On Monday, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu warned that in the global clean energy race, “America still has the opportunity to lead” — but “time is running out.” While our nation seems to be standing still, countries like China, South Korea and Germany have been speeding ahead to develop and deploy new technologies — and reap the economic benefits.
Chu’s speech also marked the release of a new report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). This report joins a growing call for increased federal investment in RDD&D to around $16 billion per year. The most compelling of the recommendations is one to create a Quadrennial Energy Review—modeled after the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review—that could provide increased long term planning and coordination for the federal government’s energy policy.
As reported by CNET, during his speech at the National Press Club, Chu “suggested that the U.S. is reaching a ‘Sputnik moment’ where political leaders and the general population will realize how the U.S. has fallen behind other countries in science and technology.” In response, the U.S. must “fund research in clean-energy technologies in order to stay apace and take advantage of the economic opportunity that cleaner energy technologies represent globally.”
Chu called for creating the right environment, not only for corporations, but for research and innovation in general, noting that ” federal support for scientific R&D is going to be critical for our economic competitiveness.” Excluding the recent ARRA stimulus package, termed a “one-time investment bulge [for] research to invent new technologies, and loan guarantees to scale up existing products,” the share of GDP dedicated to energy research and development has “trended down since 1979.”
And while the Obama White House’s energy agenda may be challenged in the aftermath of the November elections, Chu emphasized that “even politicians who are skeptical of climate change should recognize that investing in green-technology research and development is an economic decision.”
“It is a way to secure our future prosperity,” he declared, echoing Chinese premiere Wen Jiabao.
And while the U.S. is falling behind, all is not lost, according to Chu: “I am hoping that the United States can recognize the economic opportunity that virtually all the western European companies have recognized, that countries in Asia have recognized, and that developing countries have recognized. I am an optimist we will wake up and seize the opportunity.” After all, “the U.S. still has the greatest innovation engine in the world.”
If the U.S. can get into gear, in the way it won the space race — investing in science and education to train a legion of scientists and engineers, and funding the RD&D needed to accelerate projects — then our country can recapture a leading role in the transition to a clean energy future. And unlike a moon shot, there are far more co-benefits for Planet Earth.
Video of Chu’s speech available here.
Slideshow of “Is the Energy Race our new Sputnik moment” available here.