In yesterday’s Twitter town hall, President Obama spent a significant amount of time describing his vision for a clean energy economy. He said “we know” that clean energy manufacturing “is going to be the future,” and emphasized that his administration made “the largest investment in clean energy in our history through the Recovery Act.” He also mentioned the need for a smart, efficient electric grid and reducing tax subsidies for oil companies.
In a response to a question about oil dependence, Obama complained that “we have not seen a sense of urgency coming out of Congress.” He said he was “committed” to increasing domestic oil drilling, although the United States “can’t drill our way out of this problem.” With that caveat, the president called for a goal of reducing oil use in steps, mentioned his higher fuel economy standards, and said the Detroit bailout involved having the companies “start focusing on the cars of the future instead of looking at big gas guzzlers of the past.”
In an oblique, mangled reference to global warming pollution, Obama said reducing oil use would “drastically cut down on our carbon resources.”
CLEAN ENERGY INVESTMENT
We’ve got to have a top-notch infrastructure to support advanced manufacturing, and we’ve got to look at sectors where we know this is going to be the future. Something like clean energy, for example. For us not to be the leaders in investing in clean energy manufacturing so that wind turbines and solar panels are not only designed here in the United States but made here in the United States makes absolutely no sense. We’ve got to invest in those areas for us to be successful.
So you can combine high-tech with manufacturing, and then you get the best of all worlds.
ADVANCED BATTERY MANUFACTURING
I want to promote alternative energy everywhere, including oil states like Louisiana and Texas. This is something that I’m very proud of and doesn’t get a lot of attention. We made the largest investment in clean energy in our history through the Recovery Act. And so we put forward a range of programs that provided credits and grants to startup companies in areas like creating wind turbines, solar panels.
A great example is advanced battery manufacturing. When I came into office, advanced batteries, which are used, for example, in electric cars, we only accounted for 2 percent of the world market in advanced batteries. And we have quintupled our market share, or even gone further, just over the last two years. And we’re projecting that we can get to 30 to 40 percent of that market. That’s creating jobs all across the Midwest, all across America.
And whoever wins this race on advanced battery manufacturing is probably going to win the race to produce the cars of the 21st century. China is investing in it. Germany is investing in it. We need to be investing in it as well.
SMART GRID INFRASTRUCTURE
It’s estimated that we have about $2 trillion worth of infrastructure that needs to be rebuilt. Roads, bridges, sewer lines, water mains; our air traffic control system doesn’t make sense. We don’t have the kind of electric grid that’s smart, meaning it doesn’t waste a lot of energy in transmission. Our broadband system is slower than a lot of other countries.
The debt ceiling should not be something that is used as a gun against the heads of the American people to extract tax breaks for corporate jet owners, or oil and gas companies that are making billions of dollars because the price of gasoline has gone up so high.
REDUCING OIL DEPENDENCE
Reducing our dependence on oil is good for our economy, it’s good for our security, and it’s good for our planet — so it’s a “three-fer.” And we have not had a serious energy policy for decades. Every President talks about it; we don’t get it done.
Now, I’d like to see robust legislation in Congress that actually took some steps to reduce oil dependency. We’re not going to be able to replace oil overnight. Even if we are going full-throttle on clean energy solutions like solar and wind and biodiesel, we’re going to need oil for some time. But if we had a goal where we’re just reducing our dependence on oil each year in a staggered set of steps, it would save consumers in their pocketbook; it would make our businesses more efficient and less subject to the whims of the spot oil market; it would make us less vulnerable to the kinds of disruptions that have occurred because of what happened in the Middle East this spring; and it would drastically cut down on our carbon resources.
So what I — unfortunately, we have not seen a sense of urgency coming out of Congress over the last several months on this issue. Most of the rhetoric has been about, let’s produce more. Well, we can produce more, and I’m committed to that, but the fact is, we only have 2 to 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves; we use 25 percent of the world’s oil. We can’t drill our way out of this problem.
What we can do that we’ve already done administratively is increase fuel-efficiency standards on cars, just to take one example. That will save us millions of barrels of oil, just by using existing technologies and saying to car companies, you can do better than 10 miles a gallon or 15 miles a gallon. And you’re starting to see Detroit respond. U.S. car companies have figured out, you know what, if we produce high-quality electric vehicles, if we produce high-quality low gas — or high gas mileage vehicles, those will sell.
And we’re actually starting to see market share increase for American cars in subcompact and compact cars for the first time in many years. And that’s partly because we increased fuel-efficiency standards through an administrative agreement. It’s also because, as part of the deal to bail out the oil companies, we said to them, start focusing on the cars of the future instead of looking at big gas guzzlers of the past.
I’m a big supporter of biofuels. But one of the things that’s become clear is, is that we need to accelerate our basic research in ethanol and other biofuels that are made from things like woodchips and algae as opposed to just focusing on corn, which is probably the least efficient energy producer of these various other approaches.
And so I think that it’s important for even those folks in farm states who traditionally have been strong supporters of ethanol to examine are we, in fact, going after the cutting-edge biodiesel and ethanol approaches that allow, for example, Brazil to run about a third of its transportation system on biofuels. Now, they get it from sugar cane and it’s a more efficient conversion process than corn-based ethanol. And so us doing more basic research in finding better ways to do the same concept I think is the right way to go.