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Jack Black, Clean Energy Hero

“No more pollution…or ocean dumpage. FROM NOW ON WE WILL TRAVEL IN TUBES” -Jack Black

Jack Black, the modern-day musical genius, once said in response to criticism of his music, “I’m tired of all this nay-saying! Why don’t YOU create something!?” This mantra could be perfectly applied to the global energy economy.

Why aren’t we going full force to create some awesome, renewable, scalable solutions rather than blaming democrats for high gas prices, calling for more offshore oil drilling (hello!?), or whining about our ever-increasing emissions? It seems like we’re spending more time naysaying than pioneering the energy solutions we need to solve the energy/climate crisis.

Thankfully there is a growing light at the end of the oil-economy tunnel – and I needn’t look further than an article by Andrew Leonard in this week’s Salon to see it.

Leonard cites some fantastic new analysis from market intelligence firm iSuppli, which predicted on Monday that by 2010, “worldwide investments in the production of photovoltaic (PV) cells will rise to the same level as those for semiconductor manufacturing by 2010.” That means that in only a few short years, solar panels could be as normal, cheap and accessible as owning a PC. And that’s for consumers and businesses alike – you, me, everybody. Booyah!

Continued solar development is one step in the inevitable direction of “Solar Grid Parity” – the point at which PV electricity costs the same or less than power derived from the electrical grid (a grid fueled currently mainly by coal and natural gas). The question we need to be asking ourselves now is: what can WE do to help the market speed up the process to the parity party?

One word: federal investment. Okay, that was two words. But the concept still stands: without significant resources and federal leadership allocated to innovation and dispersion, private investors will take at least until 2010 to make solar technology hit the market big time.

Do we have until 2010? Not if you ask climate scientists. As it stands, we’re stuck with a 385ppm carbon concentration with a 350ppm ecological target and no concerted effort to turn our colossus oil-tanker of an energy infrastructure around.

[To be honest, this type of long-range thinking and investment should have been happening 30 years ago… Oh wait, it was – under Carter. When Reagan came in, renewable energy research was cut almost entirely from the federal budgets. But, that’s history and we’ve got to focus on the problems at hand].

The government should create a steady, incentivized renewable energy tax environment (eight year solar ITC extension for example), strong RD&D efforts, and a government procurement program, to name a few options – all could make the diffusion of solar technology happen at a much greater speed.

Don’t worry – I’m not one of those “the government’s gonna solve all our problems” types. I’m happy as a clam that private investors are running with solar production, and I want the market to mitigate climate change just as bad as the next capitalist. But I want these solutions FASTER, damn it!

And I think the best way we can help the private sector roll out solar faster than this dude smashes watermelons with his head is to pour some top dollar into the brightest minds at the best universities and energy research centers. If the federal folks who dropped the cost of a single computer chip from $10,000 to $20 in only a decade can do anything for solar, we’ll soon be swimming in renewable energy (once we make a decent investment).

So let’s quit the naysaying and get down to work CREATING (i.e. investing in) the clean energy economy we want to see. We should aim to be like Jack Black – he invented the greatest singing technology since yodeling, and we could invent the greatest energy technology since hydrocarbons.

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