August 15, 2008
Steven Chu calls for $150 billion investment in "breakthrough" energy R&D
Last Thursday, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu delivered groundbreaking Congressional testimony (testimony PDF) to the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee about Obama's energy plan and what's necessary to create a clean energy economy:
"Our previous investments in science led to the birth of the semiconductor, computer, and bio-technology industries that have added greatly to our economic prosperity. Now, we need similar breakthroughs on energy. We're already taking steps in the right direction, but we need to do more...
Developing Science and Engineering Talent: Several years ago, I had the honor and privilege of working on the "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report commissioned by Chairman Bingaman and Senator Alexander. One of the key recommendations was to step up efforts to educate the next generation of scientists and engineers. The FY 2010 budget supports graduate fellowship programs that will train students in energy-related fields. I will also seek to build on DOE's existing research strengths by attracting and retaining the most talented scientists.
Focusing on Transformational Research. The second area that I want to discuss is the need to support transformational technology research. What do I mean by transformational technology? I mean technology that is game-changing, as opposed to merely incremental...
Speeding Demonstration and Deployment: While we work on transformational technologies, DOE must also improve its efforts to demonstrate next-generation technologies and to help deploy demonstrated clean energy technologies at scale...
We will move forward on all of these fronts and more, as we invest in the transformational research to achieve breakthroughs that could revolutionize our Nation's energy future."
Later in the question & answer session, Chu stated:
"The president's proposed budget allocates $150 billion for research and development of new green technologies. ... That is putting back the [carbon auction] money into developing better solutions."
The record is clear: to successfully confront climate change,
Secretary Chu believes, we need transformational breakthroughs in clean
energy technology. To accomplish this, Obama has allocated $150 billion
to invest in clean energy research and development. In other words,
according to Secretary Chu, federal investments in the demonstration
and deployment of clean energy should be additional to the $150 billion
necessary for R&D alone. These statements echo the Breakthrough
Institute's long-standing position. As we wrote in "Fast, Clean, & Cheap":
"Technological breakthroughs are needed to boost the
performance of current clean energy technologies and to decrease the
cost of deploying them... Over the last ten years, a consensus has
emerged among energy policy experts that "disruptive" clean energy
technologies that achieve "non-incremental" breakthroughs in price and
performance are needed to solve the problem of global warming."
Moreover, Chu echoed our previous calls for a National Energy Education Act. As we wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle back in July:
Now is the time for a National Energy Education Act. Such
legislation would expand clean energy education through new research
grants, graduate fellowships and energy-science-and-policy-focused
curricula; financial aid and loan forgiveness for students entering
clean energy development fields; building efficiency, clean energy
installation, and green manufacturing workforce development programs;
and support for "innovation pipelines" that help commercialize new
technologies produced in the laboratory.
We applaud Chu for highlighting this often-missing but essential component of the national energy innovation agenda.
Overall, Chu's statements finalize the debate (see here) over whether we have all the technologies we need to confront climate change. For years, some climate advocates have continually insisted we have all the technologies we need -- we just need to scale them up, they said.
This rhetoric was largely in response to the Bush administration, which
used the need for new technologies as a delaying tactic.
Now, however, we have Obama's Secretary of Energy stating it loud
and clear: we should deploy existing technologies immediately, but we also need transformational technology breakthroughs -- and we're
going to do what it takes to achieve them. We applaud Secretary Chu on
his bold statements, and we look forward to supporting the fight for a
$150 billion investment in clean energy R&D.
You can watch the hearing below (note: the video begins around 22:30):