Mikhail Gorbachev sings in the solar choir

You know, he actually looks a lot like my dad...

Greg Harman

[email protected]

Gorby has an idea about the sun. And a pretty good one, too.

We're all wound up, the ranks of the working press â?? lights, cameras, notepads, and an arrogant wire-service man in argyle socks â?? waiting. We're waiting to hear the former president of the former Soviet state (not quite as united or nearly as socialist as some would have liked) pontificate on our planetary well-being.

Had he been here a week ago, Gorby would have made a terrific interview for “Last Chance for a Slow Dance.”

As he is settles into a chair beneath an American flag and stark Green Cross/Global Green banner and slowly takes control of the podium, I realize he'll do just fine to reinforce the article's conclusion that the world must jump now to avoid possible worst-case runaway global warming. Maybe.

In a somewhat dragging baritone, the 78-year-old insists, much as President Barack Obama has been want to do, that the economy can be revived by deep and rapid deployment of green technology, something that will also uplift the less prosperous nations of the world. That solar, in fact, can save the world.

Though he was criticized in some quarters for delaying the then-radical economic reforms of the mid-1980s that ultimately brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev said that “If we act late now, all of us will be the losers â?¦ If we do not take this opportunity, this will be a big mistake.”

So here in the industrial lull of our current global recession it is time to get serious about solar power. Folks with the U.S. DOE-hosted Solar American Cities meeting, gathering in downtown Alamo City tonight, have got to love that.

Thankfully (if we can speak of gratitude as millions are pushed toward poverty and gunmen blast away at innocents almost daily), as the machines of production slow, so too does our output of greenhouse gases. An initial report out of the Northeastern U.S. suggests we may be seeing emissions finally declining after years of greenhouse gains in spite of all the heated rhetoric about saving the planet. However, this period will end and production and all associated heat and gas will return.

At this momentous crossroads, hoping to lure some of Big Oil's investment dollars and draw some media attention, Gorbachev is taking this possibly heretical message not only to Texas but straight to the beast itself, addressing the 33rd annual meeting of the International Petrochemical Conference wrapping up in San Antonio tomorrow.

“Moving toward a low-carbon economy is an urgent task, both political and economic,” Gorby tells us through his translator. “The leaders of a number of countries have already taken steps to make the economy less carbon dependent.” You see it in Obama's plans for green jobs, he says, and in the European Union, and, more recently, from Russia and China.

After addressing our small group of newsers and activists, the grades are delivered.

Unsurprisingly, the Green Cross International gives the U.S. fairly low marks for failing to invest substantially in solar technologies (C+). But, hey, the Ruskies and Poles are way down in the potato cellar. Too bad competitive nationalistic gloating won't hack a way out of this here global-warming calamity.

Then again, when the subject is solar-power investment and planning, a little gloating couldn't hurt.


Pretend to be a privileged journalist and listen in on the full press conference (Then tell us, who loves ya, baby?):


Highlights of the Solar Report Card

(from Global Green US)

The Global Solar Report Card by Green Cross International and its American affiliate, Global Green USA outlines successes and failures in 16 countries' (and the state of California's) efforts in designing promising policy frameworks for sustained solar development. It finds all countries still in the early phases of solar deployment, even Germany, which is currently setting the pace. The ranking is based on a 100-point system that allocates a maximum of 30 points to the amount of solar installed so far, and the remaining 70 points to drivers for future growth (56 points for financial incentives, 12 points for regulatory incentives and 2 points for educational and advocacy efforts).

The following are some of the highlights of the analysis:

* Germany (A-), which scored highest being the country with most PV installed and having put in place promising â??drivers for future growth', still finishes with only 70 out of a 100 possible points. The state of California (B), also scored well in 2nd place, having implemented a 10-year $3 billion rebate program for solar.

* Spain (C+), which saw tremendous growth since 2007, overtook the US in 2008 as the 3rd country with the most installed PV. A period of policy uncertainty followed by a decision to cap the market for 2009 negatively affected Spain's grade. However, based on Spain's installed capacity for 2008, Spain would score a B.

* The United States (C+), with the extension of its only federal-level financial support for solar, assured a much needed long term commitment to the sector. Additional support has since been allocated in the context of the stimulus package. Still, much more could be done in a country with such solar, financial and technological resources.

* Countries such as Italy (C+), France (C+) and Greece (C-) fare moderately because of still young markets, but all earn points for putting in place substantial drivers for growth. Recent efforts focused on lifting bureaucratic hurdles, which have in all 3 cases, acted as significant barriers to market take up. Solar markets are expected to grow in these countries moving forward.

* With recent policy changes, Australia (C) missed an opportunity to put in place a considered federal-level policy to capitalize on tremendous solar resources and spur significant investment in the country's solar sector. Similarly to the US, the country could do much more to reach its solar potential.

* Japan (C), once the leading country in terms of both production and installed capacity, scored low after ending its flagship program in 2005. Japan however, hoping to regain its solar panel makers' competitive edge in the world market, recently put in place the first step of a new residential PV program.

* China (D-), which seems committed to developing a clean energy infrastructure, has set ambitious targets and put in place a comprehensive renewable energy policy framework. However, the country scores poorly here because up until March 23rd, the specifics for solar PV were unclear. Indeed, China just released details for a PV rebate program. The country stands to gain a lot from supporting the deployment of solar, given its tremendous energy needs, high insolation and its position as one of the three largest PV producers in the world.

* Finally, countries that rate poorly in the study are Russia (F) and Poland (F), with no solar markets and no mechanisms to capitalize on their solar potential, and to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom (D-) with a very small market and no significant support for solar growth at this time. While the UK is in the process of designing a solar support program, impact will not be seen until the end of 2010.

Scroll to read more The QueQue articles
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join SA Current Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.