soon see a revival.

The important challenge is to assure that more and more, solar panels appear with the label "made in California." With new highly automated technology coming on line, solar can be manufactured competitively in California. And of course solar panels located in California will be installed by Californians. Imported oil means depleting bank accounts and lost jobs. Solar means jobs for Californians.


Solar Thermal Electric:

Kramer Junction
Click on image for aerial photo

[a color photo]
In California we have by far the largest commercial solar power facility in the world. To my knowledge, no politician has ever gone to that facility for a Photo Op. The 150 megawatt solar power plant is owned by the Kramer Junction Company.

"These solar facilities are referred to as "advantageous peak facilities," as they operate at their peak when it is sunniest, which is also when local power requirements are greatest, due to increased air conditioning demand... The facilities regulate their power supply through the use of supplemental natural gas-fueled electric generating plants."

"A large Solar Field [could] be added on to an existing fossil fuel power plant. The solar fields can serve to boost the electricity and cogeneration capacity (power, heat and cooling) of any size plant. The temperature, flow rate, and pressure of a fossil fuel power plant can be enhanced with the addition of solar fields. Power plants are able to achieve cost savings as well as take a role in reducing global warming."

Solar Water Heating:

Solar is the right answer for energy independence, including:

Solar Energy and Transportation


Additional References

Transportation in a post-cheap-oil world poses special challenges. If non-conventional fossil fuels are untenable and transportation is powered almost exclusively by liquid fuels, it is tempting to propose biomass as a substitute for oil. In the United States, 1 billion tons of biomass are managed each year. To meet all our energy needs, 7 billion tons more would be required. [Source] Obviously, electric airplanes or cargo ships are impractical, so biomass will play an important role in our energy future. But liquid fuels exclusively from plant material will be possible for transport at only about one-tenth the present level worldwide. Something has to give.

Considering society’s huge investment in the vehicle fleet and these limitations of biofuels, it is difficult to imagine the transformation of transportation to renewable energy sources. To make the shift, the premise that solar energy must be converted into fuel has to be challenged. A direct path from sunlight to electricity can be 10 times as efficient as photosynthesis. Solar energy can’t be touched or put into a bottle. Solar is radiant energy, not a solid, liquid or gas.

Therefore electricity from renewables is ideally suited for urban transportation. It is nonpolluting and well-suited for fixed guide rail and automated routing of traffic, and an electric vehicle is at least twice as efficient as a gasoline vehicle. We are ready for a good reason to get rid of the internal combustion engine in dense urban areas, where it is about as practical as a campfire in the kitchen. Efficiency in the face of oil depletion is that compelling reason.

Why put our infrastructure budget into more freeways while oil prices are rising and supplies are subject to interruption due to weakening oil industry infrastructure and political risks?

Plug-In Hybrids

Other Plug-In Hybrids

More EV Companies in California


When the oil is depleted, ethanol may provide for some of our fuel needs but it is not a solution by itself. As stated above, all biofuel production could meet 10% of USA transportation use as now configured, but this could be improved with plug-hybrid or pure electric vehicles.

PhotoSynthesis is only 1% efficient. Solar panels are at least 10% efficient. A Silicon Valley company, SunPower, offers solar panels that are 20% efficient.

Advanced, Smart Transportation

As the undisputed leaders in hybrid vehicle production, Japan has solved an energy problem, but they are still copying Henry Ford's 4-wheel design which doesn't solve our urban real estate problem.

So, fortunately, in addition to Plug-In Hybrids for the near term, there is a longer term high tech solution to our public transportation needs. As undisputed global technology leaders, Californians has answers that supercede Detroit's bungling. I'm suggesting that Steve Westly say this: "I have asked my team to work with California industry to come up with an Advanced, Smart Transportation solution that:

Photo Ops: Irvine and Livermore