The Department has made significant progress in breaking down the walls between our basic science and applied science programs. The Office of Science and the Applied Energy programs have collaborated from the beginning in the design of Funding Opportunity Announcements. So-called “Tech teams” that span Energy, Science and APRA-E have started to meet regularly in areas such as solar energy, electricity transmission and distribution, computation, and biofuels. Brainstorming sessions where young scientists are encouraged to share ideas and joust with Department veterans have begun.
There are also far more tangible signs of success.
In the last four years, the production of clean, renewable energy from wind and solar has doubled – driven in part by our Administration investments in the development and deployment of the latest technologies. Installations of solar photovoltaic systems have nearly doubled in each one of the last three years, exceeding 1.8 gigawatts in 2011. According to AWEA, last year 42 percent of new energy capacity in the U.S. was from wind – more than any other energy source.
In addition to our approximately $25 billion annual budget, we were entrusted by Congress to make a $36 billion investment through the Recovery Act to help ensure that the clean energy jobs of tomorrow are being created here in America today. And we made this investment with a robust review process that brought a new level of expertise from inside and outside the Department to ensure that decisions were based on the merits of each applicant.
The Department has helped one million low income homeowners weatherize their homes. We launched the President’s Better Buildings Challenge which has secured $2 billion in commitments from more than 100 major companies, universities, hospitals, retailers, cities and states to upgrade 2 billion square feet of commercial and industrial space by 2020. To put that in perspective, that’s more than 400 times the square footage of the Sears Tower.
We administered a loan program authorized by Congress in the previous administration. The program generated a portfolio of loans and loan guarantees to 33 clean energy and advanced automotive manufacturing projects that will support 60,000 jobs and generate $55 billion in economic investment. Energy and infrastructure loan programs first put into action in the last four years are being replicated by numerous other countries around the world.
This portfolio includes:
More than a dozen auto manufacturing plants built, reopened, or retooled – from Michigan to California to Tennessee – helping our auto industry compete and produce the next generation of American-made vehicles that will save consumers $1 billion a year on gasoline, including the first all-electric vehicle manufacturing plant in the world in Tennessee.
The first national scale rooftop solar project that will include commercial buildings in up to 28 states
The first nuclear power plants in the last three decades
Wind farms, solar photovoltaic and concentrating solar power plants that will be among the largest in the world.
In the last two years, the private sector, including Warren Buffett, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Google, have announced major investments in clean energy. Originally skeptical lenders and investors now see that renewable energy will profitable. These investors are voting where it counts the most - with their wallet. As one CEO recently commented, “Solar is now bankable. When solar was perceived as more risky it required a premium.”
Through the Recovery Act, the Department of Energy made grants and loans to more than 1,300 companies. While critics try hard to discredit the program, the truth is that only one percent of the companies of the companies we funded went bankrupt. That one percent has gotten more attention than the 99 percent that have not.
The test for America’s policy makers will be whether they are willing to accept a few failures in exchange for many successes. America’s entrepreneurs and innovators who are leaders in global clean energy race understand that not every risk can – or should – be avoided. Michelangelo said, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
For decades, the Department of Energy, and the Atomic Energy Commission before it, has laid the scientific foundation that has led to transformative discoveries that have been recognized by over eighty Nobel Prizes and trained over forty students and early career scientists (including myself) who have gone on the receive Nobel Prizes. Synchrotron light sources have transformed cancer drug discovery and the battery chemistry being installed to the Chevy Volt. To accelerate this progress, the Office of Science formed 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers (ERCs) in 2009. Those centers have published more than 2,400 peer-reviewed papers, produced 55 patent applications and filed nearly 125 additional patent/invention disclosures. Most importantly, they have made significant scientific breakthroughs in areas ranging from advanced battery technology and solar energy to solid-state lighting and nuclear energy.
Building on the success of the Bioenergy Research Centers started by Sam Bodman, we launched a set of Energy Innovation Hubs that bring together a multidisciplinary team of scientists, engineers, and industry partners to work on energy challenges. These Hubs include the use of supercomputers to improve the safety and performance of nuclear reactors, the integration of materials, designs and systems for more economical, energy efficient buildings, and science that could lead to the direct conversion of solar energy into transportation fuels. In the last two years, we also announced Hubs to dramatically improve energy storage systems and one to address the supply and use of critical energy materials.