It was a momentous day for the Schatz Center. Our building grand opening was blessed with warm, sunny weather and an enthusiastic turnout. As I said in my remarks that day, when Charles Chamberlin and I met in my office 22 years ago to plan a promising new solar hydrogen project, neither of us had an inkling that it would lead to our wonderful new lab. But here we are—working with caring, passionate colleagues in a state-of-the-art facility. It’s been a great ride.
I just returned from the Photovoltaic Specialists’ Conference in Seattle; it was the 50th year anniversary of the conference. The first PVSC that I attended was in 1987 when Charles Chamberlin and I reported on PV module tests in Humboldt County.
What a difference! The conference is now huge, with thousands of attendees, and the PV industry is mature and sophisticated. Total worldwide installations of PVs have now reached 40 GW and as one speaker reported, if PV growth stays on the historical path that it has maintained for the last 30 years, total installed PVs will reach 1000 GW by 2020. At that level, PVs will contribute about 10-15% of the world’s total electricity generation. That’s amazing and heartening progress.
This is the first director’s column written in my new office in our new Schatz lab. It’s just wonderful to be in this modern, well-designed building that will certainly increase our productivity and has already made us proud. You can read about some of the details and see a picture in the building update in this issue.
But while the Schatz Center has been upgraded, the U.S. hydrogen and fuel cell technology program has fallen from sight. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has suggested that the hydrogen program be zeroed out in the next DOE budget. There is plenty of funding for battery research and plug-in hybrids, but not a penny for fuel cell vehicles. Secretary Chu tried to do this in last year’s budget cycle but was rebuffed by a strong coalition of legislators who insisted that the funding be restored.
As I wrote in this column last time, the November election in California was crucial to our progress to address climate change. Whatever else resulted from that election, one thing was clear – Californians are solidly behind their state’s efforts to limit our effect on climate. Voters soundly defeated Proposition 23, which would have undermined the Global Warming Solutions Act, California’s landmark bill to tackle the difficult climate change issues facing us.
The California Air Resources Board lost no time. It recently approved a cap and trade program to limit our emissions of greenhouse gases. Though many details are still to be worked out, this is the first effort in the U.S. to set a meaningful price on emitting carbon and start us on the path to repairing our atmosphere. Once again, I’m proud to be a Californian.
Last week I had the pleasure of participating in Climate Ride California (www.climateride. org), a bike ride from nearby Fortuna to San Francisco over five days. Participants raise money for bicycle and climate advocacy organizations and enjoy beautiful scenery, camaraderie, and plenty of fresh air while pushing the pedals. Caeli Quinn, one of the organizers, recruited me for their after dinner speaker series and I got to ride my bike the first day to Richardson’s Grove State Park. I presented a talk about our renewable energy efforts in Humboldt County and SERC senior research engineer Greg Chapman drove our Toyota fuel cell vehicle down for riders to see and learn about. It was one of the most thoroughly enjoyable days I’ve experienced.
Three months ago in this column, I took the Obama administration to task for announcing that vast tracts of seabed were being opened to oil and gas exploration and exploitation. It turns out that the administration’s timing could not have been worse. The oil spill in the Gulf has highlighted in a stark and graphic fashion one of the many ways that our dependence on fossil fuels is dangerous.
The image that keeps going through my mind is kids playing with matches. We’ve unleashed forces that we don’t completely understand and can’t control. The marine life, the coasts, the wetlands, and the people who live in that biologically rich area will pay the price for our carelessness for decades to come.
Just as I write this column comes the disheartening news that the Obama administration has called for opening vast tracts of the American seacoast to oil and gas exploration and exploitation. This is in addition to an earlier announcement from the President supporting the expansion of nuclear power generation in the U.S. This is evidently an effort to win political support from oil, gas, and nuclear interests in hopes of getting climate change legislation through Congress before the midterm elections in November.
There have been several firsts at the Schatz Center recently and you can read all about them in this newsletter. We are all very proud of our first Fulbright Scholar, Richard Engel. Richard won his prestigious award competing against many PhDs and as he describes in his article, will be helping Don Bosco University in El Salvador to establish an energy efficiency and renewable energy curriculum. We wish Richard all the best as he extends our promotion of clean and renewable energy to Latin America.
The Schatz lab celebrated its 20th year anniversary with a gala picnic and reunion last month. The food was delicious, the fog lifted just in time, and Schatzers new and old got to enjoy a wonderful afternoon at Freshwater Park.
So much has happened since that first phone call with Mr. Schatz and the first meeting that Charles and I had to plan the Schatz Solar Hydrogen Project. At last count, 77 people have worked and studied at SERC. SERC alumni have gone on to become professors, fuel cell researchers, engineers of all sorts, and energy aware citizens. We’ve developed the first PEM fuel cell car, two patents, and three still-running licenses for our technology. Soon, our new 6600 square foot lab and office building will be complete and we’ll have our dream home for decades to come. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined this 20 years ago, but I feel fortunate to have had so many wonderful people as colleagues and that we have accomplished so much to promote clean and renewable energy.
Well, that didn’t last long. The honeymoon that new Secretary of Energy Steven Chu enjoyed has ended, at least among hydrogen energy researchers and advocates. With the announcement that funding for the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle program has been eliminated in DOE’s 2009-10 budget request, Chu caused consternation, even anger, in the hydrogen world.
Chu explained his choice by saying that when he asked the question of whether or not hydrogen fuel cell vehicles would contribute to our economy in 10 to 15 or even 20 years, the answer he felt, was “no.” Instead, Chu wants to focus funding on plug-in hybrids and battery technology.