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U.S. President Barack Obama was upbeat at his State of the Union Address, but issued tough challenges to the FCC and Congress, respectively, when it comes to wireless spectrum, oil incentives, and alternative energy.  (Source:


On Wednesday, President Obama will visit Wisconsin green energy startup Orion Energy Systems, a provider of energy-efficient lighting and solar-power solutions. The President will also visit two other local businesses.  (Source: Orion Energy Systems)
Government hopes to release 500 MHz; but plan relies on TV networks agreeing to auction of their spectrum

After pounding net neutrality and several less tech-related issues through the door, U.S. President Barack Obama was back at it during his annual State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, trying to fulfill yet another one of his campaign promises.

I. Step Right up to the Wireless Spectrum Auction!

When elected, the President promised to deliver faster wireless networks to Americans.  How he plans on making good on that promise is by freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum, currently left unused, and selling it to spectrum-hungry wireless network providers like Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile.

During his State of the Union Address [video], he remarked, "Within the next five years, we will make it possible for business to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98% of all Americans. This isn't just about a faster Internet and fewer dropped calls. It's about connecting every part of America to the digital age."

The federal government has 380 of the 500 MHz it needs.  However, the other 120 MHz is currently occupied and unused by television networks, which were gifted it long ago.  The administration is trying to set up a special auction to convince these networks to part with the unused spectrum by letting them keep a cut of the auction proceeds.

Verizon Wireless general counsel Steve Zipperstein [profile] cheered the measure, stating to Reuters, "President Obama is helping the nation to understand the incredible benefits that broadband wireless can bring: to our business, to healthcare, to productivity and to education.  Wireless innovation requires public policies that foster innovation, growth and encourage continued investment by Verizon and our partners in the technology."

Television broadcasters, however, have expressed mixed feelings on the issue.  While they appreciate that the auction will give them funds and that it's voluntary, they are reticent to part with the unused spectrum, partly because they accuse wireless networks of sitting on unused spectrum they previously purchased.  States Dennis Wharton [profile], a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters to Reuters, "We would encourage Congress to immediately pass spectrum inventory legislation that fully identifies airwaves that are not being used."

Clearly, as with the net neutrality issue, President Obama has his work cut out for him.  But at the very least, he can urge Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski [profile] to open up the 380 MHz reserve as soon as possible, even if he can't convince TV providers to willingly sell their unused spectrum.

II.  Hitting the Road for Alternative Energy

Life isn't always easy if you're the president of the world's richest nation.  Not ready to call it a night just yet, hours after giving his address President Obama hopped a late night flight to Wisconsin.  There he plans to today plug his five "pillar" vision, which calls for: innovation, education, infrastructure, deficit reduction and government reform.

The visit is largely focused on the innovation and infrastructure pillars, and specifically, his objectives concerning alternative energy.  During his speech last night, the President urged Congress to act swiftly to eliminate incentives to oil companies who import oil from unstable foreign sources (e.g. Venezuela and the Middle East).  

During the speech President Obama stated, "I don't know if you’ve noticed, but [the oil companies are] doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow's."

President Obama hopes to walk a narrow tightrope of investing massively in alternative energy, but avoiding increasing the spending deficit.  Key to that plan is scaling back military efforts overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, refocusing that funding on the home front.

By 2035, the President wants 80 percent of America's energy to come from alternative sources like modern nuclear fission, solar power, wind power, geothermal power, biofuel (algae, switchgrass, etc.), tidal power, and hydroelectric power.  Congress has yet to authorize that lofty goal or discuss what kind of government funding might be necessary to help achieve it.  Meanwhile China and the EU have pledged over a trillion dollars over the next two decades to clean energy projects, threatening to leave the U.S. far behind [1] [2] [3] [4].

On Wednesday, the President will visit [press release] Wisconsin's Orion Energy Systems, a manufacturing company in Manitowoc, that designs energy efficient lighting and solar power solutions, which it sells domestically.  

The President's visit to Manitowoc will be a first for a sitting U.S. President.  Orion Energy Systems CEO and President Neil Verfuerth, cheers the President's decision and the chance to show off the success his "green" firm has enjoyed.  It comes at a time when the energy-efficient lighting industry is reeling from a disappointing study released by the Californian state government, which showed compact fluorescent lamps burning out quicker that expected and saving less energy.

Two other domestic firms in Manitowoc will also receive a visit from the President on Wednesday.  He will travel to Skana Aluminum Company, a revived domestic manufacturer who received a $650,000 state grant to employ 110 people and resume manufacturing.  He will also visit Tower Tech Systems, a wind turbine manufacturer.

Despite the fact that his constituents are eagerly awaiting the President's visit and support, new Wisconsin U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R) [homepage] seized the opportunity to attack the President in a Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal column.  He writes:

Washington's agenda has put a stranglehold on our economy. The pitiful result of the stimulus package is proof that growing government does not grow our economy. We need a thriving private sector to do that. We need to encourage and incentivize entrepreneurs, not tax and regulate them to death.

What America has accomplished over its short history is truly remarkable. America is exceptional -- it is precious. And we are bankrupting it. Americans hunger for leadership. They want leaders who understand that the only way to set America's economy back on the right path is to promote freedom, protect the free market system and respect our founders' vision of limited government.

The call for a limited government will please many, but when China and the EU are racing ahead on the heels of massive high-tech investment in clean energy and high-speed rail, one must wonder if the economic wind is shifting when it comes to massive infrastructure projects.  And many forget that the U.S.'s greatest technological innovations historically -- the railroad system and the telephone network, came on the heels of what would now amount to billions, if not trillions of dollars in land, tax breaks, and subsidies.

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yes, lets
By kattanna on 1/26/2011 11:25:23 AM , Rating: 4
So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow's

yes, lets do that please.

By 2035, the President wants 80 percent of America's energy to come from alternative sources like modern nuclear fission, solar power, wind power, geothermal power, biofuel (algae, switchgrass, etc.), tidal power, and hydroelectric power.

and the only 2 on that list that will have any truly meaningful percentage of it is hydro and nuclear.

so lets truly invest in our energy future and cut the red tape on nuclear and stand behind that pledge for loan guarantees on nuclear. since it is highly unlikely we would be able to get too much more out of hydro, nuclear is the only viable path forward. the others will provide a small part, but are simply unable to handle the large baseload power our country needs.

RE: yes, lets
By corduroygt on 1/26/2011 12:21:06 PM , Rating: 3
Algae biofuels is also pretty promising, especially since the Army thinks they can make it for $3/gallon with mass production. No matter how much electricity you generate with Nuclear, there'll always be a need for fuel for airplanes and helicopters, even if you convinced everyone to stop taking road trips and live with the pitiful range and recharging times of electric cars.

RE: yes, lets
By JediJeb on 1/26/2011 1:05:15 PM , Rating: 2
Also ships would either need to convert to nuclear or revert to wind power. Either of those would save tons of fuel each year alone.

I wonder how much more fuel efficient blimps would be than planes for transporting people and goods? Of course they are not going to fly as fast, but if your power is only used to push you forward and not provide lift it has to be better.

RE: yes, lets
By geddarkstorm on 1/26/2011 2:37:32 PM , Rating: 2
True, and you can put solar cells on the blimp coating to generate the electricity for the engines.

But these are all extreme measures.

RE: yes, lets
By JediJeb on 1/26/2011 3:07:32 PM , Rating: 2
I was watching a documentary about the USS Macon which was a lighter than air zeppelin air craft carrier that could carry up to 4 planes inside it. It seemed to have been a good concept and the only thing that killed it was a design flaw which the designer discovered but the Pentagon wouldn't allow time to repair. If something like that could be built in the 1920-40s why could we not build some serious cargo carrying zeppelins now days. With the carbon fiber and advanced alloy technologies we have, it should be feasible. I know some companies are working on the tech, but if the fuel savings could be promoted I wonder if they could get extra R&D funding?

RE: yes, lets
By Dorkyman on 1/26/2011 3:30:14 PM , Rating: 2
I don't know about the documentary you saw, but my gut feel is that designers grossly underestimated wind shear forces on early designs.

Having accidentally flown through a thunderstorm in a light aircraft a few decades ago, I can appreciate the enormous transient forces generated by Mother Nature. Conventional aircraft survive only because the wing stalls before the shear forces would be enough to detach it. I doubt a lighter-than-air vehicle impervious to such forces would be practical.

RE: yes, lets
By kattanna on 1/26/2011 3:44:55 PM , Rating: 2
why could we not build some serious cargo carrying zeppelins now days

oh, we could. but they wouldnt be as practical as modern container ships for MASS transit of cargo around the world. to build an airship that could handle the sheer tonnage a modern container ship can, it would be soo huge that the ports needed to handle them would have to be so massive as to make them economically unviable, for starters.

for smaller more specialized jobs, sure thing, and thats why there is R&D going on.

RE: yes, lets
By kattanna on 1/26/2011 3:32:58 PM , Rating: 3
true, but i was only talking about electricity needs.

i foresee oil derived fuels being a primary liquid fuel for cars/trucks/planes for some time. not that im against biofuels, im not. just not ones the depend on food crops or take food land.

one thing i have thought interesting about algae based biofuels is how they can be coupled to existing coal plants for their CO2 needs.

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