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August 29, 2014

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Report: Nevada should be hub for clean-energy innovation

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In 19th-century America, the government awarded land grants to start what would become the transcontinental railroad and establish universities such as Rutgers and Michigan State.

Now, Brookings Mountain West, a research group, is calling for a similarly ambitious effort based on the model of land grants to shift the nation from fossil fuel to cleaner energy.

In a report to be released today, Brookings Mountain West calls for the creation of four to six “energy innovation centers” in Nevada and other states that would act as miniature Silicon Valleys for cleaner energy.

Such energy generates less carbon dioxide and reduce global warming, which scientists say has been largely caused by pollution from dirtier sources, such as petroleum and coal.

Mark Muro, a co-director of Brookings Mountain West and a principal author of the report, said the centers would also be in Idaho, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona and foster innovation to move clean energy from the drawing board to the marketplace.

Nineteenth-century America, Muro said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., “saw the power of education connected to new regional economies in the rural and hinterland economies of the West” that led to unprecedented economic growth and job creation.

“We think we can do it again,” Muro said. The group is a collaboration of UNLV and the Brookings Institution.

The proposed centers would unite the private sector, such as venture capitalists and electric utilities, with research centers and facilities to take advantage of their expertise in solar, geothermal and wind power, as well as biomass and biofuels.

Especially important, in the Brookings proposal, would be Nevada and Arizona.

Those hubs, concentrating on solar energy, would include UNLV, Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, the University of New Mexico, the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Nellis Air Force Base, Sandia National Laboratories and private companies such as NV Energy.

The effort would, of course, come with a price tag: $1 billion to $2 billion annually in federal funding.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took note of the recession and the large federal deficits.

“While Sen. Reid supports advanced clean-energy research, these are challenging budgetary times for that level of funding,” Reid spokesman Tom Brede said.

There is, however, precedent for these centers. The Brookings Institution several years ago recommended 20 energy innovation “hubs” nationally to concentrate on a wide variety of energy solutions.

The Energy Department has approved three such hubs with annual budgets of about $125 million each, Muro said. But federal spending on clean energy has been falling sharply for 30 years, since the Carter administration.

The American Energy Innovation Council noted that research and development spending on clean-energy projects dropped from about $8 billion in 1979 to about $1 billion in 2007. The council is a group organized by Bill Gates, the retired head of Microsoft.

Tom Piechota, an engineering professor and director of sustainability and multidisciplinary research at UNLV, said it is important to bring together engineers, economists, architects, public-policy analysts, as well as financial and legal experts.

“What happens to windmills when there’s no wind?” he said, adding it’s important to think about scientific and technological issues and beyond them as well.

“Power lines don’t know where the electrons are coming from or where they’re going,” said Piechota. “But when you connect a solar panel in the desert to the larger power grid, you are generating issues that are not directly renewable-energy issues.”

The Brookings Mountain West report is titled “Centers of Invention: Leveraging the Mountain West Innovation Complex for Energy System Transformation.” The report noted that Nevada is particularly well-positioned in geothermal energy.

“Nevada resides at the forefront of geothermal industry expansion,” the report said, “with leading firms like Ormat Technologies, Ram Power and Vulcan headquartered in Reno and 86 projects with a cumulative final generation capacity of 2,000 to 3,700 megawatts — more than any other state — in various stages of development.”

Muro said Nevada should work on energy issues that have big payoffs.

“This could very much create jobs in the short term,” he said. But, just as important, “It means the chance for multiple breakthroughs and a major attack on a major problem of our time — runaway carbon emission and global warming.”

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  1. Conclusion

    "The Intermountain West region is poised to help reinvent America's fossil-fuel dependent energy system and so construct the "next economy" in the Mountain region and nationally. The nation should move proactively and aggressively to build the proposed Intermountain West network of high-powered energy innovation commercialization centers. Through such an intervention, the federal government could catalyze a dynamic new partnership of Mountain West businesses, research universities, federal laboratories, entrepreneurs, and state and local government to transform the nation's carbon-dependent economy. Along the way, the nation could experiment with a dynamic new approach to leveraging for the nation's benefit a powerful regional innovation complex while helping to empower the Intermountain West to reach its potential for prominence in a "next economy" that will be opportunity-rich as well as export-oriented, lower-carbon, and innovation fueled."

  2. No doubt there will be an editorial supporting everything in the report. The report has some interesting information, but this information is weighed down with the usual buzz words and phrases. I share with a previous commenter about the applicability of the model advocated by the paper (oops he/she was deleted):

    The question I have is how an area which comprises a large portion on the U.S. be described or characterized as a hub (central place)?

    What does the silicon valley experience have to do with this?

    It makes some assumptions regarding renewable energy resources--the underlying technologies are not comparable--solar PV, wind, and geothermal, while called renewables, have little technology in common.

    It needs federal money to happen;

    Looks like the writers started with their answer and started back filling

  3. Most Nations, like China, that are building Nuke Plants, are also doing solar and wind.

    The auto, invented in the late 1800's was not affordable and practical til after WWI, about 30 years later. Not until the 60's, with the government built interstate highway system and air-conditioning was car travel comfortable. So, solar, wind, electric cars may take sometime to take hold, but are evolving faster than the internal combustion engine. Most of Toyota's research emphasis will be on battery technology this year.

    The Erie Canal, Panama Canal, Satellite Technology, Transcontinental Railroad, Interstate Highway System, computers, and the Internet are products of government tax and spend.

    We should reject the loony libertarians that brought us the "deregulated" world of: too big too fail banks failures, e coli spinach, tainted peanut paste with roasted rats, salmonella eggs with 8 foot high piles of manure and maggots, and oil and mine disasters that killed scores of employees. A sound "space project program" dedicated to wind and solar will brighten Nevada's future.

  4. China has built and has plans to build all sorts of solar and wing projects, with government subsidies. Since China has little oil, they don't build oil plants, but coal plants. As concerns about air pollution increase, they see solar and winds potential. Any web search will show this too be the case.

    Palo Verde provides more power to Southern California, not Las Vegas. It is owned by Southern California, El Paso, and New Mexico based Utilities.

    The nuke storage is dead, we don't need a government nuke storage facility.

    Eat you Iowa egg sunny side up today, with plenty of runny yolk and sop it up with your dittohead dialectic.

  5. World's Largest Solar Plant in China to Power 3 million Homes

    Who has their facts correct? Turn off Limbogh, Glenn Buck and Sean Insannity and think for yourself for once in your life.

    http://www.inhabitat.com/2009/09/09/worl...

  6. "While Sen. Reid supports advanced clean-energy research, these are challenging budgetary times for that level of funding," Reid spokesman Tom Brede said.

    Yet Reid thinks nothing of getting funding for the train to nowhere. Follow the money, folks!