Calling for a new National Energy Education Act

July 31, 2008 | Breakthrough Fellow,

On July 30th, 2008, Teryn Norris and Jesse Jenkins of the Breakthrough Institute proposed a National Energy Education Act in the San Francisco Chronicle and Baltimore Sun (PDF). For more information, see the Breakthrough Institute's 2-page policy brief.

By Genevieve Bennett, Breakthrough Fellow

A new National Energy Education Act (NEEA) would be a comprehensive policy package directing government investment toward training a new generation of Americans in strategic energy-related fields, including engineering, technology, science, mathematics, business, and policy, and supporting their innovative work as they move through the education system and into a career.

NEEA would provide financial aid to students and funding to universities and vocational/technical schools for improving research, education and workforce training in energy-related fields. It would also expand funding for research, development, and demonstration of new clean energy technologies at universities, and support technical and vocational schools in developing and implementing programs to train a new energy workforce.

Why do we need new comprehensive federal legislation that invests in education, workforce training, and RD&D in strategic energy-related fields?

We need NEEA because we need to invest now in research, development, and demonstration of new clean energy technologies that will enable the U.S. to overcome the energy crisis and develop clean and cheap new energy for all Americans. A serious and sustained investment in technological innovation must be the core of our national strategy in addressing the energy crisis. Supporting stronger linkages between national research facilities, institutes of higher education, and workforce development programs will foster collaboration between our nation's best minds and skilled workers.

We need NEEA because America is falling behind in its abilities to compete in science, technology, engineering and math fields. Our students need to do better than the middle of the pack in international comparisons of science and math performance, and we need to do a better job of retaining talent in energy-related fields.

We need NEEA to meet demand for a skilled, well-educated workforce. In 2006, renewable energy and energy efficiency technology industries generated 8.5 million new jobs - and a major barrier to the creation of more jobs is widely agreed to be a lack of workers trained in the necessary skills for a new energy economy.

The Breakthrough Institute has recently outlined some recommendations for a new national energy education policy. We anticipate broad bipartisan support for legislation investing in continued competitiveness and innovation. The America COMPETES Act, which authorizes federal funding for improving education in science, technology, engineering and math (the so-called STEM fields) and increased R&D in federal laboratories, was passed 367-57 in the House of Representatives, and unanimously in the Senate. And yet it has received no appropriations save a small increase in money for science and engineering R&D.

An even more comprehensive, serious, and sustained commitment to maximizing America's human capital and its technological capacities will ensure access to the highest quality of education and job training for all Americans, generate both short and long-term solutions to the energy crisis, and guarantee our continued global competitiveness and economic growth.

Goals of a comprehensive national energy education policy

I. Improve quality of and access to education in clean energy-related fields

  • Increase financial aid and loan forgiveness for students entering clean energy-related fields

  • Support the creation of new multidisciplinary curricula and career development resources focused on clean energy

  • Expand clean energy-related service learning and work-study opportunities

  • Provide improved training and resources for clean energy-related educators at the collegiate level

II. Increase funding for clean energy R&D at universities

  • Expand funding for basic energy-related research via new research grants and graduate fellowships

  • Provide incentives to create energy research centers and initiatives

III. Support the development and implementation of new workforce training programs in clean energy industries

  • Increase funding for workforce training programs at technical and community colleges and worker retraining centers

  • Support partnerships with clean energy firms to identify workforce training needs and develop training programs

IV. Create "clean innovation pipelines" to move new products out of research labs and into private sector ventures

  • Support collaboration between government research facilities, higher education institutions, and industry on demonstrations of clean energy technologies that will be ready for deployment in the near future

  • Provide incentives for the creation of research parks and other forums facilitating communication and clean energy technology transfer between private firms and university research labs

For more information:

See our ongoing coverage on a National Energy Education act

National Energy Education Act Brief
(PDF, 256KB, Summer 2008)

The Baltimore Sun: "Realizing His Vision"
(PDF, 482KB, July 30, 2008)

San Francisco Chronicle: "An Energy Plan We Can Believe In"
(PDF, 588KB, July 31, 2008)


Yep, I'm all over energy education, being the president of a network of educators interested in energy. To make bold enactments such as this more easily, we really need a constitutional amendment that admits that every American has a right to a useful education. For over 100 years, it has been an assumed right, but that right is challenged far too often, because it doesn't have the support of a line in the Consitution. Just think how much more important education is than the gender of people who get married, no matter what your opinion is of either. Yet which is the subject of more attention when it comes to defining the nation?

By Shawn Reeves on 2008 11 24