Co-authored with Johanna Peace and published by the Breakthrough Institute.

Steven ChuIn a speech yesterday at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, energy secretary Steven Chu again repeated his declaration that nothing less than a technological “revolution” is necessary to meet America’s energy challenge and to ensure the US position as a leading global economic power.

Speaking alongside Congressman Ed Markey, Chu told his audience that future US prosperity depends upon widely deploying renewable energy, developing carbon capture and storage capabilities, and increasing energy efficiency–but most importantly, it depends upon becoming a leading innovator in clean energy technologies.

Chu minced no words when he described this critical juncture for the US in the
global clean energy industry:

“We’re faced with the following choices: We can become the leader of a new industrial revolution and lay the foundation of our future economic prosperity … or we can hope the price of oil will go back to $30 a barrel, deny climate change is happening and let other countries take the lead in energy innovation.”

Since co-founding the Apollo Alliance in 2002, Breakthrough has long championed policies to help America realize its clean energy innovation potential and secure the nation’s economic prosperity while combating climate change. Breakthrough has repeatedly urged $50 billion per year to accelerate the development and deployment of a whole suite of new clean technologies capable of truly making clean energy cheap. This plan includes $15 billion per year in funding for clean energy R&D alone, a call that echoes Chu’s recommendation and President Obama’s current pledge. Earlier this year, Breakthrough joined the Brookings Institution in proposing a new paradigm for federal energy R&D that includes a new network of energy discovery and innovation institutes, reminiscent of the energy innovation hubs Secretary Chu is seeking to establish in the DOE budget.

Breakthrough also recognizes that meeting the nation’s energy challenges will require a highly educated and skilled workforce to drive American innovation in new clean technologies. To support the next generation of American innovators, Breakthrough designed the framework for a National Energy Education Act, a concept which would later be adopted in Obama’s RE-ENERGYSE initiative. Although Breakthrough and over 100 universities and student groups urged Congress to provide the full requested budget of $115million for RE-ENERGYSE, the Senate ultimately voted to slash the program’sbudget to zero, and Breakthrough continues to build support for this critical initiative.

With decisions like this, Congress seems to be mistakenly treating the ACES climate bill as the single and only way to bring America to the forefront of clean energy innovation–despite the fact that it invests just $1 billion per year in clean energy R&D and largely ignores the need to educate America’s future innovators. In reality, a proactive and coordinated energy technology development strategy is necessary to meet the energy innovation imperative. It’s policies like RE-ENERGYSE and Chu’s energy innovation hubs – which Congress has repeatedly failed to support, let alone expand to a meaningful scale – that will put America back on track to lead the world in clean tech innovation.