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The total sum of carbon based energy, be it in the form of wood, coal, oil, methane, natural gas or biomass, originated from the sun. Photosynthesis captures sunlight and converts it to oxygen and reduced carbon forms. We see this in plant life. Plants give us oxygen, nutritional sustenance and fuel. In the distant past the cycle of plant life created carbon energy that has allowed humans to advance to the state we now enjoy. Fifty to sixty million years ago eastern Montana was home to a shallow swamp like environment. The jungle and forests were overlain with sediment, compressed over time and transformed into the coal that, through electrical generation, Bozeman illuminates its houses and streets with. The amount of energy the sun bestows upon earth in six months is equal to the collective reserves of all carbon based fuel sources.

Obviously we are a long way from harnessing sunlight in a cost effective and efficient manner. As we face dwindling carbon reserves and an atmosphere dramatically changed by the consumption of carbon fuel, harnessing energy from the sun a technological break-though that will benefit all humans. Will it happen in our lifetime? Chances are slim given the volatility and ease of transport for carbon based energy. Transitioning from one system to another will require massive capital expenditures. Given these challenges how do we as a society proceed? There are those that shy away from challenges and those that see it as an opportunity to try harder. Energy independence is one area that will require a fair amount of ingenuity, determination and perseverance. Success is ever more sweeter when the odds are against you.

Solar energy is currently harnessed by two methods: passive and solar. Aligning a building to have maximum southern exposure is an obvious example of passive collection. Active collection has principle methods: photovoltaic and thermal mass. Photovoltaic panels are constructed with silicon wafers that directly convert sunlight to electricity. Your calculator with a miniature cell is probably the most common form of this technology. Photovoltaic cells are between 12 – 20 % efficient, that is 80 % of the solar energy doesn’t convert to electricity. The current costs do not match the direct costs of electricity generated by coal. As efficiency increases with technological advancement photovoltaic collection will feature in our future energy mix.

Thermal mass captures sunlight in a manner that is transferred or stored without being converted into electrical current. The energy captured is typically used for low-temperature applications. The simplest form of thermal generation is a roof top solar water heater. The energy captured can be used in two ways that benefit daily energy usage: water usage and structure heating. Hot water from the roof heater is piped into or through the existing gas or electric water heater thereby reducing the energy load required to heat water to the desired temperature.
When designing new or retro fitting existing structures radiant heating is an efficient and comfortable way of warming interior spaces. Piping is plumbed into the floor and the warm liquid heats the structure from the ground up. By using the water from the roof top solar water heater the need to heat the water from carbon-based sources is lessened or entirely negated. Commercial and institutional applications stand to benefit from this technology.

Montanans are known for their ingenuity and perseverance. Encouraging solar thermal design and installation will bring us closer to the goal of energy independence. Making the transition to sustainable energy is a big step. If, like children, we start with small obtainable steps we’ll eventually make it.


“Knowledge drives innovation; innovation drives productivity; productivity drives our economic growth. That’s all there is to it.”
William R. Brody, U.S. Competitiveness: The Innovation Challenge, Testimony to the House Committee on Science, July 21, 2005.

Knowledge is information, skill, education and experience relating to a specific subject. Each generation adds to the collective and passes it on to the next generation. Innovation, the act of creating something new, is based on knowledge. The fields of medical science, engineering, agriculture, computing and energy have led to a higher standard of living for humans. Technological improvements are founded in knowledge and innovation.
How is knowledge and education beneficial to our regional economy? Education is the foundation for knowledge. Knowledge drives innovation, which in turn drives productivity. Productivity drives our economic growth. Although the connection might not be as self-evident as potatoes come from seeds, the Apollo program is an example of the education multiplier. The national drive to put man on the moon, led to the scientific innovation that has touched every aspect of our life.
We are fortunate to have Montana State University (MSU) as the cornerstone to our southwest Montana community. From the graduating class of each spring to the Bobcat football games most everyone in our community has a connection on some level. The future of MSU is secure, yet the opportunity exists to excel in the field of energy production, energy conservation and related technologies. These three areas have an unlimited potential for growth. As the United States increases in population and the existing global population strives to live at the standard of we enjoy there will be an ever-increasing amount of need for energy and energy efficiency.
For MSU to become a regional and national powerhouse in energy we need to focus on the students of tomorrow. The fifth grade children of today will be university juniors in a decade. By getting them excited in energy – be it coal, natural gas, oil, conservation, efficiency, thermal, wind or biomass we have the opportunity to start today. What motivates people, young or old? Incentive.
If MSU were to create an “Energy Scholarship” aimed at high school juniors and seniors we could be assured of attracting the best and brightest minds. Hear me out: each year MSU will award two full-ride undergraduate scholarships based on merit. The students will participate in a science project that is based quite simply on energy. Faculty and industry experts would judge students from our region on projects that they have invented. Be it a low cost solar water heater, efficiency designs for lawn mowers, insulation techniques for housing, outreach programs; any concept that targets energy and has the promise of innovation would be rewarded. These budding inventors would be students at MSU. Their ideas would lead to innovation and the sharing of knowledge. Within a ten-year time frame the students in this program will be nationally recognized for their contributions. Our goal of energy independent and becoming experts in the field of energy would be one step closer.
Imagine 400 hundred of our state’s brightest young students competing on a project that will benefit our nation and in turn our planet. This program, albeit ambitious, would be a tremendous benefit to our regional economy. We would be known throughout the world as the hotbed for energy innovation.
For the United States to continue its lead in the field of science we need to support education throughout the academic spectrum. From preschool to the post doctorate education is a sound investment in our economic wellbeing. It is possible and it’s at our fingertips.

Greetings Friends,

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle is our local news paper for the Gallatin Valley and surrounding communities. This past summer I submitted a selection of Op Ed pieces to be considered as a columnist. Nice things happen and I earned the right and responsibility to be one of the three rotating Friday writers. The following is from my first column published on Friday the 23rd of October.

These articles will show up every three weeks. While not directly relating to climbing, adventure, the outdoors and nature they have a big picture view and hopefully will mean something to you. Thanks for reading.

Education, Energy and the Environment
As I look to the east, with the sun welcoming a fine Montana morning, I realize how lucky we are. The mighty Missouri river originates in the peaks surrounding the Madison, Paradise and Gallatin valleys. We hunt, fish and play in these ranges, rejuvenating us for the work that supports our communities we so dearly cherish. Seldom is the person that doesn’t see how fortunate we are to live in this corner of our planet.
Part of being a citizen of Montana and the United States is knowing how we have shaped the current state of the world. We are the beacon for democracy, opportunity and knowledge. These three attributes have created a quality of life equal to none. With this privilege and right of citizenship comes responsibility.
One of life’s aims is to leave the world we inhabit a better place than when we inherited it. The generations preceding us have lived by this axiom and given us much to be grateful for. If we are make the world a better place there are three areas that we as citizens of Montana can make a difference.
These subjects are: education, energy and environment. These three topics are tied to our well-being and will define our future.

Education: The United States has been at the forefront of technology for over a century. Aviation, communications, nuclear physics, lunar exploration are four examples of our “can do” spirit and the worlds greatest collection of research based universities. In the Academic Ranking of World Universities for 2008, 17 of the top 20 universities are in the United States. Montana State University receives research funding, which creates innovation, which in turn leads to commerce. The technology companies that support our communities with employee payroll and tax payments benefit from the university environment. To succeed as a university we need quality schools for our children. Our economic growth is dependant on having bright minds designing the future.

Energy: We are first in national coal reserves with 119 billion tons and fifth in annual production at 43 million tons. Coal is part of who we are as a state. Similarly, wind defines the Big Sky. A breeze over 5 MPH is an untapped source of energy. Our state is second in the nation with a potential 4700 terawatts of electricity. This is 3700 times what we currently consume. Yet both of these resources have their challenges. Coal is the largest source of CO2; wind is reliable only 40 % of the time and is limited by transmission capability. Hence energy circles back to education. Our children are the engineers and scientists that will find solutions to coal emissions, carbon sequestration and efficient energy use.

Environment: The mountains that we enjoy are the water towers for the Mississippi and the Columbia watersheds. Water is the lifeblood of agriculture and our communities. How the water is used is of vital importance to our well-being. Hydro electricity is a source of energy and loops back to the education equation. Our fair vale is on the verge of unacceptable levels of air pollution. If we address this before federal government mandates change we will be much better off.
These three topics are of national and regional importance. Our community is poised to be the leader by creating the next generation of scientists with our exemplary education system, addressing the needs of our national energy needs and fostering a healthy environment. By being part of the solution we will grant future generations the quality of life we cherish.