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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

President Obama and Secretary Chu Deliver Double Dose on Energy Innovation

Originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute

Both speaking to the public yesterday at separate events, President Barack Obama and Energy Secretary Stephen Chu highlighted the administration's plans to make unprecedented investments in clean energy innovation.

Speaking at the White House, President Obama continued to advance his post-environmental, innovation and investment-oriented energy agenda.

After a spot-on introduction from articulate energy innovation advocate and MIT President Susan Hockfield (see related post), President Obama highlighted the unprecedented energy innovation investments in the stimulus bill and reiterated his pledge to invest $15 billion annually in the development of new, clean and efficient energy technologies.

Obama also promised a ten-year commitment to make the federal Research and Experimentation Tax Credit permanent in order to encourage greater private sector investment in the kind of innovation that truly drives long-term economic growth.

Obama's speech yesterday though was less notable for the policy announcements, which outside of the pledge to make the federal R&D tax credit more reliable were hardly news. What was more remarkable was that the President appears to be refining and committing to a truly post-environmental energy agenda, one focused on energy innovation and spurred by public investments to support our nation's best and brightest minds.

Obama has not only surrounded himself with advisers who truly get the energy innovation challenge -- both formal advisers like Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and his newly-confirmed chief science adviser, John Holdren, as well as informal advisers like MIT President Susan Hockfield and UC Berkeley energy expert Dan Kammen -- but he has repeatedly decided to put them front and center, as he did again yesterday, giving them the spotlight as chief advocates of the Administration's clean energy agenda.

Furthermore, the President couches his clean energy plans in arguments about economic recovery, global competitiveness and energy security with increasing skill.

In this latest speech, Obama even issued a Sputnik-Moment-like call for the nation's best and brightest innovators to tackle our energy challenges:

"[I]nnovators like you are creating the jobs that will foster our recovery -- and creating the technologies that will power our long-term prosperity.

So I thank you for your work. It's said that necessity is the mother of invention. At this moment of necessity, we need you. We need some inventiveness. Your country needs you to create new jobs and lead new industries. Your country needs you to mount a historic effort to end once and for all our dependence on foreign oil.

And in this difficult endeavor -- in this pursuit on which I believe our future depends -- your country will support you. Your President will support you."
President Obama now appears poised to make unprecedented and much-needed investments in energy R&D on the scale of $15 billion annually, exactly what is necessary to truly spark the kind of revolution in clean energy technology needed to overcome the climate and energy challenge.

What remains to be seen is if he plans to pledge the full support and scale of public investments necessary to quickly take these technologies from the lab to the marketplace and rapidly drive the deployment of emerging clean energy sources; if he will usher in critical investments in enabling infrastructure, like a new 21st century electrical grid; and if he will coordinate all of these efforts to truly make clean energy cheap. Still, Obama's increasingly powerful calls for energy investment and innovation are highly encouraging.

Backing Up Obama, Secretary Chu Speaks on Energy Innovation As Well

While President Obama spoke in Washington, Energy Secretary Steven Chu spoke at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island to highlight a new $1.2 billion investment in basic science and innovation at the National Labs funded by the stimulus and continue to flesh out the Obama Administration's plans to spur economic recovery through energy innovation.

Andy Revkin at the New York Times' Dot Earth blog summarizes Secretary Chu's remarks:
After visiting various research buildings, he gave a pep talk on the energy revolution he said was vital if the United States and the world are to avoid conflicts over limited supplies of oil and eventual disruptive impacts from human-caused global warming.

Over and over, in examples from the first transcontinental telephone call to the transistor to methods for synthesizing ammonia (and thus nitrogen fertilizer), Dr. Chu pointed out how great technological advances benefiting society grew out of fundamental breakthroughs in basic science.
Revkin reports that Dr. Chu concluded his remarks by (again) echoing our call for a National Energy Education Act to train a new generation of talented scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs:
Now, [Dr. Chu] said, the country's challenge is to grow a generation of energy innovators, a challenge made harder because innovation has never been much of a priority within the energy industry.
To ensure we have the intellectual and human capital needed to tackle the grand energy innovation challenge, it seems Secretary Chu is in 100% agreement that it's high time for a major public investment in energy education.

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