April 11, 2011
By: by Joann Crupi, Times Union
From today's editorial: A University at Albany grant will further solar energy research. A sustainable energy future depends on real investment in research and development.
The award of $57.5 million to the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering to create a solar manufacturing consortium is not just the kind of news we like to hear about a local educational institution. It's the kind of investment we're glad to see this nation make.
It's a feather for UAlbany, of course, and a bonus for the region, that may have just gotten an early front-row seat on the future of solar energy. If it lives up to its promise, the U.S. Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium could lead a revolution in solar technologies that generate electricity.
This is the kind of news that gives us hope that the federal government has learned the mistakes it made after the oil crises of the 1970s and that it won't again let the opportunity to chart a sounder energy course slip by. That means more earnestly supporting the search for practical, sustainable energy. It means treating conservation, from home energy efficiency to fuel efficiency standards to sensible speed limits, as a matter of national interest. It means policies that aren't driven by the price of corn in Kansas and the campaign contributions of Big Agriculture.
You have only to pull up to the gas pump lately to see the result of decades of lip service to conservation and weaning America off its dependence on foreign oil. The latest surge in oil prices threatens to set back a slow economic recovery. Even as politicians struggle to bring deficit spending under control, billions flow to protecting the nation's interests in the oil-rich Middle East.
Foreign oil is hardly our only problem. We may have harnessed the power of the atom, but we've hardly tamed it. The nuclear power industry's on-the-job learning program has brought radioactive drinking water, too dangerous for infants to consume, to Tokyo - the largest city in the world - and time bombs in the form of stockpiles of nuclear waste around the globe.
The "all of the above" sound-bite energy policy that too many politicians promote also includes "clean coal" technology that is years, perhaps decades away from large-scale commercial use. It features a politically determined investment in corn-based ethanol that has driven up food prices and whose energy savings is questionable. And it means off-shore oil and gas drilling, setting the stage for more environmental and economic disasters like we saw in the Gulf of Mexico last year.
We can keep debating the wisdom of these strategies, of course, as everyone with a stake in the status quo - lobbyists, politicians, oil companies, speculators and so on - gets rich while the vast majority of Americans keep devoting more and more of their paychecks just to get to work and heat their homes.
Or we can demand more of what really happened at Albany Nano last week: investment in a future of alternative, sustainable energies, in which turning on a light bulb doesn't cost an American soldier his life, a drive to the store for milk doesn't put a fisherman in Louisiana out of business, and the only danger in playing a video game is the imaginary creature on the screen, not a real nuclear meltdown.