When President Obama addressed Congress last week to enlist support for the American Jobs Act, he could have easily used the company Magnolia Solar and the U.S. Air Force to illustrate his point about the crucial role that federal funds can play - and have played - in creating jobs through support for research, technology and infrastructure. The Obama Administration has devoted millions to developing the U.S. solar power industry, and Magnolia is a good example of a private company that has been able to grow and create new green jobs with help from American taxpayers at both ends: the federal government has been providing research and development funding for the company's new high efficiency thin film solar technology, and it is serving as an eager customer for the finished goods, too.
Magnolia Solar and Federal Funding for Advanced Solar Power
Magnolia Solar's breakthrough product is a thin-film solar panel that is capable of capturing a larger span of the light spectrum, while using relatively inexpensive materials that are also non-toxic (conventional solar technology relies on heavy metals).
Last year the company won a $1 million grant from the Department of Energy to work with the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University of Albany in New York to develop the technology. The company also won a relatively modest Small Business Innovation Research grant from NASA earlier this year, which will focus on improving NASA's advanced photovoltaic systems.
The U.S. Air Force and Solar Power
The U.S. Air Force has awarded contracts to Magnolia to develop advanced solar technology specifically for space and defense purposes, and to develop "third-generation" efficiency improvements in other types of solar technology. In addition to these specific applications, the Air Force is also advancing the Department of Defense's energy security goals, with massive solar installations at Air Force bases as well as new biofuels for fighter jets and other aircraft (Triple Pundit has been following the Air Force's renewable energy projects since 2005).
A National Investment in Solar Energy
One key theme of President Obama's address last week was our nation's long history federal support for transformational projects that have established a global economic leadership position for the United States. The President mentioned Abraham Lincoln's support for the Transcontinental Railroad and the National Academy of Sciences, and highlighted the federally funded basic research that gave rise to the Internet and the computer chip. In a common sense world, perpetuating this American legacy through federal support for renewable energy innovation is a policy that should appeal strongly to conservatives and traditionalists, so it will be interesting to see how those sectors of the political spectrum respond to the President's proposals as the legislation works its way through Congress. If you would like to have a say in the process, you can contact your representatives through www.house.gov and www.senate.gov.
Image Credit: Solar Panels at Nellis Air Force Base by theregeneration on flickr.com.
Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.