2015 California Economic Summit

November 13, 2015

President Janet Napolitano gave the keynote address at the 2015 California Economic Summit in Ontario, Calif. on November 13, 2015. Here are her remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Glenda. And thank you all for that warm welcome.

It is an honor to join you for this important convening. I applaud the organizers of the California Economic Summit for bringing together this coalition of public and private sector problem-solvers. Yours is a coalition that has worked hard to align and implement public policies that make a meaningful difference in the lives of Californians.

Just now, we heard from a range of experts in education, natural resources, business, and housing and infrastructure as they discussed the three Summit challenges of 1 million more homes, 1 million more acre-feet of water, and 1 million more college degrees.

This morning, I would like to address the ways in which the University of California is helping the state of California meet these “One Million Challenges.” And although we meet in Ontario, I’d like you to imagine, for a moment, that you are in the hills above the UC Berkeley campus, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Berkeley Lab, as it is called, is home to thirteen Nobel Prizes. It is home to ground-breaking discoveries in physics, energy, and other scientific fields. And with its commanding view of San Francisco Bay — and the fog that rolls in on many Bay Area afternoons — the Berkeley Lab is also home to a revolutionary new research site called “the Flexlab.”

Four small buildings make up the Flexlab. If you were to walk inside one of them, you would see what looks like a generic corporate office, complete with desks, chairs, and windows.

Instead of people, however, you would see white metal tubes near the desks that give off the same amount of heat as a human being.

Instead of plants or office decorations, you would see several slender poles, all bearing instruments that measure environmental factors like light and temperature.

And instead of watching the blinds close as the sun sets over the Golden Gate Bridge, you might feel the building rotate as the instruments collect new data about the room in both shadow and full sunlight.

The Flexlab is a building efficiency simulator. It is the first simulator of its kind in the world. It is essentially a laboratory that allows engineers and construction firms to test their projections for energy usage in the planning stages of a building. At a time when 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions in this country come from the electricity and natural gas used by our nation’s buildings, the need for Flexlab and its research are clear.

Last summer, I visited this remarkable research lab on the day it opened. In the short time since, the Flexlab has already helped Genentech develop a new major office building in South San Francisco.

It has served as a test site for PG&E studies on next generation technologies in whole building systems.

Norway and Singapore have announced that they will build Flexlabs in their own countries.

And just last month, at the U.S.–China Climate Leaders Summit, the White House announced that soon a Flexlab would soon be developed in China.

But the ramifications of the research at Flexlab reach far beyond office buildings.

Utility companies can study the data Flexlab collects to better address their energy efficiency needs. Developers of large apartment buildings or mixed-use residential-commercial projects can confirm the feasibility of low energy systems. And as we seek to add one million more homes in California, there is a vast potential to test and explore new building design innovations, especially ones that will meet our state’s appropriately high and evolving targets in energy consumption and efficiency.

The Flexlab is just one example of how a public research university like UC leads the way in meeting the challenges this Summit has identified.

At UC, we are not only helping to determine how to add one million more homes to our state. We are also determining what kind of homes these living environments should be. We are asking … and then answering … the bigger, broader questions about the purpose, composition, usage, and integration of these homes into the most populous state in the Union, and one with perhaps the most strained natural resources.

To that end, UC researchers approach these questions from a variety of angles.

At UC Davis, they are demonstrating that zero net energy is practical in large-scale living communities.

At UCLA, they are working to increase the number of non-smoking apartments in LA’s low-income neighborhoods to help combat the effects of smoking and secondhand smoke on the families who live there.

At the South Coast Research and Extension Center, which is run by UC’s state-wide Agriculture and Natural Resources division, they are helping municipal and private landscapers plant native grasses and trees better suited to drought conditions.

Taken together, these and countless other UC research examples not only address what kind of homes we will add in our state. They also address what kind of communities we will grow and enhance in our state. Communities where Californians live, work, study, raise their families, and participate in civic life. When we at the University of California talk about adding more homes in our state, what we are really talking about is fostering communities.

Now, a primary responsibility of any community is how to appropriately manage and preserve the natural resources entrusted to its care. The second challenge of this Summit concerns one of those resources — water. And here I can tell you about what the University of California is doing to meet the challenge of adding one million more acre-feet of water as well.

Across the state, UC students, faculty, and staff are at work on water issues. Up in the Sierra, they are laying the groundwork for a possible future water information system for California.

In our laboratories, they are devising ways to combat the biofilms that can clog or contaminate groundwater wells.

On our campuses, they are cutting per capita potable water consumption, and putting the University on track for a 20 percent reduction by the year 2020.

And in the San Joaquin Valley, they are using solar thermal technology to desalinate reclaimed irrigation water.

You see, as water shortages squeeze California agriculture, farmers are turning more and more to reclaimed irrigation water. This is an important step towards increasing the number of acre feet of water available in the state.

Each time this water is reused, however, it becomes saltier, in part because of fertilizers. After the water has been used as many times as possible, farmers must dispose of the salty sludge waste that remains. And so one reason farmers avoid reusing irrigation water is because they face the high cost, high difficulty, and high carbon footprint of ultimately removing this waste through conventional desalination.

But a team led by Roland Winston, a Professor of Physics at UC Merced and the head of the UC Solar Institute, came up with a new way to solve this problem: a solar-powered desalination system.

This system captures sunlight not to generate electricity, but to harness the heat of the sun to dispose of the salty waste water. Professor Winston’s system uses wide-angle condensers that catch light from all directions. It essentially looks like a set of curved fun-house mirrors. These fun-house mirror panels, so to speak, focus the sun’s light onto oil-filled cylinders, which trap the sun’s heat. The captured heat then supplies the energy needed to evaporate the water out of the salty sludge waste, so that farmers can then easily dispose of the salts.

Put simply, Professor Winston’s system incentivizes farmers to reclaim water, reuse it as much as possible, and then not worry about the cost or carbon footprint of disposing of the salt waste. It works just as well on hazy or partly cloudy days as it does on sunny ones. And it is cheap, portable, carbon-neutral, and highly scalable.

Sustainably maximizing our natural resources — and in particular our state’s water — is a goal that both this Summit and the University of California share. Doing so successfully is a key to fostering California communities. At the same time, we at UC recognize that adding one million more homes and adding one million more acre-feet of water cannot be either/or propositions. They must be mutually inclusive ones.

So, too, is adding one million more college degrees in California. This is the third Summit challenge. And here I want to pause for a moment.

Last month, the Public Policy Institute of California published a paper that said 38 percent of all jobs in California will require at least a bachelor’s degree in the year 2030 … but that only about 33 percent of workers are projected to have them at that time. In other words, the state will face a shortfall of about 1.1 million college graduates 15 years from now.

The report goes on to argue, rightfully, that the most promising approach to prevent this shortfall is to ensure that California residents have the access and the support they need to earn these degrees.

We at UC are working hard to expand educational attainment for Californians. Much of my time is focused on important issues like improving time to degree, and streamlining the transfer process to UC from our state’s community colleges.

About one-third of the undergraduates who enter the University of California do so as transfer students. Just this past July, we launched a new program called “Transfer Pathways,” which gives community college students a clear roadmap to 10 specific majors at UC campuses. The program does not guarantee admissions to UC. But it does make the transfer process straightforward and transparent — and when transfer students arrive at UC, they are well on their way to earning their degrees, and graduating in two years.

We are also focused on increasing the enrollment of California undergraduate students at UC. And let me add that we will increase the number of California undergraduates on our campuses for the next academic year. We have submitted our plan to do so, along with our 2016-17 budget, to the University’s Board of Regents. Next week, the Board will meet in San Francisco to discuss them both.

Fundamentally, enrollment, time to degree, and the community college transfer process add up to something bigger than one million additional higher education degrees. Just as a discussion about homes is really one about communities, so, too, does a challenge to generate one million more college graduates allude towards a greater purpose.

And that purpose is this: Opportunity.

When the young people of this state have broad access to higher education, then the opportunities are endless — including the opportunities to help us meet the “One Million Challenges.”

Last month, just 30 miles from here, the seventh U. S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon was held in Irvine.

The Solar Decathlon is a rigorous competition for college students. It takes place every two years. The goal is to design, build, and operate a solar-powered house that is cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive.

The houses must cost 250,000 dollars or less to build. They must possess the infrastructure to charge a car that can run at least 25 miles a day. And they must stand at 1,000 square feet or less. Teams from around the world enter the Solar Decathlon in the hopes of winning. The DOE picks just 20 of them to compete.

Often, the teams are made up of students from just one university or college. But this year, for the first time, four higher education institutions in Orange County teamed up. Students from UC Irvine, Chapman University, and two community colleges — Irvine Valley College and Saddleback College — joined together to form Team Orange County.

For the past two years, 100 students from these four schools met each week to design their energy-efficient and drought-resistant house. The UCI students handled the engineering. The Chapman students ran the marketing. The Saddleback students took care of the interior design. And the Irvine Valley students managed the construction, technology, and safety.

The project manager was a mechanical engineering graduate student at UC Irvine named Alex McDonald. Alex said that working on the team’s house was similar to “being in finals week…but every day for two years straight.”

This summer, as the competition neared, the students of Team Orange County began building the house they had designed.

They put solar panels into place, as well as a solar thermal radiant cooling system.

They built a vertical garden, and a small, thermoplastic recycling system that residents could use to turn unneeded objects into material for new products.

And in honor of the state they call home, they designed their house to mimic the official flower of California, the drought-resistant golden poppy: the house opens to the sun during the day, and closes shut when the sun sets each evening.

After building the house and testing their design, Team Orange County broke it down piece by piece, transported it to the judging site, and re-built it alongside those of the other teams for the competition itself. The Solar Decathlon judges then spent several days assessing all the houses across 10 precise categories.

Four teams from California ultimately competed in the Decathlon. All four of them placed in the top 10.

The Cal Poly team ranked third overall. The UC Davis team won the affordability category. The Sacramento State team was picked to compete in the Solar Decathlon for the first time this year. And Team Orange County placed second — by a single point — in the engineering category.

All four of the houses these teams designed are slated to serve as living laboratories, education centers, or even student housing on their campuses. And the blueprints for all are available online, for free, for anyone who wishes to replicate them.

No other state came close to California in the number of teams that competed and ranked highly in the Decathlon. But California and its sister states do share a common challenge.

The 2015 Solar Decathlon was the smallest in its history. Of the 20 teams the DOE picked to compete, only 14 made it to the competition. The others dropped out due to lack of funds, or lack of faculty support. The DOE used to give 100,000 dollars in seed money to the teams; this year, that amount was cut to 50,000 dollars.

And so even as the need grows for innovative housing solutions that conserve water and maximize energy efficiency — and even though the Solar Decathlon has inspired other countries to hold similar contests for their own young people — our country is pulling back from this galvanizing competition.

In my view, there’s no better example of how we can meet the “One Million Challenges” than through the collaboration, the commitment, the drive, and the grit that the Team Orange County team members demonstrated.

First, they seized the opportunity of going to college — whether at a community college, a private university, or a public research university.

Then, the Solar Decathlon offered them the chance to work towards and achieve an incredible goal — and they seized that opportunity together.

As the Dean of the UC Irvine School of Engineering said recently, and I quote:

“These students now believe they have the ability, the know-how, the tenacity, [and] the perseverance to change the world. And they will literally try to do it.”

For those of us here at the California Economic Summit, Team Orange County, and the three other California teams that took on the Solar Decathlon, are just one example of the energy, the enthusiasm, and the inspiration that the young people of this state represent, and the potential that exists in California to take on the challenges of one million more homes, one million more acre-feet of water, and one million more college degrees.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this morning. And in the words of the motto of the University of California, Fiat Lux — or, “Let There Be Light.”