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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Perhaps the most important transportation idea yet to penetrate our thick skulls

Slow down.

Read all about it.

Reimagining Energy

Susan Hockfield
Reimagining Energy
By Susan Hockfield

. . .

Today, the United States is tangled in a triple knot: a shaky economy, battered by volatile energy prices; world politics weighed down by issues of energy consumption and security; and mounting evidence of global climate change. . . . I believe we can address all three problems at once with dramatic new federal investment in energy research and development.

If one advance could transform America's prospects, it would be ready access, at scale, to a range of affordable, renewable, low-carbon energy technologies -- from large-scale solar and wind energy to safe nuclear power. [Good luck with the affordable part on that one.] Only one path will lead to such transformative technologies: research. Yet federal funding for energy research has dwindled to irrelevance. In 1980, 10 percent of federal research dollars went to energy. Today, the share is 2 percent.

Research investment by U.S. energy companies has mirrored this drop. In 2004, it stood at $1.2 billion in today's dollars. This might suit a cost-efficient, technologically mature, fossil-fuel-based energy sector, but it is insufficient for any industry that depends on innovation. Pharmaceutical companies invest 18 percent of revenue in R&D. Semiconductor firms invest 16 percent. Energy companies invest less than one-quarter of 1 percent. With this pattern of investment, we cannot expect an energy technology revolution. . . .

How much should we invest? In 2006 the government spent between $2.4 billion and $3.4 billion (less than half of the annual R&D budget of our largest pharmaceutical company). Many experts, including the Council on Competitiveness, recommend that federal energy research spending climb to twice or even 10 times current levels. In my view, the nation should move promptly to triple current rates, then increase funding further as the Energy Department builds its capacity to convert basic research into marketable technologies.

Seen around: Good advice

Let's live on the planet as

if we intend to stay.