Another theme of the trip was California’s emerging renewable energy industry.
Geography makes this an ideal place for the renewable energy industry. High geological heat flow in an area of permeable sediments under the Imperial Valley creates an ideal location for geothermal wells, which tap steam used to generate electricity. The combination of topography and climate create seasonably dependable, strong winds through gaps in the mountains near Palm Springs, leading to a prolific wind power industry, both on an individual and commercial scale. The lack of cloud cover in the Mojave Desert supports a solar power industry with plants producing as much power as large coal fired plants using just the energy from the Sun. All of these industries benefit from their proximity to huge markets for power along the California coast.
We were able to tour examples of all of these sources of power, and to learn of both their benefits and their limitations and drawbacks. Students and faculty engaged in discussions of state policies which both support and inhibit growth of these industries, often in surprising ways. We were left to wonder if our home state of Michigan is not being left behind in the conversion to renewable energy.