Alternative Energy
Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt/Berkeley Lab Public Affairs

Alternative Energy


A Look Back to 2007 Research Achievements and A Look Ahead to the Potential for Bay Area National Leadership in Innovative Energy Solutions
By Barry M. Klein, Ph.D.
BASIC Board Director and
Professor, Physics Department and
Director, McClellan Nuclear Research Center
U.C. Davis

Draft Executive Summary of New BASIC Report on Alternative Energy

Innovations in energy technologies and the business and jobs opportunities that flow from them are a key ingredient for economic prosperity in the Bay Area.  However, given the complexities of global competitiveness, we cannot maintain or expand our leadership in the energy R&D or business world without a concerted effort to continue to build and leverage our Bay Area assets in energy.  A vital step in doing so is to have a comprehensive inventory of our conventional and alternative energy assets – from basic to applied R&D, to intellectual property, to angel and seed funding of start-ups and the follow-on mature businesses, and to maximizing the effectiveness of local governments in catalyzing and supporting these activities.

In June of 2007 BASIC presented an excellent overview of the whole spectrum of energy-related research achievements:  “Innovative Energy Solutions from the San Francisco Bay Area:  Fueling a Clean Energy Future.”At that time, former BASIC Chairman Regis B. Kelly, Executive Director of QB3, stated:  “Never has the United States had a greater awareness than it has now of the dangers of continued reliance on fossil-fuel energy.”  Now, four years later, the global imperatives for energy innovation and implementation are probably even more important given population growth and the attendant growth in demand for energy and the various geopolitical issues that make conventional sources of energy tenuous in their reliability.  Green energy technology also has an increased imperative as the assault on our planet’s ecosystem expands.

With this urgent need before us, BASIC will prepare a 2011 overview of alternative energy research and technologies.   This follow-up report will present the current status of the technologies that were highlighted in 2007 and an up-to-date inventory of major changes since then.   This includes the emergence of electric vehicle technologies and business and the inclusion of nuclear power – in various modern variations – into the potential energy resource mix, as well as a major focus on the R&D and business that are focused on energy efficiency, to name several.  The proposed report will also provide an analysis of the Bay Area’s current position as a major player in innovative energy technologies within the increasingly competitive global market.

In addition, we will present the perspectives of leaders in research institutions and leaders in the Bay Area’s industry sector as to actions needed to complete the circle from basic research to an economically viable business sector.

(Note:  The BASIC 2007 alternative energy report can be downloaded from the About BASIC section of this site under “Publications.”)

Recent Major Research and Development Achievements

Sandia National Laboratories New Collaborative Research Facility

On January 19, 2011, Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore celebrated the opening of its new 8,400-square foot Combustion Research Computational and Visualization (CRCV) laboratory.

Co-funded by the DOE’s Office of Science and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), this new collaborative research facility will serve as a focal point to accelerate the realization of predictive modeling and simulation for combustion. The CRCV will provide interactive data visualization and collaborative workspaces, as well as a 2,000 square foot machine room for dedicated computational capability. The CRCV is in the process of achieving LEED certification for the use of “green” technologies in its construction.

Combustion engines are expected to be part of the nation’s energy future for decades to come, most transportation experts agree. Predictive modeling is considered a key enabler for the transportation industry, so the new CRCV is expected to be an integral part of those efforts. The new facility will enable interdisciplinary collaboration between the combustion scientists and computer scientists needed to address the daunting challenge of understanding combustion.

“This facility really came about because of where we have come over the years with our combustion program,” said Rick Stulen, vice president at Sandia/California. “Today, we are doing more and more modeling and simulation as a part of our way to accelerate development of technologies for many of the U.S. car companies.”

Added Bob Carling, director of Sandia’s Transportation Energy Center: “I’m pretty sure that this is the only place in the United States where these two offices [the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy] have come and collaborated in this way to face and work on the challenges that we all face in energy security in developing new technologies for the engine companies.”

In addition, and as part of Sandia’s focus on alternative energy, the Lab issued the following press release on January 19.

Sandia researchers tailoring fungi-based biofuels to meet the needs of current, advanced combustion engines
Engine experts and biofuels researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are working on a project that aims to modify an endophytic fungus so that it will produce fuel-type hydrocarbons for transportation purposes

The above news release led to a wonderful piece that aired on KGO-TV (ABC7) on January 26 by David Louie.

Biochemists and engineers at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore are heeding the call of President Barack Obama to innovate and to foster energy independence from fossil fuels.

Global Competitiveness and Commercial Viability

Global Competitiveness – Recognizing the Global Landscape

The Bay Area Council Economic Institute, released a white paper December, 2010 entitled Global Competitiveness, China and California’s Emerging Clean Energy Economy which provided a global perspective on the key players in clean energy technologies.

Dr. R. Sean, Randolph, Economic Institute President and CEO made the following statement regarding the report:

“The conclusions are positive, but cautionary. California has taken center stage as a national and global leader in energy and climate policy, and in cutting edge clean energy development. In doing so, it has become the dominant state for cleantech venture investment. It also benefits from the deep capacity of its research universities and private and federal laboratories, and from substantial federal investment through the U.S. Department of Energy.  California’s public policy framework has played a particularly important role through the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB32), the Sustainable Communities Climate Protection Act (SB 375), a Low Carbon Fuel Standard, aggressive building and appliance efficiency standards, a Renewable Electricity Standard, and the California Solar Initiative. Together these policies help sustain a market, and provide important continuity and stability for investors.

At the same time, California needs to be seen in a global context, as other nations are adopting aggressive policies and are investing in cleantech deployment on a large scale. In the process, they are creating globally competitive cleantech sectors.  India and Denmark are major players in wind. The bar is being set by Germany, which is a global leader in both wind and solar, and by China, which has emerged as a major global producer of solar, wind and batteries, and is poised to become a player in electric vehicles. China is already the world’s leading supplier of solar photovoltaic panels, and is tied with the U.S. for installed renewable energy capacity (but is growing that capacity three times faster.)  Most of the cleantech equipment being installed in California is produced outside the U.S.

China’s increasingly strong position poses particular economic and policy issues for California, whose long-term leadership in the industry is by no means assured.  The competitive challenge presented by China’s focused policies and massive investment is clear. However, China also presents a major export market, and may become a growing source of cleantech investment in California. Nine Chinese solar companies, including its top three, have recently opened U.S. offices in San Francisco, and one will soon begin U.S. production. The 2010 merger of Santa Rosa’s Zap Inc. with China’s Jonway Automotive (to create Zap Jonway) will open the door for a substantial presence by a local firm in China’s emerging electrical vehicle market.  There are also opportunities with China for shared R&D.

Should California fail to produce and grow companies that can aggressively compete in both domestic and global markets, other countries will readily fill the void, costing California jobs and growth.  At a minimum, success will require a sustained commitment to implementation of the state’s suite of energy and climate policies. It will also require a sharper focus on how to capture more of the business growth, manufacturing and jobs that are produced by California’s acknowledged lead in venture investment and technology research.”

The full report can be downloaded from the Institute’s website at

Commercial Viability

Statement by Jim Wunderman, President and CEO, Bay Area Council

The Bay Area Council supports the creation of a reliable supply of alternative energy for the region provided in a market-driven structure that lowers costs.  Employers and consumers alike must have a reliable, affordable, clean, high-quality power supply to sustain a prosperous economy and high quality of life.  The technologies we pursue must be subjected to strict metrics, such as the greenhouse gas reduction targets established in AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.  However, the portfolio of energy options must not only contribute to a carbon neutral economy, but also focus on scalable, commercially viable alternative energy technologies.  Bay Area companies must select and focus on becoming world leaders in particular alternative energy technologies that play to our region’s strengths in human capital and venture capital investment.

Through a partnership with our members, the Bay Area Council is currently working on ensuring the commercial viability of renewable energy in our state, including an initiative to create a sustainable financing model for solar energy installations in California.

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