On one hand, Sacramento is one of the sunniest cities in America, making it one of the most ideal places for solar panels to provide clean cheaper electricity. Who doesn’t want cleaner and cheaper energy besides fossil fuel manufacturers? Sacramento has already hit historic milestones with solar, with North America’s biggest solar parking lot at Cal Expo, SMUD being a national leader in solar utility development and hometown band Cake’s introduction of the world’s first solar powered album last year, Showroom of Compassion. The latest SacTV.com video is a brief summary of why Sacramento is one of the best places in America for solar development.
Mayor Kevin Johnson, who has proven he can save the Kings, has an even bigger dream to make Sacramento the "Emerald Valley" or "greenest city in America" by creating green jobs and making the city a hub for clean energy development. Why some people think this can never happen is somewhat baffling since Sacramento was one of the first cities in America to have a GE power plant. Why can’t it make history again with green energy? After all, it’s only a few hours down the road from Silicon Valley, where much of the modern tech world develops.
California is clearly the epicenter of solar technology, one of the fastest growing industries in America. Since Sacramento is the capital of America’s most powerful solar state, where new energy regulations emerge. Yet Sacramento is somewhat overshadowed in the solar revolution by other California cities who get better headlines for solar development. Even when Google announced last year it would invest millions of dollars in building a solar farm in Sacramento, there seemed to be a lack of enthusiasm and knowledge among Sacramentans about this exciting development. Last year Sacramento was chosen by President Obama as one of five cities in America for receiving solar funding through the Ygrene program. But where was the big celebration?
What’s bizarre about media coverage of green energy is that big media will cover stories when Sarah Palin calls electric car maker Tesla Motors a "loser" then a month later when the company’s stock nearly doubles and they announce they’ve paid off their government loan nine years in advance there’s not much coverage except in financial publications. Tesla, named after the same inventor as Sacramento’s most successful band, also was given "near perfect" ratings by Consumer Reports Magazine last month, but it wasn’t as big of a headline as Palin’s inaccurate remark. The Silicon Valley-based electric car company is working with the solar industry to develop free solar-powered battery charging stations throughout California.
The government’s funding of Solyndra that turned into a bankruptcy story still makes the news even though other solar companies such as First Solar and SolarCity have been experiencing remarkable success.
Earlier this year the blazing hot desert city of Lancaster in Southern California made national news when they passed an ordinance requiring most new homes to include solar power systems. The past month the world’s first solar battery-powered plane that flies at night and doesn’t require any fuel flew from San Francisco to Phoenix then Dallas. The plane called Solar Impulse is now on its way to St. Louis before completing its cross country tour to Washington DC. Is this a big news story in the mainstream media? It’s gotten ink from forward thinking publications, but it’s mostly buried in the back pages. High energy prices (the problem) tend to make the news yet clean energy (the solution) is treated like an underground lost hit even when new solar technology makes aviation history.
Five years ago solar was just beginning to surge in development but the technology still was not cost efficient due to high upfront installation costs for solar panels. Since then solar prices have dropped dramatically due to mass production from China driving prices down. Government subsidies have been the key to solar sales all along. In addition, solar technology has blossomed into many different new developments alongside vast improvements in electric cars and other clean energy technology. Investing in solar used to take about seven years to start seeing a return on investment for solar water heaters, and a longer time horizon for solar electric powered homes. Many homeowner associations didn’t want solar panels on roofs for aesthetic reasons. These days smaller more attractive solar panels that are much more powerful and affordable have arrived.
Ten years ago both solar energy and electric cars were written off by government and mainstream media as dead. The uninformed public did not really have enough information about the technology back then to make well thought out purchasing decisions. Many people who bought solar back then got burned by the expense and inefficiency of the technolgy. But like the computer revolution, new development has answered a lot consumer concerns about the mystery of free sunlight versus wasteful environmentally harmful energy.
Whether Sacramentans realize it or not, Sacramento is poised to be a hot spot for solar development. Mayor Johnson’s dream of making Sacramento the greenest city in America is already partially true since the River City has the most trees per capita than any American city. It’s interesting that another recent scientific discovery has been that solar energy can be produced from trees. Scientists have known for years that enough sunlight hits the earth’s surface in a fifteen minute period to power the whole planet for a quarter of a century for free, once developers improve the way sunlight is captured with solar panels.
Now that Sacramento is keeping the Kings, there should be more talk about how the mayor wants to create more green jobs and improve the region’s environment. Sacramento and Kevin Johnson both have a huge opportunity to make national news for not just saving the Kings, but to be a leader in the solar revolution that is quietly redefining the future.