Archive for July, 2009

Now featured at HuffingtonPost, by Jesse Jenkins and Teryn Norris

On Monday, Joe Romm of Climate Progress publicly attacked us for publishing an op-ed in the San Francisco Chroniclecalled “Will America lose the clean energy race?” (a longer version was posted here at Huffington Post.). In that piece, we urged Congress to fully fund President Obama’s energy education initiative and scale up direct pubic investments in low-carbon energy to accelerate our transition to a clean energy economy.

Romm asserted that our op-ed “attacks” President Obama and Democratic leaders, when in fact it calls on Congress to support Obama’s RE-ENERGYSE energy education program and urges greater public investment in clean energy to compete with Asian challengers. Yet Romm never mentioned the central focus of the op-ed — RE-ENERGYSE and our efforts to rally support behind it, including a recent sign-on letter with over 100 organizations — and instead criticized us for what he called “willfully misleading nonsense” about Asian countries’ planned investments in clean energy.

Romm proceeded to make several factually incorrect statements about Asia’s plans for clean energy investment that contradict research in publicly accessible reports and analyses, including those by the Center for American Progress (CAP), which employs Romm. The Breakthrough Institute wrote a comprehensive fact check here to correct Romm’s numerous misstatements and clarify the details of public investment plans in China, South Korea and Japan.

Romm also criticized us for asserting that Congress must strengthen the Waxman-Markey bill with greater investments in clean energy to compete with Asian challengers and accelerate our transition to a clean energy economy. Why? Because Romm apparently believes the Waxman-Markey proposal — which would invest only $10 billion per year in clean energy and energy efficiency, a commitment of less than 0.1% of U.S. GDP — is sufficient to win the clean energy race. It is not.



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A recent study at NYU’s Stern School of Business analyzes the returns on government energy R&D investments and comes to the conclusion that geothermal and wind power could, for a relatively low price, become cheaper than fossil fuel electricity in a matter of years.

The study used a well-known method of analyzing technology cycles that predicts learning curves for emerging technologies. This “S-curve” heuristic guesses that the performance of new technologies, plotted against effort (i.e. total money invested) is shaped like an S.

Early in the life of the technology, improvements are gradual as the basic properties are worked out and an effective design is formed. Next comes a period of rapid growth as the now-stable technology captures “process innovations” and economies of scale. Finally, the rate of improvement slows as the technology becomes mature and improvements become hampered by the dominant structure of the technology and its industry – until the potential emergence of a new competing technology with its own S-curve.


Although such an analysis makes some major simplifications, these S-curve cycles are well-documented throughout history in technologies as diverse as disk drives, steam engines, semiconductors, and automobiles (to name a few).

With the S-curve model in hand, the authors of the report sought to determine the curves of some major alternative energy technologies in order to project how much investment is necessary to reduce the their marginal costs.


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“Will America lose the clean-energy race?”

That’s the question Breakthrough Institute’s Teryn Norris and Jesse Jenkins raise in an op ed featured in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.

You can also read an extended version at the Huffington Post.

With China, South Korea and Japan all moving aggressively to corner the burgeoning global clean energy market, Asian competitors may dominate the clean energy sector if Congress doesn’t act now to strengthen the Waxman-Markey bill with much larger investments in our own clean energy economy and fully support President Obama’s energy education initiative, Norris and Jenkins argue.

Last week, over 100 organizations joined the Breakthrough Institute in urging the Senate to fund Obama’s RE-ENERGYSE initiative, which would develop thousands of highly-skilled clean energy workers and new energy education programs around the country. The Senate is poised to cut the program to $0 from Obama’s $115 million request at a time with the U.S. is severely lagging in energy science and technology education.

Read the RE-ENERGYSE letter press release and the New York Times Dot Earth coverage.

Monday’s op-ed comes one year after Breakthrough proposed a similar National Energy Education Act, calling for an effort on par with the original National Defense Education Act of 1958, which invested billions each year to train and empower the young generation that won the space race and invented the technologies that catapulted the U.S. and the world into the Information Age.

It also comes two weeks after the Washington Post reported that “Asian Nations Could Outpace U.S. in Developing Clean Energy.”

Breakthrough Institute is planning to release a full report on the USA-Asia clean energy race within the next few weeks, so stay tuned.

As President Obama put it in his Congressional address in February:

“We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient… New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea. Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders — and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.”

President Obama is right. However, as Norris and Jenkins warn in today’s op ed:

“If America does not take immediate action to bridge its energy education gap – and if we fail to make substantially larger investments in our own clean-energy economy – we will effectively cede the clean-energy race to Asia. A decade from now, we may still find the burgeoning clean-energy economy promised by Obama and Democratic leaders. It will simply be headquartered in China.”

You can read the extended version of the op ed below…

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Originally posted at SolveClimate.com

Forty years ago this week, the Apollo 11 mission touched down on the surface of the moon, and the U.S. won the space race. As we celebrate this historic moment, we are reminded that today America faces a new global competition that will have far greater implications for the future of our nation and the world: the clean energy race.

Unfortunately, instead of summoning the same vigorous commitment to innovation and education that won the space race four decades ago, Congress today is poised to reject a critical initiative to invest in the generation of young engineers, scientists and innovations who must win the clean energy race.

The U.S. simply could not have won the space race without major federal investments in targeted education programs.

Spurred on by the Soviet launch of Sputnik, Congress quickly passed the National Defense Education Act in 1958, committing billions of dollars to equip a generation to confront the Soviet challenge. These investments developed the human capital necessary to put a man on the moon and invent the technologies that catapulted our world into the Information Age, from microchips and telecommunications to personal computing and the Internet.

Today, the U.S. is again dangerously behind in energy science and technology education. (more…)

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Over 100 universities, student groups, and professional associations signed a letter drafted by the Breakthrough Institute that was delivered Tuesday to the U.S. Senate calling  for full funding of President Obama’s RE-ENERGYSE energy education initiative, Andy Revkin reports today at the NY Times’ Dot Earth.

RE-ENERGYSE, a program aimed at ‘REgaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge’, was given $7 million by the House appropriations bill and $0 by the Senate Appropriations Committee, embarrassingly shy of $115 million requested in the President’s FY2010 budget.  The proposal was sent back to the DOE with a request to distinguish between current and potential future programmatic efforts (according to ScienceInsider). In other words, it was rejected.

Revkin asked the White House about the funding cut and Kenneth Baer at the Office of Management and Budget sent him this reply:

“The appropriations process is ongoing, and we look forward to working with Congress to make sure there is the needed funding to prepare our students for the jobs of the growing clean energy sector.”

The sign-on letter will hopefully boost the Administration’s efforts, as it summarizes the clear need for new energy education funding and demonstrates a broad constituency in supportive of such a program.

For specifics, read the letter or the press release.

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Picture 2Motivated in part by its loss of dominance in the solar energy industry, Japan has recently announced a new national project for the widespread deployment of solar PV technologies in order to drive the price of solar energy toward that of conventional energy sources.  In short, Japan plans to make solar energy cheap.

In a speech laying out the his strategy for Japan to lead the world in a “low carbon revolution”, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso announced his vision for Japan to be “the number one solar power in the world.”  He also recognized that the principle barrier to widespread adoption of solar energy was its high price:

How do we become number one in the world in terms of solar power generation? In order to achieve this, we must put an end to the following vicious cycle: costs are high because of lack of demand, and demand remains stagnant due to high costs. Above all else, I think a strong political will to create ‘demand through policies,’ is necessary.

In order to cut this vicious cycle, Japan has proposed to make solar energy cheap through a combination of energy innovation and government policies to spur demand–a straightforward and effective approach to drive both economies of scale and potentially transformative innovation.  Prime Minister Aso has set a goal of increasing installed solar capacity by 20 times its current level by 2020, and 40 times by 2030.


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July 22, 2009

Jesse Jenkins (510-550-8930 x465 or 503-333-1737)
Teryn Norris (510-550-8930 x464 or 510-593-3716)

A group of over 100 universities, professional associations, and student groups joined the Breakthrough Institute yesterday in submitting a letter urging the U.S. Senate to fully support the Obama administration’s national energy education initiative. The initiative, named “RE-ENERGYSE” (REgaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge), would produce thousands of highly-skilled U.S. energy workers and develop new energy education programs at American universities and K-12 schools.

The Senate is poised to reject the proposal in its FY2010 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill by cutting the RE-ENERGYSE program’s funding to $0 from the $115 million requested in President Obama’s FY2010 budget. Mr. Obama announced the initiative in a speech to the National Academy of Sciences in April, stating, “The nation that leads the world in 21st century clean energy will be the nation that leads in the 21st century global economy… [RE-ENERGYSE] will prepare a generation of Americans to meet this generational challenge.”

According to the Department of Energy, the program would develop between 5,000 and 8,500 highly educated scientists, engineers, and other professionals to enter the clean energy field by 2015, which would rise to 10,000 -17,000 professionals by 2020. The Technical Training and K-12 Education subprogram would create between 200 to 300 community college and other training programs to prepare thousands of technically skilled workers for clean energy jobs.

The letter, which was distributed to every Senate office on Tuesday, urged lawmakers to fund RE-ENERGYSE at the full $115 million request. “America is in danger of losing its global competitiveness and the [global] clean energy race without substantial new investments in STEM education,” wrote the signatories, which included 53 colleges and universities and dozens of student and youth groups. “RE-ENERGYSE… will train America’s future energy workforce, accelerate our transition to a prosperous clean energy economy, and ensure that we lead the world’s burgeoning clean technology industries.”

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