In my last post, I mentioned a number of popular ideas to advance alternative energy development. But I didn’t attribute them because nothing had been written of incoming administration officials as yet. A couple of days later several major newspapers mentioned ideas of incoming administration officials which included ideas I talked about. So I inserted these in my last post. If you went to my last post early check back. (Just skim down and check  the writing in block quotes.) This week’s post includes a piece from the Wall St Journal which mentions another popular idea I mentioned in my last post.

How about renewable energy? Dr. Chu already had a taste of Washington power-brokering, in a briefing with current Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. He pitched them on the idea of an interstate electricity transmission system to be paid for by ratepayers. That would solve one of the biggest hurdles to wide-spread adoption of clean energy like wind and solar power.

This is interesting because Dr. Chu is the president elect’s choice to lead the DOE.

The president elect’s choice for the Dept of Energy is Dr. Chu. Dr. Chu’s marquee work at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is the Helios Project. That’s an effort to tackle what Dr. Chu sees as the biggest energy challenge facing the U.S. transportation. That’s because it’s a huge drain on U.S. coffers and an environmental albatross, Dr. Chu says. Helios has focused largely on biofuels—but not the bog-standard kind made from corn and sugar. The Energy Biosciences Institute, a joint effort funded by BP, is looking to make second-generation biofuels more viable. Among the approaches? Researching new ways to break down stubborn cellulosic feedstocks to improve the economics of next-generation biofuels, and finding new kinds of yeast to boost fermentation and make biofuels more plentiful while reducing their environmental impact.

Include algae to fuel in that mix. David Chu does not like coal.

Big Coal won’t be very happy if Dr. Chu gets confirmed as head of the DOE—he’s really, really not a big fan. “Coal is my worst nightmare,” he said repeatedly in a speech earlier this year outlining his lab’s alternative-energy approaches.

Ken Salazar is the president’s pick  to head up the Dept of the Interior. How will he affect water policy? Likely he will be very innovative.

He was raised on a ranch in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado, and became an attorney with an expertise in water law. “In rural areas,” Salazar said in an interview this summer, “they understand water as their lifeblood.”

How will Salazar be on energy? He’ll be tough on oil  interests.

Earlier this year, Salazar criticized the department for decisions to open Colorado’s picturesque Roan Plateau for drilling. Salazar said the regulations to begin opening land for oil shale development would “sell Colorado short.”

He’s a fan of alternative energy.

The senator campaigned vigorously for Obama in Colorado, a swing state, barnstorming rural areas in a recreational vehicle while preaching alternative-energy development and its potential to revitalize rural economies. After the election, Salazar publicly urged Obama to build his planned economic stimulus package around investments in energy infrastructure.

It might be a good idea to invite Ken Salazar to the national salinity summit. So that he can see some slides that show the best places for solar and wind overlapped with the deepest briny aquifers. He’ll already know Senator Pete Domenici’s saying that you need water to make power and vice versa. He’ll also know that the hoover dam produces both power and water; that too, the hoover dam is the foundation for the economies of the southwest–and its profitable. He may see that the best way to get brackish water desalination plants is to site and budget them with solar and windmill power plants. Then it would be his job to sell the idea to DOE elect Dr. Chu.

“It’s time for a new kind of leadership in Washington that’s committed to using our lands in a responsible way to benefit all our families,” Obama said

Come to think of it, it might be a good idea to invite a bunch of solar wind and desal executives to the National Salinity Conference.

imho Senator Salazar will be interested in accelerated funding for all forms of desalination R&D from Proifera plus a dozen other cutting edge membrane companies to left handed ideas like low temperature cooking water out of gypsum. As well, I would think for experimental reasons both men would be interested in siting at least one solar/desal plant near a coal plant so as to pump the coal plant’s waste CO2 into algae geenhouses. I’ve mentioned this in posts here & here. Texas might be the best place for this because  they have CO2 emitting industrial plants there,sunlight and briny aquifers. There are others.

I think that both Senator Salazar and Dr Chu should be urged to fund research into cheap smart energy efficient water pipelines mentioned here, here and here. I mentioned an initial slant well experiment in the Santa Barbara channel with a Profiera membrane here. Further they should be appraised that the ultimate goal in +-7 years of nanotube and pipeline research are  pipes with one end in the salty pacific through which only fresh water flows inland to points all over the desert southwest. Toward this end, I could easily see several lines of solar power plants in the empty deserts there that point to Arizona. These might double as pumping stations in the future for water pipelines that push water eastward.

Finally it might be helpful to do a little more detailed ranking for best places to site desal/solarwind plants. Ranking might include:

1.)distance from electric AND water grids

2.) ease of getting federal state & local permissions.

3.) time to project ground breaking.

If the DOI was onboard, likely the quickest places to break ground would be BLM lands.
Herbert Hoover as Commerce Secretary signed the initial enabling legislation for the Hoover Dam on November 24, 1922. Ground was not broken on the Hoover Dam until 10 years later in 1932.

That’s a very leisurely pace to ground breaking. Things won’t be nearly so leisurely this time.

Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury Secretary who will head Obama’s National Economic Council, has said a fiscal stimulus will have to be “speedy, substantial and sustained.” Congressional leaders have indicated that spending could even be as large as the $700 billion bailout, but details of how and where the money will be distributed are unknown.

So be forewarned. In the next year or two — guys  will come into your office blue in the face with tension. Help them along their way. Why? Because the very best investment  the government can make is in water and energy. Why? Because water and energy provide the basis for growth in the economy and the government’s future tax base.

said Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google Inc. and an Obama economic adviser, in an interview. “You would want to invest in something that would not just physically build a bridge, but would help build businesses that would create more wealth.”

That would be water and energy. Why is this important politically? The reason is–this is not a settled issue. The talk is now for +-50 billion to allocate for green projects. But it could be more or less depending on the projects presented –and the vision thing.

Even so, the Obama team remains split over how much money to devote to green and high-tech projects, and how much to focus on traditional infrastructure.

In purely economic terms, a traditional infrastructure building spree might provide the biggest bang, Mr. Zandi said. But, he added, “there’s something to be said for an infrastructure program that captures the imagination, because confidence is just shot.”

The way to settle this in favor of green energy and water desalination projects is to present projects that can be implemented quickly. Oh and one more thing. The size of the investment will depend on the size of the vision.

A National Salinity Summit that can conclude with best sites for solar/wind/desal plants can give solar/wind/desal players legs. Even this is a step behind. Nor is it the big vision I’ve talked about for a couple years.

As it is the big cities already have their make work projects lined up.


  1. I have a question. These ideas sound great. So why haven’t private interests pursued these ideas? Is it difficult to get permission from local governments to try these out? Why can’t they demonstrate these ideas on a small scale in the lab and attract public and private partnerships? Is this stuff scientificall noteworthy but economically not as viable as some of the things we’re currently able to do? Basically, are fossil fuels still cheap enough that it is not yet cheaper to use these new ideas? If so, then how much would it cost to go ahead and start preparing for the transition by doing some siting and planning?

    Comment by midget — December 18, 2008 @ 6:13 am

  2. The problem has been that great sites for solar and wind plants are usually far from the Electric Grid. As well, tax deductions for coal fired electrical generation plants give them advantages.

    You’ll see the incoming administration address both these issues. the result will be an enormous increase in the number of these kinds of electrical generation plants.

    As to solar cells in particular–their costs are coming down faster than computer chips. The best solar chips right now produce electricity at the same installation cost as coal. (However, they’re also sold out for the next 18 months.)

    Comment by nick2 — December 18, 2008 @ 6:20 am

  3. “The best solar chips right now produce electricity at the same installation cost as coal. ” Sources, please.

    How are you going to desalinate on that dark and still night?

    Comment by weSwinger — December 27, 2008 @ 9:15 pm


    Nanosolar is a developer of solar power technology. Based in San Jose, CA, Nanosolar has developed and commercialized an extremely low-cost printable solar cell manufacturing process. The company started selling panels mid-December 2007, and plans to profitably sell them at around $1 per watt (one fifth the price of the silicon cells).[2][3][4]

    There are currently small scale solar desalination operations. as far as I know they don’t run at night. But then they don’t need to.

    Comment by Charles — December 27, 2008 @ 10:39 pm

  5. A rhetorical question. Heat and light are important on that dark and still night. How do you propose to fill those needs.

    I should not assume because you have not said it, that you would abandon or discontinue development of conventional resources. Biden and Obama’s comments about coal don’t give me much hope that democrat energy policy isn’t a matter of forcing the country to fall in its own sword and give up its advantages in coal and other conventional energy resources.

    My interest in energy economics began in 1974 when I just graduated UC Berkeley and the first oil embargo hit. Everything I’ve learned since has reinforced what I learned then: When the gov’t does it it sucks.

    Comment by weSwinger — December 28, 2008 @ 12:54 am

  6. DOE secretary designate Chu and DOI secretary designate Salazar are even more negative about coal than Biden or Obama.

    I don’t think any of them would be crazy enough to take coal electrical generation plants offline. However, its not likely that new coal plants will be built.

    I’m in favor of using carbon dioxide from coal plants to stuff greenhouses with carbon dioxide for algae oil production.

    Comment by Charles — December 28, 2008 @ 1:51 am

  7. Thanks for all the cheeriness. You’re talking huge expenses relative to known technology and waste of easily extractable resources. Your desalination idea can be done easier and cheaper with coal or nuclear. My point re: gov’t involvement is not gainsaid. See you later.

    Comment by weSwinger — December 28, 2008 @ 2:56 am

  8. likely true. but that’s not the way the current admin is going.

    I’m in favor of building a 21st century power and water network that does the job for the US population in the 21st century much as the network of power and water facilities of the DOI bureau of reclamation did for the 20th century.

    There’s currently a whole lot of competing technologies. I don’t know which will win. So I’m in favor of encouraging them all–or as many as the ideological constrants of the federal political elites will allow.

    Comment by Charles — December 28, 2008 @ 3:06 am

  9. The thing that will be real fun for me (an admittedly nasty individual) will be the howls of pain from every conceivable not-in-my-back-yard intervenor group as that 21st century Xmission grid is built. That is the one are I have thought for a long time is a proper function of the federal gov’t – making significant grid additions possible again. The environmentalists have raised the cost of building transmission from ~ $100K MW/mile when I started in the utility biz 30 years ago to ~ $2 million now.

    And as you state – significant renewables, especially geothermal is remote.

    But don’t get me started on wind. It doesn’t blow. It sucks. It’s bad enough on my system (Arizona Public Service) with 90 MW max, talk to someone at Public Service of New Mexico where it is way too large relative to its load, and of course way too variable. Every MW of wind has to be backed up with a MW of (usually) nat gas – a wasteful duplication of resources. If the wind provided had to provide a minimum capacity factor, that’d be okay, but they don’t. They get paid a high energy cost for 0 capacity. You do know the difference between capacity and energy, I trust. As it is we have to set aside 90 MW of capacity from 4 Corners just in case the wind decides to blow, for a resource with an at best 15% capacity factor.

    There’s a little vent for you.

    Thanks Charles. Keep up the good work.

    Comment by weSwinger — December 28, 2008 @ 5:54 am

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