The next generation of products in the world will be green. But what is “green?” Green can mean earth-friendly, green can mean a political movement, but for lack of a better term, green can also be the label given to the most significant economic transformation in the history of humanity; the transition from a civilization that contends with nature in a struggle for survival, to a civilization that nurtures the environment, and creates technologies that exist in harmony with nature. In the year 2001 we sit poised on the brink of this momentus shift, and already the staggering economic opportunities are being identified and invested.
Sacramento California’s role in this worldwide shift to a green economy could be huge. Sacramento’s electric power company, SMUD, for example, is a pioneer in nurturing distributed power, where the utility buys back extra power that homeowners produce using wind or photovoltaics. Just how radical and courageous this stance really is can be appreciated when one studies the resistance other utilties, across most of the United States, are raising against “net metering” and other embracings of distributed power. But it’s in Sacramento’s start-up world where you’ll find the real green excitement. Across a variety of disciplines, from renewable energy to soil remediation, start-up firms in the Sacramento area are breaking new ground.
In Roseville, entrepreneur Jonathan Brewer at EarthWorks Environmental has taken the expertise he gained with mining enterprises and come up with an innovation that promises to make treatment of toxic soils better, faster, and a lot cheaper. He has taken giant hammer mills that are typically used to pulverize mining ore, and uses them instead to pulverize soil that has toxic contaminants. The atomized soil is then easily treated with chemical reactants to render it safe enough to use in a child’s sandbox.
“We can treat any toxin for which there’s a chemical methodology to degrade,” says Brewer, and that’s almost anything. Most current treatment options require moving the soil to a toxic waste dump, a much more expensive procedure that doesn’t solve the problem, only relocates it. Brewer’s company is going to turn segments of the industrial waste processing industry on their ears.
In downtown Sacramento, in a lab in an old brick building by the railroad tracks, for six years entrepreneur and inventor Rex Hodges at Anuvu Inc. has been perfecting a revolutionary automobile design. A former Aerojet scientist, Hodges has taken a variety of technologies used in aerospace; fuel cells, carbon epoxy composites, and hydrogen/oxygen fuel tanks, to design the car of the future.
|Anuvu’s Concept Car|
This vehicle runs on a hydrogen/oxygen fuel mix that car owners can produce themselves using a garage unit that runs on electricity and water that is sold along with the car. Modeling the performance of this car indicates that for $20 worth of electricity the car can go 700 miles, and Hodges believes they can sell the four-passenger sedans for under $30,000. Detroit, watch out.
Just west of Sacramento, in Fairfield, BP Solar has built one of the largest photovoltaic manufacturing plants in the world. Mac Moore, BP Solar’s Director of Building & Utility Markets for North America, said that the installed price for photovoltaic panels produced at this plant will be as low as $6.00 per watt, which is less than one-third what they cost just ten years ago. Already photovoltaic cells are cost-effective power solutions compared to utility prices during peak demand, and BP and other photovoltaic manufacturers are selling them as fast as they can make them. Costs for photovoltaics will continue to drop, and eventually will yield power that is not only clean, but cheap and abundant. Texas oilmen, take note.
In North Highlands, Atlantis Energy is taking raw photovoltaic panels from manufacturers such as BP Solar, and integrating them into roofing materials and tinted windows. Joe Morrisey, Director of North American Sales for Atlantis Energy, sees this as an essential step towards photovoltaics becoming ubiquitous in the landscape, since, as he puts it, “we can’t have every neighborhood looking like a 15 year old’s science project.”
Not only do photovoltaics integrate well into windows and roofing, but they can, ultimately, be cheaper that way, since they are then filling the function not only of supplying power, but are also replacing roofing material and window panels that the builder would have to purchase anyway. Atlantis is working with major national home and commercial construction companies, and photovoltaics routinely integrated into the skin of new buildings is just around the corner.
California is a land of dreams. Before there was the dream of going to Los Angeles and becoming a movie star, or the dream of going to Silicon Valley and becoming a high-technology billionaire, there was the gold rush and dreams of riches, in Sacramento. Now a new dream can belong to California, with the epicenter back where it all began 150 years ago, the dream of a planet where nature and technology exist in harmony. Green technology companies, nurtured by the trend-setting political consciousness of Californians, and the creativity of local start-ups who have products that could change the world, can make the Sacramento a green boomtown. The destination of dreamers. The Green Valley.