Some day, Kansas' energy answers may come from above - the sun.
While politicians fight over fossil fuels to produce electricity and environmentalists push for more wind generation, the state may one day tap the most plentiful source of energy - solar power.
"There's an enormous amount of creative activity and big investment going on in solar technology in the United States, but more even around the world," said Joe King, a former head of the Kansas Energy Office, who now is an architect with the Lawrence firm Coriolis and has been an advocate of renewable energy. "We need to be paying attention."
Last week, King provided state solar resource maps for the Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates energy utilities.
KCC Chairman Tom Wright was impressed. When asked whether solar energy will be part of Kansas' energy future, Wright said, "absolutely." But, he said, it may be a generation before there is widespread applicability.
"This whole system is something that will take a long time to develop. You won't see this in five, 10, 15 years, but you'll see it as the technology improves," he said.
Currently, solar power is seen as more costly than more conventional energy sources, but Europe and China have recently increased their solar power facilities as costs have decreased for solar panels used to convert the sun's power into energy.
Wright said that one hurdle to widespread use of solar power is trees. He said that when you fly over Topeka or most any city in northeast Kansas, the house roofs are covered by shade trees, which block the sun's rays.
King's maps showed that solar radiation was much higher in more open southwest Kansas, and progressively decreased heading east.
"We have exceptional solar insulation in southwest Kansas," he said. "It's the gradation that you would expect. We get more close to the national mean by the time we get up to northeast Kansas."