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UC Davis takes the lead on clean energy, with Schwarzenegger's backing

May 14, 2010

By Sylvia Wright and Clifton B. Parker

Photo: Two men talking on stage

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger talks with Graduate School of Management Dean Steven Currall at the May 12 forum.

UC Davis is taking a leadership role in spurring the innovations, ideas and dialogue that are needed to help create a clean energy future for Northern California — and beyond.

The university launched the initiative with a May 12 forum titled E3: Economic Prosperity, Energy and the Environment. The goal is to build a network of university researchers, government, corporations and investors all working together to drive innovations from labs into the marketplace.

"We intend to build momentum and promote action to move California and the nation to a future characterized by economic prosperity, new jobs and a greener future grounded in innovation and entrepreneurship," Chancellor Linda Katehi told an audience of some 225 people in Vanderhoef Studio Theatre at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. A couple dozen more people watched a webcast in Gallagher Hall.

Gov. Schwarzenegger, with his attendance and remarks, backed up Katehi’s vision:

“UC Davis is a university that doesn't just talk about and theorize about the kind of interesting things that you develop here,” the governor said, “but you also put it on the market and you make it workable and it has such a tremendous effect.

“So this is why I'm so interested … in coming here, because there is a lot of great, great research going on right here at UC Davis. And this university eventually will be known worldwide for its great, great work that it is doing, so I want to congratulate you all here at UC Davis."

Forum participants also included Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento; Desmond King, president, Chevron Technology Ventures; Nancy McFadden, senior vice president, PG&E Corp.; and other regional and national leaders.

The university organized the forum to help shape the agenda for a larger, clean technology summit to be held in November, said Steven Currall, dean of the Graduate School of Management.

'Big, bold shared vision for our region'

Currall, as moderator of the E3 panel discussion, asked how government and universities like UC Davis can support clean energy.

Johnson called for a “big, bold shared vision for our region” that transforms the Sacramento region into an “emerald valley” of green power.

“If we can organize and coordinate everything we’re doing,” he said, then Sacramento has a special place in the ranks of sustainable communities nationwide. Guidance from government is crucial to achieving this possibility.

“Government has to build trust with business that it is an accelerator and not an impediment,” said Johnson, noting that “tons of regulation” and the economic crisis are forcing many businesses to leave California.

James Duderstadt, president emeritus of the University of Michigan and director of the Millennium Project, a University of Michigan research center exploring the impact of over-the-horizon technologies on society, said California clean-energy advocates must understand how federal legislation on energy is developed.

“There are 3,000 miles between California and the place where federal laws get written,” Duderstadt said.

He is hopeful that President Obama makes good on his campaign promise to fund energy research and development to the tune of $15 billion — right now the funding is only $3 billion, he said.

Universities offer a successful model

As for the role of universities, Duderstadt said research universities like UC Davis with strong traditions of Cooperative Extension programs in fields like agriculture and engineering offer a successful model for transferring knowledge directly to the marketplace.

McFadden of PG&E said, “We need leadership. (It) is incredibly important to businesses” that government entities send “clear signals” on policies involving power transmission lines and wind turbines, for example. She favors more government funding for renewable energy.

For Chevron’s King, patience seemed the watchword. “It takes time to turn the energy mix over … solutions don’t just come immediately. There are huge scale issues.”

King noted that a large-scale wind power project off Cape Cod in Massachusetts went through nine years of regulatory red tape before gaining approval. Rather than face such obstacles, renewable energy projects should be evaluated on a “level playing field” to better compete with traditional energy sources like oil and gas.

Chevron provides venture capital to promising start-ups and aims to be a big player in the clean energy future, King said.

“It’s important we play that role — we can be great facilitators,” said King, who predicted that 50 years from now energy would be a vastly different-looking field.

Peter Van Deventer of SynapSense Corp., which makes energy controls for data centers, advised a “carrot-and-stick” approach in which government would make use of incentives and requirements in a way that supports clean energy.

Entrepreneurial opportunities, whether offered through universities or public funding, are particularly important for start-up companies. At the same, he said, energy consumption must be monitored, so society can reward and discourage specific types of energy use.

California must be 'smart and flexible'

Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, said states like California must be “smart and flexible” about promoting economic growth in green energy. She is concerned that aggressive litigation and a slow-moving court process bogs down promising projects. As for leadership from Washington, D.C., Nichols drew on her experience:

“Everything takes much longer in Washington, (D.C.),” she said.

Schwarzenegger noted that "California has led the way in enacting ambitious policies and programs to combat climate change, reduce our dependency on foreign oil and grow our green economy."

One of those ambitious policies is Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, which Schwarzenegger signed into law in 2006, requiring the state to cut carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, or about 15 percent.

Everyone on the panel at the E3 forum said they support AB 32. Opponents, however, are seeking to have it suspended, via a state initiative vote in November, saying the policy is bad for the economy.

Schwarzenegger said “a greedy oil company from Texas” is “really screaming the most” about AB 32, and leading the ballot initiative against it.

That company, the governor said, without identifying it, is thinking about only one thing — and that thing is not the California environment. The company, he said, “is only thinking about, you know, lining its pockets by selling oil.”

Later, he extended his “greedy” comment to multiple Texas oil companies.

“Any time when we develop a new technology where we can rely less, where we have the opportunity to rely less on fossil fuels, or less on oil and more on biofuels or alternative fuels, that's painful for the oil companies.”

The governor urged UC students and others to fight the suspension of AB 32, "to get involved in this battle when they try to take our environmental policies and try to roll us back into the Stone Age. ...

"Each and every one of you has a powerful voice. Don't think that it's wasted. Not at all."

For Katehi, the forum marked progress on her vision of UC Davis as the launching pad for sustainability and socially responsible innovations. The Sustainable 2nd Century initiative at UC Davis builds on the university's academic excellence and international impact on issues from clean cars and green wineries to energy-efficient air conditioning and streetlights.

UC Davis Energy Week

Other events this week, May 10-13, further demonstrate UC Davis’ green energy research:

Today (May 14) brings a symposium featuring 10 new energy faculty members, to introduce them and their research interests to their colleagues.

On the Net

Transcript of Dean Currall’s conversation with Gov. Schwarzenegger, at the forum.

Full video: E3: Economic Prosperity, Energy and the Environment forum, May 12 (2 hours, 9 minutes) Quicktime, Flash, Windows Media

More E3 information, including panelists' biographies

Dateline UC Davis: "U.S. patent director, an alum, says new approach needed for tech transfer"

This story was originally published on the Dateline UC Davis wesbite.

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