Namaste’s Jones: Igniting a solar fire

Local heroes plan for solar's future.

| Mar 3, 2010

Yesterday I met the future of America. Clean cut and fresh faced like the boy next door, Blake Jones, president of Namaste Solar, was igniting a fire in the minds of his audience. He spoke about the power of a future fueled by solar energy.

Jones’s presentation at the DaVinci Institute was filled with good ideas and some powerful insights. He and his panel of solar experts gave a quick response when asked what they would do if handed $6.8 billion dollars. The $6.8 billion is the amount President Obama offered to the Southern Company last week to help them build two nuclear reactors in Burke County, Ga.

Blake Jones with President Obama last year

Blake Jones with President Obama last year

The panel response surprised me: “We’d take the money and build a solar power manufacturing facility that would sell solar power units to the U.S. marketplace and to the world.”

In other words, the money would not be used to create a few construction jobs in a single state. Instead, they would stimulate the entire U.S. economy. They would build a solar manufacturing facility and go head to head with Germany, Japan and China.

Recently, China invested $2 billion in setting up a solar manufacturing facility that will export “free” solar power to the world. Once solar panels are installed on a home or commercial building it doesn’t matter what happens to the price of coal, gas, oil, or nuclear.

With upfront installation costs covered — via municipal loans (like Treasury Bills), Feed-in Tariffs (like Germany), or a property owner’s tax (like Boulder’s ClimateSmart plan), the utility bill to generate hot water or electricity drops toward zero.

There was more good news. Architect and solar visionary Steven Conger, CEO of P4P Energy, spoke of the projects his company was working on in California that coupled utility-scale solar projects to economic benefits. P4P has designed a solar panel placement system that would hang over the aqueducts that transfer water throughout California. P4P’s solar panels would not only transmit needed electricity along this water corridor, it would also save the state 13 million gallons of water per mile, by reducing evaporation.

At Owens Lake, a 100-square-mile dry lake filled with toxic dust, P4P’s utility-scale solar project would offer the electric generating capacity of 25 nuclear plants, while reducing or eliminating the problem of airborne toxic dust from the lake bed.

Jones also gave us a “heads up” about Bloom Energy, and I made a note to look it up.

With this type of enterprise and innovation, it’s no wonder that the solar energy industry has the “big four” running scared. Three industries — coal, oil and nuclear — know that that the success of the solar industry will only hasten their demise.

And the fourth? The military. America’s military runs on coal, oil and nuclear power. The U.S. military, in fact, uses 117 million gallons of oil per year, or 10 times more than the per capita energy consumption in China, according to researchers at
But back to Blake Jones.

Jones was recently honored by President Obama at the White House. When I asked what message he was able to personally deliver to the president, he said: To boost the export power of our solar industry.

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden immediately understood this. Their response, he said, showed that they had already studied this issue and were receptive.

I also asked him if he had a chance to meet Van Jones when he was back in Washington D.C. In an almost reverential tone, as if talking about a modern-day Gandhi who could lead America to the Promised Land, he said “No.” He asked if I knew where Van Jones was.

Van Jones resigned from the White House Council on Environment Quality in 2009 after a coordinated smear campaign by conservatives. He had been able to inspire both inner-city residents and city mayors with a promise of unlimited opportunity from renewable energy.

I was happy to report that Van Jones is taking up a senior fellowship at the Center for American Progress, where he will head a “green opportunity initiative.” He will also be teaching at Princeton University and passing the flame of the future to some of America’s best and brightest minds.

In time, his Princeton students — along with entrepreneurs like Blake Jones, Steven Conger and others — will find ways to influence energy policy decision-making. Then, like grass seeds in concrete, they will help break up the corporate power bloc that has kept America from its promised solar future.

This article also appeared in Alexia Parks’s blog on Huffington Post.