File this one under U for “You’ve Been Had, Part Infinity.” President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on a pledge to bring coal jobs back to the US, but job seekers who really want to work in the energy sector are going to have a lot more luck with the solar industry over the next four years.
The folks over at US-based Magnolia Solar contacted CleanTechnica just last week to remind us that solar will be “difficult to eliminate” regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, so let’s use that company as a jumping-off point.
Magnolia Solar On The Move
Magnolia Solar first crossed the CleanTechnica radar back in 2010, when it nailed a $1 million Department of Energy grant with the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at New York’s the University at Albany.
Among other pluses, Magnolia’s thin film technology is based on glass and other inexpensive, non-toxic substrates. Here’s our explainer from 2010:
The secret is in the quantum dots (qdots) and quantum wells. Qdots are nanoscale crystals that were initially developed using heavy metals such as cadmium. Next-generation qdots are being developed using nontoxic materials including nanodiamonds. Quantum wells operate sort of like flower presses. They force particles to move in a plane instead of a three-dimensional space, which results in high-density states and creates the potential for higher efficiency.
The Magnolia research team must have made a lot of progress since then, because this year it made two moves that position it for rapid growth within the US and India.
If the name Ecoark doesn’t ring a bell, it will soon. Magnolia Solar is now one of four companies under the Ecoark umbrella. The other three are Intelleflex, Eco3d, and Pioneer Products.
Last August, Ecoark won permission from the Securities and Exchange Commission to raise $80 million in anticipation of demand for its Zest Fresh food waste-reducing system.
Meanwhile, Magnolia is on its way to becoming a global force.
SolarBuilderMag provides this insight from Ecoark Chairman and CEO Randy May, who explains how the Magnolia merger will help to drive market penetration in the US:
“…with the significant drop in solar installation costs, and the increasing prevalence of solar installations, the opportunity to penetrate the market with Magnolia’s technology is something we can capitalize on today.”
The first step in the InSolare partnership will be a feasibility study that piggybacks Magnolia’s thin film onto an existing solar installation.
Here’s Where Things Get Sticky
If President-elect Trump is really serious about bringing coal jobs back he’ll have to tamp down the competition from solar and other alternatives.
This is where his global business connections could put a damper on all those campaign promises.
Trump’s business dealings in India and elsewhere have raised more than a few critical eyebrows. The silver lining, though, is that a President Trump could be reluctant to close off the US renewable energy market to companies that are based in India and other countries where he has private sector entanglements.
It’s not exactly a model for good governance, but Trump’s global business commitments could contribute to the continued growth of green jobs in the US.
After completion of its feasibility study with Magnolia, InSolare hopes to realize its goal of establishing a foothold in the US market so stay tuned for that.
Another Sticky Wicket For Coal Jobs
Magnolia Solar also factors into another obstacle facing the Trump Administration.
That would be the entire Department of Defense, which has been transitioning out of coal and into renewables as fast as it can.
That effort goes above and beyond simply purchasing renewable systems as they come on the market. It also includes DOD funding that supports next-generation foundational research, and that helps promising start-ups push their patents along the development pipeline.
Magnolia is one such beneficiary. In August 2010, the company announced the second of two Air Force awards for small business development, to support the commercialization of its quantum dot thin film solar cells.
Speaking Of The US Air Force
Every branch of the Armed Services has been chipping into the renewable energy effort, and the Air Force has been particularly active during the 2016 Presidential campaign season.
In March, the Air Force announced the formation of a new Office of Energy Assurance, which will do this:
…develop, implement and oversee an integrated facility energy portfolio, including privately financed, large-scale clean energy projects that will provide uninterrupted access to the electricity necessary for mission success.
That’s a big hurt for coal in terms of supplying permanent bases. The Air Force is also part of a DOD-wide effort to cut reliance on fuel convoys at forward operating bases overseas.
To that end, the Energy Assurance announcement also highlighted the Air Force’s Forward Operating Base of the Future program. This program enables trainees to experience an expeditionary mission powered with scavenged, renewable energy, while accomplishing this:
…the significant goal will be reducing the reliance on fuel convoys in contested FOB environments which have resulted in service member casualties.
Check out what Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James had to say to the trainees in March, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the FOB of the Future (the program is located at the Basic Expeditionary Airmen Skills Training site, aka BEAST):
…The same technologies, the same self-sustaining approach, and energy-aware culture that we’re demonstrating here at BEAST, these are just as important across all of our bases including all of our bases here in the United States. You see we must create mission assurance through energy assurance…
Ouch — more hurt for coal.
In January the Air Force also announced the launch of its first Solar Ready Vets job training program. This initiative is designed to enable veterans to begin transitioning into civilian green jobs while still on active duty.
As Secretary Lee makes clear (do read the whole speech for the full effect), military veterans are coming into the workforce with hands-on renewable energy experience, so they already have a head start.
Helping to seal the deal is the location of the Air Force’s Solar Ready Vets program, at Hill Air Force Base in Utah:
Hill was chosen to be part of the program based on the number of exiting military personnel from the installation, the strength of the surrounding solar market and the capacity of nearby training institutions.
Meanwhile, the Air Force has been adding to its already considerable roster of renewable energy projects at its US facilities. This year, for example, the Air Force has paired with the US Navy on three utility scale solar farms at three Air Force locations in Florida, for a total of 157 megawatts.
At the ground breaking ceremony last December, Navy Assistant Secretary Dennis V. McGinn highlighted the benefits to job seekers and the civilian community as national security:
Together, we can provide physical security to the assets, increase the regional grid resiliency and upgrade the energy infrastructure where our Sailors and aviators live and work, as well as stimulate economic activity through development. Energy, the economy, the environment and our national security are bound together; you cannot affect one without affecting the others, and these projects have positive benefits in all four dimensions.
To top it all off, in April of this year the Air Force also paired with the US Army on an agreement that will enable it to accelerate its clean power program.
The agreement teams the new Office of Energy Assurance with an experienced renewable energy development team under the Army Office of Energy Initiatives.
In addition to stationary clean power generation the Air Force is also interested in the portable, mobile and airborne use of solar energy so stay tuned for more on that.
Planning Ahead For New Coal Jobs
Not to pile on (but we will anyways), aside from DOD’s interest in promoting non-coal energy, the scales of the electricity market have reached a tipping point in favor of solar.
Here’s a recent take from Bloomberg under the title, “A boom in solar energy in Texas is about to spoil power generators’ favorite time of day:”
Developers are expected to build about 4 gigawatts of commercial-scale solar panel capacity in the Lone Star state by the end of the decade…Cheap solar energy threatens to depress electricity prices during peak midday hours, when generators profit most as consumers blast air conditioners, driving electricity demand higher.
If Trump wants to make good on those coal job promises, he better start laying down some solid plans now.
Image: via US Air Force.
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