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The Energy Pioneers

14 November 2010 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang and Celene Adams

One day, the car you drive may be powered by termite guts. The computer you use may run on electricity from cow dung. The house you live in may be energized by tree trimmings. And the cellphone you call from may be fueled by plastic wrap you threw away last month.

One day, Americans will no longer depend on fossil fuels. Problems in the Middle East will not send oil prices skyrocketing. Gasoline will be cheap and abundant, because they are made from renewable sources, such as grass, corn and city sludge. Landfills will no longer overflow, since waste will be recycled to create electricity. The environment will be cleaner, because fossil fuels and coal which put too much carbon in the air will no longer be burned. Global warming will end, because clean energy sources – such as solar, wind, geothermal and biofuels made from crops and organic waste – will be prevalent.

Your electricity and gasoline will cost less. And a lot of San Diegans – including possibly you – will be very rich, for having entered this market.

This is the vision of San Diego’s energy pioneers – a small but growing group of entrepreneurs, scientists, investors, policymakers and visionaries – who see America’s oil crisis as an opportunity to create more efficient forms of energy, help the environment and make money at the same time.

You have the same opportunity. As a consumer, investor or businessperson, you can participate in the transformation of America’s energy landscape – and your own lifestyle – as we head into a new era of renewable energy. And you can participate in saving and making money in the industry.

San Diego companies are already trailblazing new energy frontiers. The region is currently a leading solar producer, and has several wind and geothermal energy projects. But the hottest growth area is biofuels, which converts agricultural and unwanted waste products into energy. Several San Diego companies are leading the industry by building facilities, research technology and create new products using biofuels.

Some San Diego pioneers are creating investment vehicles for institutional and individual investors to benefit from the renewable energy industry. And others are designing new buildings, vehicles or gas stations, which use green energy.

While the industry is still young and fraught with risk, San Diego’s green energy pioneers are betting on a bright future. If they are right, they have the potential to hit the market jackpot. And maybe help save the planet. If they are wrong, well, someone else will come up with a better product.

Either way, the political, business and technology momentum is on a roll, heralding new ways that we will create and use energy, changing the ways we live and work. Despite questions and challenges ahead, the “one day” of San Diego’s energy pioneers may become “today” sooner than we think.

Political and Business Initiatives for Green Energy

  • Since President George Bush declared in January that “America is addicted to oil,” the administration’s clean energy initiatives includes $250 million for biofuel research. Bush also set a target to have 75% of America’s oil produced domestically by 2525.
  • Former Vice-President Al Gore is raising the bar with his book and movie tour, “An Inconvenient Truth,” documenting the consequences of global warming on the planet, resulting from burning coal and fossil fuels.
  • In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed bi-partisan legislation in September to aggressively cut carbon emissions. “We simply must do everything we can in our power to slow down global warming before it is too late,” said Schwarzenegger. “Nothing is more important than protecting our planet.”
  • At the Clinton Global Initiative in September, British entrepreneur Richard Branson announced a seismic $3 billion to fund research for alternative energy sources.
  • The San Diego Regional Energy Office in January 2007 will launch a $2.8 billion California Solar Initiative, offering businesses and consumers incentives to install solar panels.
  • The regional utility San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) has been aggressively contracting with renewable energy providers – including solar, wind, biomass and geothermal – to raise its green energy sources from 13 percent currently to 20 percent by 2010.
  • Business networking group CONNECT is a holding forum in 2007 to link venture capitalists with green energy companies in San Diego.
  • San Diego-based businesses are global leaders in the solar industry. Kyocera International Inc. and Sanyo North America Corp. are the city’s two major manufacturers of solar panels and systems.
  • Imperial Valley has 10 geothermal plants that generate enough electricity to power nearly 22,000 homes. A recent law – authored by Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny (D-San Diego) – has paved the way for further geothermal industry expansion.
  • San Diego lacks enough wind to harness it sufficiently, but at least one company – enXco, Inc., based in North Palm Springs, CA, with a corporate office in Escondido – is providing limited wind energy.
  • About 500 biofuels industry players – including bankers, manufacturers and policymakers – will gather in San Diego in November for a Western regional biofuels tradeshow organized by BBI Biofuels.
  • More than 40 housing developments in San Diego now have energy efficient features, such as solar panels and fluorescent lightbulbs. Developers include Shea, Pardee, Archstone Smith, Olson and North Coast Constructors.

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenChang

This article is part of a Green Energy series.  Related Articles:

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