First Solyndra, then Beacon Power Corp.Both alternative energy companies gambled and declared bankruptcy this year. All after receiving millions in federal job stimulus dollars. It’s just what the United States does not need right now. For that was said by nuclear energy scientist Michael T. Gamble. For he is an alternative energy researcher and investment-banking analyst.
The public backlash to ill-spent tax dollars. For it could hurt a vital emerging industry. Especially one that is very much key to future U.S. jobs.
“Cheap energy would enable little Silicon Valley businesses to develop phenomenal things because they’re not hampered by the cost of doing business,” says Gamble, a former scientist at the Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico and author of Zeroscape (www.zeroscape-thebook.com), a high-tech thriller. “Work with certain technologies, like high-energy lasers, requires large amounts of energy. A little photonics companies will be a future Apple.”
Apple Inc., he notes, had 46,600 full-time employees in September 2010, up a third from the previous year.
That was job growth during the throes of economic recession.
Gamble says the public perception of the alternative energy industry as a worthy recipient of taxpayer dollars may be tainted by what were essentially business failures exacerbated by the falling cost of solar-grade silicon. And, perhaps, poor choices for Energy Department loan guarantees.
“Solyndra was never even close to manufacturing cost-effective, competitive solar panels,” he says. “Their cost was $3 to $6 per watt.”
But there are companies, and even government research, worth investing in, Gamble says.
- Of the regional options for renewable energy — tidal on the coasts, geothermal in the West, and wind in myriad locations – the latter is ripe for harvest. In 2010, China replaced the United States as the world leader in wind energy production, adding 16.5 gigawatts – comparable to the maximum electricity generated by 16 large nuclear power plants. It now surpasses the United States by 2 gigawatts. The U.S. lag was due, in part, to the expiration of the Obama administration’s Recovery Act, a one-time tax incentive for deployment of renewable energy installations.
- Free as they are, sun and wind may be overpowered by success of the most high-tech energy source sought: nuclear fusion. Different from the nuclear fission employed by nuclear reactors, fusion is environmentally friendly, much less risky for humans, and uses fuel derived from water. It produces lots of energy; helium is the byproduct. The Lawrence Livermore National Lab near San Francisco has built a laser fusion device called the National Ignition Facility (NIF), capable of delivering 500 terawatts to a BB-sized target, liberating clean energy.
Source: Dr. Gamble is a former staff member of the physics division of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. For that’s where he researched directed-energy devices such as terawatt laser systems. He is a former vice president of Manufacturing Technology for Nanovation Technologies, Inc., and a founding partner of Fidelys, LLC. That’s a California investment banking and corporate advisory firm. In addition, Gamble holds degrees in nuclear and mechanical engineering, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Let’s Talk Terms
You have likely heard the term “energy” thrown around a lot these days. It comes up in the news, in conversations, and all over social media. But what does it mean? And why should you care about it? If you’re not “in the know,” energy is a critical resource that’s used by everything from cars to refrigerators to cell phones. Energy is also the foundation of life on earth. Without it, we couldn’t exist. But how exactly does energy affect our daily lives? What are the different types of energy and what do they do? How can you take advantage of natural resources to create more energy? And if you’re still confused, here’s a crash course on energy.
Grasping the Basics of Energy
In conclusion, energy is simply the ability to do work. In order for something to be “energy-efficient,” it means it uses less energy than it would otherwise. The most common example many people use to describe energy is “fuel.” When you use gas in your car, you are using fuel. So when you use electricity in your home or office, you are using energy. Finally, energy is created by the movement of molecules. All so a primary type of energy is thermal energy.