Are we looking at a small-business solar stimulus? Wall Street loves the notion of federal dollars sloshing around the economy. But, actually, getting almost a trillion dollars in domestic spending and tax breaks into people's hands -- particularly small-business hands -- is another story. One unlikely ground zero for this domestic payout will almost certainly be here at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. The lab was a late '70s Carter administration brainchild aimed at jump-starting research on any energy thing that was not traditional fossil fuels. Budgets have come and gone over the years, basically in direct proportion to the price of gasoline: bigger prices per gallon at the pump meant more NREL spending to find alternatives. These days, the lab, which is just over the hill from the Coors beer plant, does cutting-edge research in everything from biomass fuels to wind power to solar. For my money, places like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory -- which is part of our chain of national labs including Ames, Los Alamos, Brookhaven and Oak Ridge -- have been academic, rather than practical, places. Traditionally, researchers have been more likely to retire with a Nobel Prize than to cook up something a business person could actually make money with. But the rapid pace of technology and the growing role of the government in developing new tools have turned this place, and labs like it, into an emerging hotbed of small-business innovation, a legitimate conduit for new technologies marching into the private sector. And with none of the attitude found at the usual-suspect big-research universities.