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Innovation and Human Capital: A Renewable Resource for a Secure Energy Future

by
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The Ralph Coats Roe Lecture of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers
Orlando, Florida

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


On behalf of myself, and of the generations of engineers (and scientists) educated at the institution I am privileged to lead, I thank you for the opportunity to deliver this lecture named for one of the foremost engineers of the 20th century, and for bestowing upon me the award which bears his name.

Ralph Coats Roe was born in upstate New York, and I cannot help but think that he would have made a fine student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Rensselaer was nearby, it had been in existence for more than 80 years when he was of college age, and our founder’s goal of adapting “science to the common purposes of life,” as the founding documents proclaim, admirably fit his inventive turn of mind.

Rensselaer cannot claim Ralph Coats Roe as one of its distinguished alumni, and, yet, he made remarkable contributions in diverse fields such as energy technologies, water desalination, aeronautics, and missile defense systems.

This is a man who was entirely self-taught — yet he was a lifelong supporter of education. Indeed, the value of pedagogical accomplishment is recognized in the ASME award.

Ralph Coats Roe lived a prodigiously productive life. He held nearly 50 patents, many of them representing significant improvements in the efficiency and reliability of power plants. He admirably was suited to his time, and to the development of the first generation of large-scale energy technologies. I am certain, however, that he would have been equally intrigued, and engaged, by the multifaceted challenges of today — especially the complexities of producing and delivering energy on a global scale.

Mr. Roe, also, would have been keenly aware that successful resolution of the challenges depends upon maximizing our global capacity for innovation. That, in turn, depends upon developing and nurturing future generations of scientists and engineers — those who will carry through to fruition the technologies that will sustain the world and humankind through this century, and into the next.

A man such as Mr. Roe — vigorous, innovative, possessed of an international perspective, appreciative of the value of education, and blessed with the capacity for leadership — is exactly the sort of individual essential to address 21st century challenges. Indeed, the world needs thousands — tens of thousands — like him.

As a theoretical physicist and former Chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, I have a longstanding interest in energy. As President of the nation’s oldest technological research university, I, obviously, also, have a deep interest and involvement in higher education. Given the similar confluence of interests evinced by Ralph Coats Roe, I believe it appropriate to address, in the lecture bearing his name, the topic of energy security, and the necessity of developing a nucleus of engineers and scientists who can find solutions to a pressing set of global energy challenges.

We are witnessing — and experiencing — extraordinary turbulence and uncertainty in the global energy system. Just last Friday, oil prices made their biggest single-day surge ever, soaring $11 to $138.54 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, an 8 percent increase. That followed a $5.50 increase the day before, taking oil futures more than 13 percent higher in just two days. And, the Dow Jones industrial average dropped nearly 400 points, underscoring the implications of, not only the spike in oil prices, but also, the news of the largest jump in the unemployment rate in 22 years.

There is a sense that the situation is out of control — out of America’s control, literally. We consistently hear our national leaders call for “energy independence.” I propose that a more apt term is “energy security” — because of the more than 190 nations in the world, NONE is energy independent — nor will they ever be.

The sense of loss of control is not new — nor is the call for “energy independence.” Nearly 35 years ago, President Richard Nixon issued just such a call. Within months, the truth of the energy dilemma became clear — not only was energy independence an unachievable goal, but at the time, we, as a country, had no clear idea, even, of how much energy we produced and consumed, or what kinds, or in what manner. President Nixon’s Project Independence devolved into a statistical survey of energy production and consumption — a valuable exercise, but a clear indication of our straits. The tacit acknowledgement, at the time, was that the most to which we could aspire, as a country, was to gain some measure of security in our energy supply.

The Ford Administration made attempts toward attaining security in our national oil supply; the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was a notable accomplishment. The Carter Administration produced a comprehensive National Energy Plan soon after taking office. The plan stressed conservation, renewable energy, and research. One initiative provided $80 billion in funding for a Synthetic Fuels Corporation. Another prohibited the use of natural gas to generate electricity. The plan, also, included a graduated excise tax on fuel-inefficient automobiles, a gasoline tax, and tax credits for conservation measures and renewable technologies, a variety of incentives for development of unconventional oil and gas sources, and streamlined nuclear plant licensing.

President Carter’s characterization of the energy problem as “the moral equivalent of war” was widely mocked, and his energy program soon lost momentum. Some proposals, such as building, appliance, and automobile fleet efficiency standards — were enacted and have endured, to our benefit. However, measures such as the automobile and gasoline taxes proved politically unpalatable at the time — although various gasoline taxes and a “gas guzzler” tax do exist today. The Synthetic Fuels Corporation lost its funding, and the prohibition on natural gas use for electricity generation was reversed as energy prices fell during the early 1980s. Home energy conservation tax credits expired, and renewable energy credits repeatedly have been enacted, and allowed to lapse.

The pattern of advance and retreat on energy policy has been repeated over the past several decades. Every few years, it seems, an event — the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, rolling brown outs in California, damage to drilling rigs and refineries during Hurricane Katrina, the sky-rocketing price of gasoline at the pump, and so on — stirs attention and trepidation, and sparks short-lived action. Meanwhile, over the last 30 years, the U.S. has gone from importing a third of our oil in 1973 to nearly two-thirds today. The U.S. paid out $327 billion for oil imports last year — and the price of oil has now doubled over 2007 levels — with economic consequences that have become painfully apparent.

Moreover, in the period since energy insecurity beset the United States in the 1970s, swiftly rising economies around the globe have spiked demand sharply. Energy security is, more clearly than ever, a global issue, affecting the entire planet and its people.

There is a worldwide surge in energy consumption, driven by population growth, higher standards of living, and increasing reliance on energy-dependent technologies. From 1950 to 2000, the world population rose from 2.5 billion to 6 billion people. Water use tripled — as did grain production. The world fleet of passenger vehicles, globally, grew from 53 million in 1950, to 500 million in 2000, and is now more than 622 million. And, with the introduction of commercial jet aircraft in the late1950s, air travel increased a hundred-fold, from about 28 billion passenger kilometers at mid-century to more than 2.9 trillion in 2002.

Worldwide per capita energy consumption, now, is roughly 13 times higher than in pre-industrial times. And, this is only an average: more than a third of the planet’s people — 2.4 billion — still have no access to modern energy services.

The explosive economic development and industrialization of China and India are putting tremendous pressure on energy markets worldwide — driving fuel and energy equipment prices higher, and contributing to higher carbon dioxide emissions.

A report late last year by the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicated that China and India accounted for about for about 70 percent of the increase in energy demand in the past two years. Energy use in these two nations is projected to double between 2005 and 2030, by which time they will account for nearly half the increase in global demand.

Failure to resolve today’s uncertainty, and to achieve adequate, sustainable energy supplies, in as environmentally benign a way as possible, is more than a matter of Americans paying $5 per gallon at the pump, and then $6, and so on. It, also, will leave billions in underdeveloped countries stranded in energy poverty, with all the attendant implications: inadequate access to food and water, inability to combat infectious diseases, lack of education, civil unrest. All of this will leave all of us in peril.

And, why would not other countries aspire to improve themselves, and to rise, in just as we do.

A convergence of multiple factors makes it bluntly obvious that a comprehensive global energy system restructuring has begun — especially with regard to fossil fuels. The combined forces of increased energy demand, supply uncertainty, rising costs, and the impact of climate change are the major drivers.

The unprecedented growth in energy use has irrevocably altered global energy markets, gradually increasing the power and influence of global traders and investors. Before 1980, international oil companies had long-term contracts which set prices and volumes. Relatively small amounts were traded daily on what was called the “spot” market. In 1983, the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) opened a market for crude oil which has grown steadily. Now, most major oil companies tie sales and purchases to the fluctuating prices on the exchange. Energy experts have cited the growth of the futures market for crude oil as a factor in the global run-up in prices, as speculators have turned to commodities futures, in lieu of stocks, during the stock market’s latest downturn. NYMEX and the other exchanges discount the criticism, but Congress is beginning to take interest in the link, as oil prices weaken the economy and raise the public’s ire.

A similar global market is developing for liquefied natural gas (LNG). The United States, in fact, has been outbid for LNG, not only by traditional Asian users, but by European Union countries. And China’s natural gas demand is growing at 7 percent a year, with the opening of the first LNG regasification terminal, there, last year, and more in the works.

With the emergence of new energy markets, traditional corporate and country alignments are shifting, creating new alliances and cooperative agreements, and completely altering not only the geopolitics of energy production, distribution, and markets, but, also, relationships between and among nations, as well.

The original “seven sisters” — Western companies that controlled Middle East oil after World War II — have consolidated into four multi-billion-dollar, multi-national oil giants. They are among the world’s largest corporations — and, yet, they have been dwarfed by a new set of “sisters” with the clout of sovereign nations to support them. These new sisters — Saudi Aramco, Russia’s GazProm, China’s CNPC, NIOC of Iran, Venezuela’s PDVSA, Brazil’s Petrobras, and Petronas of Malaysia — control almost a third of the world’s oil and gas production, and more than a third of its total oil and gas reserves.

With this year’s sharply higher oil prices, the world’s oil consumers are handing over to the world’s oil producers an amount well in excess of $1 trillion annually. This is a massive transfer of wealth, and is the basis for the creation of Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWF) — nation-owned financial entities, which give their governments tremendous power. Venezuela’s new oil wealth gives it powerful new influence among traditional U.S. allies in South America. Iran can better sustain economic sanctions over its nuclear program. Saudi Arabia is stabilizing its social system, and its educational base, by building six new “Economic Cities” and new research universities — burnishing its national image.

Two facts — 1) that the new “sisters” are state-owned, and 2) that growth in the oil and gas industry rests strongly in their hands — are restructuring national and international alliances, and will continue to affect them for decades.

More than a dozen nations in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Caspian basin recently have become, or soon will become, significant oil and gas exporters. And, the Caspian basin is the locus for at several proposed pipeline routes, each with unique geographical and political concerns — including South Stream Pipeline, Nabucco Pipeline, the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline, Trans-Caspian Oil Pipeline, Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (TAP), and a number of others.

For countries, with long histories of poverty and ineffective governance, the attendant consequences of rapidly building national wealth can be severe, and can add to global unrest. Observers tracking the number of civil wars around the world have noted that there has been a significant reduction — down from 17 at the end of the Cold War to just five by 2006. Yet, despite this trend, there has been no reduction of civil conflict within oil producing nations — which now host about a third of the world’s civil conflicts, both large and small, up from a fifth in 1992.

The world’s eyes are on the oil markets, but other traditional fuels, also, are affected. Coal long has been regarded as plentiful, reliable, and inexpensive — a sort of default energy source. The difficulty is that burning coal spews unacceptable quantities of pollutants into the atmosphere.

A recent report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) notes that China is building the equivalent of two 500-megawatt coal plants per week — adding, each year, an amount equal to about 20 per cent of total U.S. coal-fired capacity. China, now, uses a quarter of the world’s coal, and that could more than double by 2030. Interestingly, the Chinese boom is placing a strain both on the worldwide coal supply, and on coal-fired power generating equipment.

China, as a recent Wall Street Journal article points out, has been “a huge supplier of coal to itself and the rest of the world.” Last year, however, it became a net importer, both as a result of increased demand and weather-related shortages. This has triggered a near doubling of coal prices around the globe.

U.S. coal futures prices have, in fact, doubled in 2008, to about $110 per ton, despite a slowing U.S. economy and a relatively mild winter.

The coal price escalation highlights a sea change that may have profound implications for the United States: no longer is coal overwhelmingly used where it is found. The U.S. Department of Energy projects that coal use could increase by 74 per cent between now and 2030, and that the international coal trade could rise by nearly 50 per cent — with about a quarter of the world’s coal being imported or exported.

While all of these shifts are global in reach, each region and each country is affected differently. Impact is based on factors such as indigenous fuel sources, relationships to other supplier countries, reliability of infrastructure, economic stability, the degree of attention given to environmental concerns, and how government leaders and the public-at-large view the risks and benefits of different energy sources. Variations in how these factors are weighted in the policy-making process of a given nation can lead to contrasting strategies for achieving energy security — even though the effects of these decisions are likely to extend beyond their borders.

What is significant about the anticipated growth in global demand for energy is that so much of it will occur in countries that are not prepared to reduce their dependencies on fossil fuels. China is projected to become the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and other pollutants within a couple of years. The effect of this is global — being felt all the way to the U.S. — where, by some estimates, 30 percent of the background sulfate particulate matter in the western states originates in Asia. It is important, then, to help rapidly developing countries to gain energy efficiencies in manufacturing, and in products, and to reduce carbon footprints through the use of renewable and alternative energy sources.

Globalization of capital, climate change mitigation, and mounting investment volume, from multiple sources, are creating opportunities for new kinds of markets. Some, such as the European Trading Scheme (ETS) or the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), are government-sponsored, are intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and are established under the Kyoto Protocol. Others have sprung up voluntarily, such as the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCE) which integrates voluntary, legally binding emissions reductions with emissions trading, and with offsets for six greenhouse gases. Other regional carbon dioxide emissions auctions and trading will be getting underway early next year.

One of the most significant results of the concern about climate change and energy security is the resurgence of interest in nuclear power.

This renewed interest takes different forms in different regions. The heaviest concentration of new nuclear power plant construction currently is in Asia, primarily in China. In Europe, Finland and France are constructing the new European Pressurized Reactor (EPR).

More than 30 countries currently without nuclear power have nuclear programs under consideration. One of the more significant turnarounds is in Italy, a nuclear pioneer which scrapped its nuclear energy generating facilities after the 1986 Chernobyl accident. Italy relies heavily on oil and gas, and its electricity rates are 45 percent above the EU average. Italy reversed the ban in 2004, and, now, is conducting feasibility studies for siting and construction of four nuclear plants.

Also of interest is nuclear planning among the oil-rich Gulf States. Saudi Arabia is leading regional feasibility studies that may produce a plan as early as next year to build nuclear facilities to serve the region. Industrialization, and the need for increased desalination capacity are placing heavier demands on oil and gas, which Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Gulf states would rather export, turning them toward nuclear power.

Last year, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved the first nuclear power plant site in this country in more than 30 years, in central Illinois. Since then, the NRC has received seven applications for combined construction and operating licenses to build 11 new nuclear units, using several advanced designs. Eleven more applications totaling 16 reactors are expected this year, at the NRC, with at least five more in 2009-2010.

The importance of nuclear power has led to the renewal of the operating licenses of nearly half of the country’s 104 nuclear power reactors, (and virtually all U.S. nuclear plants either have filed for renewal, or are expected to file).

On the technical front, several advanced and innovative concepts are moving toward implementation. The Generation IV International Nuclear Forum — a U.S.-led project in which France, the United Kingdom, and the European Union are also members — is moving forward toward research and development (R&D) on six innovative reactor concepts, such as the “Molten Salt Reactor” and the “Supercritical Water Cooled Reactor”. Russia has licensed the KLT-40, a 60 megawatt reactor design which can be floated and transported by barge, thus taking advantage of Russian experience with nuclear-powered ice-breakers and submarines, and which can also be used for district heating. The Republic of Korea intends to construct by 2008 a one-fifth-scale demonstration plant of its 330 megawatt SMART pressurized water reactor, which will also include a demonstration desalination facility. And South Africa has approved initial funding for developing a demonstration unit of the 168 megawatt gas cooled Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR), to be commissioned around 2010.

In principle, nuclear energy satisfies many of the optimum requirements for enhancing energy security. Nuclear power produces virtually no sulfur dioxide, particulates, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, or greenhouse gases. The complete cycle, from resource extraction to waste disposal, emits only about 2-6 grams of carbon equivalent per kilowatt-hour. This is about the same as wind and solar — if one includes construction and component manufacturing — and is roughly two orders of magnitude below coal, oil, and natural gas. Moreover, unlike small wind and solar facilities, nuclear power can supply the large baseload capacity needed to support large urban centers, and to stabilize large electrical grids.

Nuclear plant operating costs are low, when compared to most other energy sources. And unlike coal, oil, or natural gas, the purchase of fuel comprises a relatively small part of nuclear costs, such that volatility in fuel markets has relatively little effect on overall costs of nuclear electricity generation. Moreover, uranium resources, today, are abundant and widely distributed, with multiple stable supplier countries.

On the other hand, nuclear power plants are capital-intensive. The Wall Street Journal, recently, said sharply higher costs for construction materials such as steel, cement, and copper could raise costs of plants on the drawing board well in excess of $5 billion, roughly double some earlier estimates.

Even with high construction costs, new nuclear power plants are competitive with electricity produced by natural gas plants — if gas prices are above $4.70 to $5.70 per million Btu — and latest government figures show that natural gas for electricity generation is around $8.00 per million Btu.

If prices hold at this year’s levels, nuclear-generated electricity could cost as much as a third less than conventional coal, and considerably less if a financial penalty on carbon dioxide emissions were introduced.

Other carbon-free energy sources that can contribute to a sustainable, secure world energy supply are renewables and conservation. But neither has been fully developed. The trillion-dollar oil bill coming due may help spur development.

The European Commission estimates that over the next 20 to 30 years, energy import dependence for the European Union will rise to 70 per cent overall and up to 90 per cent for oil, in the absence of policy action in the near term to reduce dependence. This is causing the EU to develop strategies for new and renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency, both to assure supply through diversification, and to mitigate climate change. The European Union already is the world leader in renewable energy technology. For example, EU companies hold 60 percent of the market share in wind technology.

Wind energy has gained favored status among renewable energy sources, and its use is growing fast. Wind power in the U.S. has tripled since 2000 to about 12,000 megawatts installed — although it has been slowed, somewhat, because production tax credits have been allowed to expire three separate times in recent years. The U.S. could get 20 percent of its electricity from wind power by 2030, according to a recent U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) report. To achieve the goal, according to the DOE, we must design better turbines, improve transmission systems, and resolve the logistical problems associated with locating wind farms far offshore.

Engineering challenges, also, face those who would deploy large-scale solar arrays.

As we look for new sources of energy, we should never overlook the “low-hanging fruit” we can access today. It is noteworthy that Ralph Coats Roe made some of his greatest contributions in the area of efficiency improvements in electricity generation, but the potential for manufacturing and end-use conservation — so-called “negawatts” — is great.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy reported last month that U.S. energy use per dollar of economic output, in 2008, is half what it was before the Arab oil embargo. Some of that is due to the relocation of energy-intensive industries to countries such as China, but much of it stems from efficiency improvements in both manufacturing processes and consumer goods. Refrigerators, as one example, are, on average, about 50 percent larger than in the 1970s, but use only about one-third of the energy.

Energy efficiency, also, could take the world a long way toward goals of greenhouse gas emission reduction — two-thirds of the way, according to a projection by the International Energy Agency.

It is clear, from this brief review, that we must learn to think of energy in new ways. To meet the complex challenges of global energy restructuring, we must make both technological and public policy changes.

We must innovate the technologies that uncover and exploit new fossil energy sources, and improve their extraction. We must innovate the technologies which lead to alternative energy sources, which are reliable, cost-effective, safe, as environmentally benign as possible, and sustainable. These can range from wind turbine advances, to new nanostructured materials for photovoltaics, to new drilling and exploration technologies, to new imaging and computational techniques, to new nuclear technologies, to the science and technology of carbon capture and sequestration, to hydrogen fuels, and so many other developments.†

There has been a lack of action at the federal level — even on piecemeal measures. Last week, a climate change bill was held over in Congress until next session when agreement could not be reached — one in a string of examples. Until and unless Congress sets a price on carbon, as an example, corporations are unlikely to ill risk the expense of constructing a carbon capture/sequestration plants — without being able to calculate the returns. And Congress is hesitant to set standards for carbon without knowing the costs and effectiveness of cap and trade. It is a circular dilemma, and yet someone must go first.

On the public policy front, we need a comprehensive national energy roadmap. It must be a coherent plan integrating energy policy and climate change policy, and must address the full range of energy sources, as well as technological, societal, political, and geopolitical dimensions. It must be consistent with both national and international actions to mitigate the effects of carbon-based energy systems — to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. It should address the appropriate roles of all energy sources. It should address countervailing issues to avoid unintended consequences, and advocate the use consistent measures of the true carbon content of products and processes, and to the extent possible, all aspects of domestic and international policy development.

At its core, the energy roadmap should be predicated on six basic elements:

First — redundancy of supply and diversity of source — where optimum source is linked to (specific) sector of use. This entails maximizing domestic production — where it makes sense, and ensuring reliable sources for necessary fuel imports. This provides protection against supply disruption events, such as natural disasters or geopolitical instability, and a hedge against price volatility.

Second — support for well-functioning energy markets. This includes ensuring a level playing field with regard to the transparency of fuel pricing and energy generation, as well as mechanisms to secure financing for long-term strategic investments. This means understanding and/or developing new schemes and instruments for trading in energy markets, which link to climate change mitigation strategies.

Third — investment in sound infrastructure for energy generation, transmission, and distribution, including the necessary regulatory and operational protocols to ensure the safe, secure, and reliable performance of refineries, power plants, the electrical grid, and other facilities.

Fourth — environmental sustainability and energy conservation — which calculates full lifecycle costs, including environmental costs, of goods — from production through use and eventual disposal.

Fifth — the development of policy alternatives which balance legal requirements with incentives. These include consistency of regulation, and transparent price signals.

Sixth — continuing, robust innovation, both in terms of technological advances, and business process innovations. This is where we, in engineering and science, have a unique role to play, provided we have the support for the basic research and technological innovation, and human capital development that are needed. States and even cities are not waiting for a national energy plan, but, already, are enacting legislation and regulations addressing both energy costs and climate change mitigation, and, like corporations, are exploiting economic opportunity. All of these efforts must be coordinated into a truly national policy.

The question is, are we, as a nation, equipped with the human capital for the robust innovation the energy challenge demands of us? Innovation requires investment in research and development, of course, but fundamentally, it requires people.

As a university president, and as a theoretical physicist, I have deep concerns that our national innovation capacity is in jeopardy. Converging forces have created what I call the “Quiet Crisis,” which is eroding the production of scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technologists we must have for the scope of innovation these challenges demand.

The engineers and scientists who came of age in the post-Sputnik era, are beginning to retire. We are no longer producing sufficient numbers of new graduates to replace them. This looming talent crisis is evident in the energy arena — especially in the nuclear and the oil and gas sectors.

We continue to be a magnet for talented young people from abroad who come to the U.S. for advanced education and training. But, an increasing number are returning home after their studies — some early in their careers, some later. Some of this is of our own making — for example, the limited number of H1B visas, but other nations are investing in their own education and research enterprises, and offer new opportunities for their own engineers and scientists to study and to work at home. Or they are able to find employment elsewhere, not necessarily in the U.S.

Our national demographics have shifted. The “new majority” in the United States now comprises young women, and the racial and ethnic groups, which, traditionally, have been underrepresented in our advanced science and engineering schools, and in the professions.

It is to these “nontraditional” groups of young people to whom we, also, must look for our future scientists and engineers, while spurring the interest in science and engineering of all of our young people.

The “Quiet Crisis” is “quiet” because the true impact unfolds gradually over time — it takes decades to educate a nuclear engineer or a biomolecular researcher. It is a “crisis” because our national innovative capacity rests solely upon their talents, and upon our ability to interest and excite all of our youth to the marvels of science and engineering — to the wonders of discovery and innovation.

If we do not tap the talents of all of our young people, we will not have the engineers and scientists we must have to innovate new technologies, to create new energy industries, and to maneuver within the newly restructuring global energy arena.

There has been a parallel decline of investment in U.S. basic research, especially in the physical sciences and engineering. Federal investment in basic research has been shrinking for more than a decade. The investment called for in reports like the National Academies’ “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report, and authorized in the AMERICA COMPETES Act, has yet to be funded.

In conclusion, let me say that I firmly believe that the U.S. possesses, in abundance, the very capabilities to address the linked energy security/climate change challenge which confronts us, today. They include — a higher education system widely regarded as the best in the world; a well-developed science infrastructure — including advanced computational resources; a flexible financial system providing ready access to venture capital; government structures with a record of supporting and investing in cutting-edge scientific research, a history of collaboration between the public and private sectors; government policies that encourage investment and entrepreneurship; a thriving and diverse culture of risk-takers where unconventional approaches to problems are welcomed; and a long history of taking great risks and making sacrifices for great rewards.

We cannot take these historical advantages for granted. Others are emulating what has made us so successful.

It will take leadership — national leadership, and leadership in multiple sectors — to bring all of the staggeringly complex elements of energy security and climate change mitigation together, meshing smoothly into a unified system of energy conservation, efficiency, sourcing, and, delivery.

On a global scale, energy security and climate change mitigation will require a more complete understanding of energy markets and geopolitics, the new players, and the new alignments.

It, also, will require innovation of the highest order.

Five months from now, we will have elected a new president. It is essential that these issues be discussed during the campaign, so that there is a mandate for a comprehensive energy security roadmap in the next administration and Congress.

To achieve a truly comprehensive, adoptable national energy plan requires the full weight and leadership of the nation’s chief executive, as well as strong, coordinated leadership in Congress, and at the state level. Only stability and consistency of outlook, and linked federal and state policies and incentives, can give us a comprehensive national energy/climate change roadmap which will make a real difference.

Pioneers like Ralph Coats Roe made innovations which helped invent a global energy system which worked, and which propelled the United States to unprecedented heights of prosperity. Now, we must use his same qualities of leadership and innovation to meet challenges our predecessors did not contemplate, and to carry the world forward to a secure and sustainable future.

Thank you.


Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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