Energy visionary says quadruple LANL budget

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By Roger Snodgrass

A public forum Wednesday explored possible responses to the national energy crisis from the Los Alamos and New Mexico perspectives.

Hosted by the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos, the meeting brought together several energy experts who agreed that major efforts are needed immediately.

Miro Kovacevich, president of an energy and economic policy advocacy organization, ViviLux, was one of the drivers behind the Solar Energy Research Park and Academy at Northern New Mexico College and other renewable energy developments in Española.

Now he wants to get the whole state involved.

During an opening statement and an extended question and discussion period, Kovacevich outlined an ambitious plan that, unlike three other prominent energy proposals currently in play, includes New Mexico’s national labs.

Without interfering with funding for the lab’s current mission, he said, “We just want to add three times more for renewable energy.”

The other three plans are T. Boone Pickens’ highly publicized crusade to use natural gas as a bridge fuel to reduce dependence on foreign oil; former Vice President Al Gore’s “carbon-free in 10 years” plan to convert to clean energy sources; and Internet champion Google’s Clean Energy 2030 bid to be smarter about energy use and wean the country from coal and oil.

“We don’t have time to waste 1,000 technicians chasing 3,000 rabbits and catching none,” Kovacevich said, calling instead for playing “the two aces,” the two national laboratories in New Mexico, to break through the technological barriers to creating portable electricity and solving the energy storage issues that limit the use of renewable energy sources.

He summarized the plan in seven words, all of them, “Storage.”

He called not just for a new Manhattan project, as others have done, or an Apollo-like, man-on-the-moon national purpose, but for a Manhattan and Apollo project combined with Eisenhower’s interstate highway program.

Bill Tumas, who heads applied energy programs at LANL, spoke of the lab’s historic contributions to alternative energy solutions, from the geothermal research of the ’70s and the hydrogen fuel cell initiatives of the ’70s and ’80s to the recent superconducting cable inventions and manufacturing capabilities aimed at increasing the efficiency of the electrical grid.

He said all the laboratory’s energy programs together probably amounted to about 10 percent of the budget.

Andrea Mammoli of UNM Department of Mechanical Engineering said he had seen advances in the sustainable energy field and new materials research.

“We have to do something now,” he said. “The problem is how do you tie everything together,” to direct the current and manage the intermittent production capacity of renewable energy.

High performance computers, like LANL’s world-fastest Roadrunner with modeling capacities could help energy systems designers understand the dynamics of the “green grid,” he added, “But we have to simulate it first.”

The audience of 70 or so appeared fully engaged and ultimately had more questions than time.

On a question about political strategy for “warding off additional resource wars,” Tumas said it would take public support.

“I’m a big fan of societal pull,” he said. “The hard, cold facts are – if we need it, we have to want it.”

Currently federal funding lags behind private funding for energy research and development, he noted.

Introduced by Cedric Page, executive director of UNM-LA, the discussion was moderated by Matthew Ellis, a green business advocate in Santa Fe, also associated with ViviLux. Public Regulation Commissioner Ben Ray Lujan was on the list of participants but was unable to attend, because he was campaigning for New Mexico’s Third District congressional seat in Clovis.