The US, with its entrepreneurial spirit and innovative national labs, will lead the global clean-energy revolution and reap the economic and environmental benefits that go with it, vice president Joe Biden vowed in a visit to the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
But that will happen only if partnerships between national labs and the most innovative start-ups are encouraged and allowed to blossom, he said.
New initiatives from the DOE are making it easier for small but innovative companies to access technologies developed at the national labs, he said.
Now, those licences are just $1,000, so cost is no longer a barrier, he said.
NREL and other national labs will provide the spark, and private companies will use the efficiencies of the market to commercialize the best clean-energy innovations, Biden told an overflow crowd at NREL’s Golden, Colorado campus.
‘Now, more than ever, America’s future competitiveness depends on our ability to innovate and our capacity to live up to our rich history of technological
advancement,’ said Vice President Biden. ‘This kind of public-private partnership fosters extraordinary innovation, allows brilliant ideas to develop, and gives businesses the tools they need to bring technology to the market.’
Biden prompted a standing ovation from a crowd of scientists and policy makers when he declared that ‘Science is back’, as a crucial player in US innovation.
The vice president noted that NREL has in the works such potentially revolutionary technology as a battery that could power a car 1,000 miles between charges, and cost about five per cent of today’s gasoline costs.
If such ideas are squelched by the faction that would label any government participation as ‘socialism’, rest assured that China or Spain or Brazil or India will lead the clean energy revolution — with help from their governments, Biden said.
Using the government to spark innovation is as American as apple pie, Biden said.
He noted that President Lincoln issued government bonds to help get the Transcontinental Railroad built — and now railroads are a $300bn-plus industry.
President Eisenhower used government aid to help push to the market the innovations from the Argonne National Laboratory that sparked a revolution in telecommunications.
When President Kennedy announced a national initiative to get a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s, neither he nor most of the scientists hired for the effort could imagine that the space mission would launch the semiconductor industry, which in turn launched the personal computer, which made possible the Microsofts, Apples and Googles of the world, he said.
Similarly, no one today can guess at the marvels that will emerge from what is being developed at NREL and commercialised by private industry, he said.
Biden announced the first option agreement under the DOE’s America’s Next Top Energy Innovator challenge.
Boulder, Colorado-based US e-Chromic finalised an option agreement to use NREL technology to retrofit inefficient windows with thin films so that they deflect sunlight in the summer, sharply reducing the need for air conditioning in homes or offices.
‘Any of you who’ve been in an office with direct sunlight know how fast it can make you want to crank up the A/C,’ Biden said. US e-Chromic CEO Loren Burnett, who was given the honour of introducing Biden, said,
‘I’d like to express my sincere appreciation to the Obama administration for creating the Start-up America Initiative, and to [DOE] Secretary Chu for the America’s Next Top Energy Initiative Challenge. Suddenly launching a company around an NREL technology was within our reach.”
Buildings comprise about a third of US energy consumption, and windows are a big chunk of the energy drain. So this one technology potentially can lower the nation’s entire energy budget by about one per cent, Biden said.
NREL’s Executive Energy Leadership programme participants were special guests at Biden’s announcement. Twenty representatives of industry, nonprofit and government organizations from nine states are participating in the 2011 Energy Execs class.
The five-month programme gives executive decision-makers throughout the US an in-depth look at renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.
The heterogeneous US population and its free-enterprise system have, ‘let us do things no other system in the world has been able to do,’ Biden said.
But the rest of the world isn’t standing still, he said.
‘Imagine the first country to create a car battery better and cheaper than batteries today that can store much more energy and go 1,000 miles between charges,’ the vice-president said.
‘And imagine the country that doesn’t invest in these technologies, that continues to rely on fossil fuels. Some other country will lead us toward these breakthroughs.’
The US, ‘still has the best research universities and the best engineers,’ Biden said.
‘And we have 15,000 technologies held by our 17 national laboratories. Each of those technologies now can be developed by private enterprise.’
Biden pointed to the DOE-funded, NREL-run SunShot Incubator programme, which funds start-ups that have the kind of disruptive technology that can lower the costs of solar energy to be on a par with coal-based electricity.
‘The SunShot Incubator programme has taken $60m of DOE money and applied it to 20 start-up companies,’ Biden said. ‘Those 20 companies have attracted $1.3bn in private investment at a time when we are coming out of a recession. They’ve already added more than 1,000 good clean-tech jobs. And this is just the start.
‘The only way to know whether or not these ideas can fulfill the promise that they hold is to give them … to private enterprise to see if they can commercially make them viable,’ Biden said. ‘That is not the business of government. That is not our business. … We’re in the business of providing the spark.’
By Bill Scanlon, courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
NREL is the US Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for DOE by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.
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