White House Office of Science and Technology Director John Holdren, National Research Council Chairman Ralph Cicerone and Assistant Energy Secretary for Policy and International Affairs David Sandalow sat down with chief correspondent Tyler Suiters to discuss the state of energy and climate science in the U.S. and the top developments they foresee in 2011.
Holdren says he's excited at the prospect of more efficient batteries, better biofuels, better fuel cells, cheaper photovoltaic solar technology and reactor designs that are better less costly and safer. Everyone needs energy and needs to get it economical and environmentally sustainable ways. He says when he speaks with President Obama about science, there's little tutorial because the president is well versed in the issues. He says their discussions center on policy, or what needs to happen to advance the administration's agenda for energy efficiency.
Holdren says the success rate on advanced projects like ARPA-E should be something like 1-in-20. He says only a small fraction of what's being tried needs to succeed in order to transform the world.
On the growing number of climate skeptics in Congress, Holdren believes many will be won over during congressional investigations into climate science. He believes good scientists will convince the skeptics that their work is valid. He says there are always battles over funding for projects, but President Obama has assured him that he will do everything he can to secure funding for energy research and development.
Holdren says China is doing more energy inovation on its own than it did in the past. He says that can be a good thing because as the Chinese develop their own intellectual property, they will be more interested in cooperating on protecting that of other nations. He also says Americans and Chinese have a lot to learn from each other in many aspects, including reducing dependence on foreign oil and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Holdren believes the biggest potential gain in the coming year is the potential for bipartisan support for the idea that increased funding for energy research and development is in the interest of all Americans.
Cicerone is excited by students who are pursing careers in energy research,. He's encouraged by the number of people entering these fileds. He says research into advanced projects is worthwhile because the ideas are based on sound science. It's just a metter of getting the right materials to make them work. The education gap between U.S. students and those in other countries around the world is a big problem for the United States, he says. A well-educated population is important for energy research as well as for the basic function of running a democracy.
The biggest development to come in 2011, he believes, is tremendous progress, in the field of energy research, both biological and chemical.
Sandalow says the most exciting developments for him are the convergence of energy technology and information technology. He says in 10 or 20 years, everyone will know the costs to use their household appliances. Sandalow says he's also excited about ARPA-E, the government's program for research in advanced, high-risk, high-reward technologies. The Department of Energy is using it to look for "home runs" in the energy arena, like turning sunlight into fuel and transformational energy storage technologies.
Sandalow says skepticism about climate science puts the United States at a competitive disadvantage with countries that are moving quickly on clean energy technology. But he believes the true number of skeptics is overstated. Most people in Congress, he says, supported legislation to address climate change, but the measure did not pass because the majority was not large enough.
Sandalow says more education is needed on both climate science and the broader issues of science and technology, and he believes ARPA-E funding will survive because even many of the most prominent Republicans in Congress have personal interests in energy research.
Sandalow believes the U.S. should have a balance of competition and cooperation with China on clean energy development and research. He says China is progressing past the U.S. in many aspects of this research, but he says the two countries have a lot to learn from each other.
He believes the biggest development in the coming years will be growing awareness about the potential for the clean energy future in this country and around the world.
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