The Time Is Right Now
By Brad Collins
The world faces a number of interrelated crises. Our climate is unstable, principally because we’re still polluting
the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Energy prices soar as petroleum supply tightens.
The rising costs of fertilizer, and fuel for tractors and transport, drive up food prices. A
global recession may be looming. These are
challenges we all face — but let us also be
clear that there’s one solution for them all.
The time for solar energy is right now.
The time for energy efficiency is right now.
The time for climate-sensitive green build-
ings is right now.
The time for green-collar jobs is right now.
The time for us to lead is right now!
As we do at each annual conference, in
May during SOLAR 2008 in San Diego we
were pleased to recognize the leadership role
of a number of individuals. We recognized
folks who have provided outstanding leadership in the past, and students who may do so
in the future. We listened to stirring speech-es by today’s leaders. (See page 50.)
We often overlook the leadership role of
governments and institutions. The San Diego
conference offered us a chance to acknowledge California’s part in leading progress in
the United States. California has the most
aggressive renewable portfolio standard in
the country — 20 percent by 2010. It has
launched the California Solar Initiative,
which will add 3,000 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity to new homes over the next
10 years. In October, California passed the
Solar Water-Heating and Efficiency Act — a
10-year effort that is the nation’s largest program to subsidize residential and commercial
solar water-heating systems. California’s Title
24 building code requires buildings to use
substantially less energy than the U.S. average. California has moved to reduce carbon
in buildings and transportation.
At ASES, we’ve had a duty to lead for 54
years. Here are some leadership jobs we’ve
taken on in the first eight years of the 21st
In 2002, under the strong urging of ASES
board member Gilbert Cohen, we led the
effort to roll back zeroing-out of concentrating solar power in the Department of Ener-
gy (DoE) budget. ASES
met privately with
David Garman both at
the ASES conference
and with his science
staff in Washington.
We petitioned them to
look at the analysis
and to support contin-
Brad Collins ued research on CSP.
In 2003 we chal-
lenged a “hydrogen roadmap” that proposed
production of hydrogen from coal plants
and nuclear reactors only. Under the effective
guidance of Chair Mike Nicklas, ASES provided nine renewable energy methodologies to
produce hydrogen. We included electrolysis
driven by photovoltaics, wind and other
clean electric sources, plus hydrogen-pro-ducing algae and biomass-fired pyrolysis.
Two years later DoE sponsored a solar hydrogen meeting in Maryland — which I thoroughly enjoyed.
At SOLAR 2006 in Denver, we focused on
the intersection of climate science and technologies for energy efficiency and renewable
energy. The result was our landmark, award-winning study: Tackling Climate Change in the
U.S.: Potential Carbon Emissions Reductions
from Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
This report has been accessed nearly half a
million times on the ASES website over the
past year (see ases.org/climatechange).
Last year, at the closing luncheon of
SOLAR 2007 in Cleveland, we introduced the
green collar jobs study funded by ASES. Called
Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency: Economic Drivers for the 21st Century, this study
provides the best data on the size and breadth
of the RE/EE industry in the United States. We
learned that in 2006 these industries represented 8. 5 million jobs and nearly $970 billion in annual revenue in the United States —
greater than the combined sales of Wal-Mart,
Exxon-Mobil and General Motors that year.
This study has been accessed as a free
download on the ASES website more than
300,000 times since it was posted this past
November (see ases.org), and it has been dis-
Progress depends on
our ability to muster
the political will to
make the requisite
investments and create
the requisite jobs.
tributed throughout Congress. It has been
highlighted numerous times in the national
media — including in The New York Times,
Chicago Tribune and Fortune Magazine — and
it was mentioned twice in a Time Magazine
cover story in April.
At SOLAR 2008, we focused on preparing a menu of options for policy makers to
choose from to accomplish the great challenges before us. Armed with a report from
James Hansen’s climate team at NASA, warning that we have just seven years to halt the
rise of greenhouse gases and just another
decade to begin reducing them, we are developing clear policy recommendations for the
At the conference, speaker after speaker
outlined the realistic contribution expected
from existing renewable energy technologies toward mitigating atmospheric carbon.
It’s now clear that, with existing photovoltaic, thermal solar, wind and ocean resources,
the world can, in fact, cut greenhouse gas
emissions by 80 percent over a realistic time
period, following the road map described in
Tackling Climate Change.
Progress depends on our ability to muster
the political will to make the requisite investments and create the requisite jobs.
Happily, we don’t need to know ahead of
time every curve in the road ahead. All we
really need to know is that the destination
exists, and is within reach. E.L. Doctorow
wrote “It’s like driving a car at night. You
never see farther than your headlights, but
you can make the whole trip that way.”
Let’s press on. The time is right now. ●
Brad Collins is the executive director of the
American Solar Energy Society.