Breaking Free from Oil

The U.S. now imports more than 60% of its oil. With oil topping $140 a barrel this week, we are now endangering our economy, national security and health with our addiction to oil.

How can we catalyze change that will make a difference? One tool we have found useful are “inducement” prizes. Inducement prizes such as the X prize spur innovation and raise awareness that a new paradigm is possible.

The Ansari X Prize for Space challenged private sector teams to send a pilot to space and back twice in two weeks with the same reusable vehicle with a US $10 million inducement prize. Burt Rutan and his team won the $10 M prize, spending much more to develop the technology. Virgin CEO, Richard Branson then licensed the technology and built a new service called Virgin Galactic that will fly passengers to space within 3 years.

Once Rutan won the space prize, the X Prize foundation and my foundation, the Hidary Foundation, provided the seed funding to kick off the work of the Automotive X Prize and over a 3-year period the X Prize team developed a comprehensive set of metrics and goals for the next inducement prize: a 100 mpg or equivalent vehicle. These goals included key manufacturability characteristics. The US $10 million Automotive X Prize, which will be awarded in 2010 now has more than 90 teams competing from 22 countries.

While the Automotive X Prize addresses one part of the breakthroughs needed to reduce our dependence on oil and would change the auto industry in 5-7 years, there are now many off-the-shelf technologies that could be deployed in just one year to reduce our petro-dependence.

Josh Becker, who is a director of the Hidary Foundation and I decided to form a new set of prizes that would focus on deployment rather than technology and design breakthroughs. We approached the leaders of the energy committees in Congress as two citizens and entrepreneurs with no lobbyists or special access. We pitched the idea of a partnership with the Department of Energy (DOE) to jointly work on these deployment goals.

In a great example of bipartisan leadership, the four heads of the committee authorized the Freedom Prizes in Title X, section 1008 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

The Freedom Prize Foundation launched last week in Washington, DC in the Senate Energy Committee hearing room with representatives from the DOE. The Prizes, which range from US $500,000 to $1 million, will focus on innovative deployment of existing technologies to reduce the use of oil in five sectors: schools, municipal governments, the military, industry (private companies) and communities.

The Freedom Prizes will raise awareness in these sectors of the different ways that we use oil. Two-thirds of the oil we consume in America is due to transportation — 90% of that oil is because of the cars and SUVs we drive. If we are to seriously curb our oil dependence we must rethink our transportation choices. For example, schools may be able to decrease fuel usage in busing children to and from school. Many schools were also built with boilers that burn oil to heat the building.

The Freedom Prizes will serve as a catalyst to lessen our dependence on oil. It is only one tool though — we need many more ideas and programs if we are to avoid the economic devastation that our oil consumption will continue to wreak in our society.

Jack D. Hidary is the founder of the Jack D. Hidary Foundation and the Chairman and co-founder of the Freedom Prize Foundation. Final guidelines and application for the Freedom Prizes will be developed in consultation with the Freedom Prize Foundation Advisory Board and the Freedom Prize Advisory Council and are expected to be released in the Fall of 2008. The Freedom Prize disbursements are scheduled to begin in 2009 and candidates will be able to apply at www.freedomprize.org.

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