Energy Innovation Will Balance Climate Change Harm

U.S.-based Tesla Motors is showing greater-than-expected success with production, sales and performance of electric vehicles.
U.S.-based Tesla Motors is showing greater-than-expected success with production, sales and performance of electric vehicles.

By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer 

Washington,
August 29, 2013

U.S. innovation in energy-efficient and low-carbon technologies is moving at a steady pace, and Obama administration policies are aimed at further accelerating that speed as part of the recently announced strategy toward a low-carbon economy.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said administration strategies for encouraging development of alternate technologies have contributed to a strong rate of progress and advancement in technologies that seemed risky just a few years ago. The Obama administration official spoke in New York August 27.

Since the 2008 economic downturn and the resulting federally funded recovery plan, government-supported incentives have helped drive down the price of emerging low-carbon energy technologies, Moniz said, and speed up innovation in more energy-efficient devices and practices.

“We are also innovating in how we stimulate innovation,” Moniz said. “And I think these are extremely promising programs,” the secretary told an audience at the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy.

Moniz focused on rapid progress in four areas: deployment of wind and solar generation capacity; development of photovoltaic technology used with solar energy; cost reduction and increased sales of long-lived, super-efficient light bulbs; and the development and sales of electric vehicles and batteries.

In all four of these areas, Moniz presented data showing “dramatic cost reduction, dramatic deployment [and] deployment increases.”

Innovation is surging into the marketplace faster than many experts predicted in these four areas. “There is still often a persistent idea that these [technologies] are somehow decades away,” Moniz said, while this recent progress demonstrates that the future may arrive sooner than some expect.

Another important component of the administration climate change policy unveiled in June is to mitigate damage that might be done by rising sea levels and the extreme weather events that lie ahead, according to models of climate change impact.

Moniz discussed this part of the administration plan before a New York City audience, where the memory of an October 2012 superstorm remains fresh, and the damage it caused is still being repaired. Acknowledging that tying a direct link between any single weather event and the greater trends of climate is difficult, the energy secretary said Superstorm Sandy, as the event is known, was consistent with the prediction that extreme weather events could become more severe, doing more damage both human and material.

As officials and publics in the U.S. Northeast make decisions on repairing the 2012 damage, Moniz said, they must be mindful of fiercer storms to come.

“It’s about building smart, as we re-address the infrastructure and use this, perhaps, as an opportunity to develop the 21st-century infrastructure,” Moniz said.

Climate change models call for more extreme storms in some regions, but severe and prolonged drought in others. That too, is a consequence unfolding in real time, Moniz said, as wildfires ravage the western United States and threaten the water delivery systems of major cities in the region.

President Obama unveiled a plan in June to put the United States on the road to a carbon-free economy, outlining a series of actions that will be taken by government agencies in the years ahead. One major regulatory change will require reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-burning power-generating plants. The plan calls for a 17 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020, and steeper reductions in successive years.

Contrary to some assessments and critics of the plan, Moniz said, this proposal should not be considered an assault on the use of coal. Rather, the proposal will support greater innovation in methods to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

video of the Moniz speech is available on the Energy Department website.

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