June 03, 2008
University Leaders Call For Clean Energy Research & Education
In late July, the Breakthrough Institute issued a call for a National Energy Education Act to pour billions of federal dollars into new, clean energy education and research, publishing an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Baltimore Sun, and releasing a two-page policy brief.
Last Wednesday, representatives from several of the nation's top universities took up these calls in testimonies to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
Dr. Daniel Kammen, Professor, University of California-Berkeley -- one of the world's top energy experts -- called for a clean energy education act in his first recommendation:
Make Energy and the Environment a Core Area of Education in the United States. Public interest and action on energy and environmental themes requires attention to make us 'eco-literate and economically savvy.' We must develop in both K-12 and college education a core of instruction in the linkages between energy and both our social and natural environment. The Upward Bound Math-Science Program and the Summer Science Program each serve as highly successful models that could be adapted to the theme of energy for a sustainable society at all educational levels. The launch of Sputnik in 1957 mobilized U. S. science and technology to an unprecedented extent, and should serve as a lesson in how powerful a use-inspired drive to educate and innovate can become. The Spring 2005 Yale Environment Survey found overwhelming interest in energy and environmental sustainability. Contrast that interest with the results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) where American secondary school students ranked 19th out of 21 countries surveyed in both math and science general knowledge. The United States can and should reverse this trend, and sustaining our natural heritage and greening the global energy system is the right place to begin.
A clean energy education act could reward internship work in the clean energy sector - both domestically and in service to developing nations and poor communities, with semesters of paid college tuition.
Dr. Susan Hockfield, President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, testified:
In my view, the nation needs to increase energy R&D sharply, moving promptly to triple current rates, and then increasing further as the Department of Energy builds its capacity to translate basic research to the marketplace. To establish firm funding guidelines, industry, government and universities must come together to create a detailed energy R&D roadmap. Speaking for MIT, and I know for other research universities, we would be honored to help design such a strategic plan.
And, Dr. Stephen Forrest, Vice President of Research, University of Michigan, testified:
Many of the young researchers I encounter are eager to join in and devote their entire
careers to this grand effort. However, their enthusiasm is tempered by what has been the
unpredictable and steadily declining level of support for energy R&D over the last two
decades. Simply put, the U.S. has not responded in a manner proportionate to the threat
posed by entering an energy-insecure future. It is essential that America's energy
research campaigns be sustained over time and are sized to match the need. Now is not
the time to approach this crisis through incremental change. Indeed, when faced with
clear threats to our future and our well-being in the past, America has always responded
forcefully and with a clear mission to accept nothing less than full success. We must do
the same now, since the threat is clear, and the solutions are within our reach.
So how do we meet the challenges to rebalance our energy needs and sources? President Hockfield has highlighted a key step in her testimony - by dramatically increasing the funding for energy research. As she notes, a range of experts estimates that federal energy research must climb to up to ten times the current level.2 There is no question that the range of proposed increases indicate that current federal investments are woefully inadequate when balanced against the urgency, complexity, and scale of the challenges in building a sustainable energy infrastructure for the United States. Whether this is funded through dollars derived from a Cap-and-Trade System, or through the regular appropriations process, it simply must be done to respond to the currently deepening energy crisis...
The academic environment provides a unique freedom to explore, where university researchers are encouraged to look for revolutionary, not simply evolutionary, ideas to solve large-scale problems. This approach is often not accessible to the private sector, as the risks may outweigh potential economic rewards. However, by forging close partnerships between industry and university, companies can identify the most promising new ideas developed in the research lab, and take them rapidly through to commercialization.
The freedom to explore at America's university campuses creates a dynamic climate that, since the Second World War, is among the most precious assets our country possesses. Today, university researchers are looking for solutions to our energy challenge from all vantage points - hydrogen research, improved lighting sources, biofuels, energy storage, urban planning, solar cells, wind, geothermal, and alternative fuel cars, as only a few examples. As this research proceeds, universities are training the new workforce - building the supply of future scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs who's talent and innovative thinking will bring concepts to reality.