Video: Steven Chu on why China’s bid for clean energy leadership should be our “Sputnik Moment”

When it comes to innovation, Americans don’t take a back seat to anyone — and we certainly won’t start now. From wind power to nuclear reactors to high speed rail, China and other countries are moving aggressively to capture the lead.

Given that challenge, and given the enormous economic opportunities in clean energy, it’s time for America to do what we do best: innovate. As President Obama has said, we should not, cannot, and will not play for second place.

That’s Secretary of Energy Steven Chu in speech Monday on how China’s bid for world leadership in clean energy should be our “Sputnik moment.”

Here is the PowerPoint presentation that goes with the speech, the source of the image above (h/t Ecocentric). What follows is a video of the talk and an excerpted post by videographer extraordinaire Peter Sinclair on his Climate Crocks blog:


In an address to the National Press Club, Energy Secretary Steven Chu sounded an alarm about America’s slipping technological leadership in the critical strategic area of renewable energy.

China in particular has made a national commitment to leadership in renewable energy technologies. Unlike the US, China has a Renewable Energy Standard, a goal for a percentage of power to be produced by solar, wind, and other sustainable means.

They expect to exceed the 15 percent goal, and may be producing as much as 20 percent of their energy renewably by 2020, according to Chu.

Renewable energy is, of course, what climate deniers and their fossil fuel funders fear most. For example, Climate Denier Christopher Monckton’s website prominently features a plan to block “insidious” renewable energy standards that would jumpstart US competitiveness.

This kind of organized, paranoid ignorance is good news for China, but bad news for the US, and for the planet in the long run.

Representative Jay Inslee recently made this point emphatically in an interview on Fox News.

See Rep. Inslee attacks anti-innovation GOP: Move to clean energy “or China is going to eat our lunch”

A DOE press release highlighted several crucial technologies where the United States must innovate or risk falling far behind, including:High Voltage Transmission. China has deployed the world’s first Ultra High Voltage AC and DC lines — including one capable of delivering 6.4 gigawatts to Shanghai from a hydroelectric plant nearly 1300 miles away in southwestern China. These lines are more efficient and carry much more power over longer distances than those in the United States.High Speed Rail. In the span of six years, China has gone from importing this technology to exporting it, with the world’s fastest train and the world’s largest high speed rail network, which will become larger than the rest of the world combined by the end of the decade. Some short distance plane routes have already been cancelled, and train travel from Beijing to Shanghai (roughly equivalent to New York to Chicago) has been cut from 11 hours to 4 hours.Alternative Energy Vehicles. China has developed a draft plan to invest $17 billion in central government funds in fuel economy, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric and fuel cell vehicles, with the goal of producing 5 million new energy vehicles and 15 million fuel-efficient conventional vehicles by 2020.Renewable Energy. China is installing wind power at a faster rate than any nation in the world, and manufactures 40 percent of the world’s solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. It is home to three of the world’s top ten wind turbine manufacturers and five of the top ten silicon based PV manufacturers in the world.Supercomputing. Last month, the Tianhe-1A, developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology, became the world’s fastest supercomputer. While the United States — and the Department of Energy in particular — still has unrivalled expertise in the useful application of high performance computers to advance scientific research and develop technology, America must continue to improve the speed and capacity of our advanced supercomputers.

On the positive side, Secretary Chu mentioned a number of key areas of US Research:

“¢ Revolutionary Electric Vehicle Batteries “” 500 Miles on a Single Charge. With the help of Recovery Act funding, Arizona-based Fluidic Energy is working with Arizona State University to develop a new generation of “metal-air” batteries that can store many times more energy than standard lithium-ion batteries. Metal-air batteries contain high energy metals and literally breathe oxygen from the air, giving them the ability to store extreme amounts of energy. To date, the development of these batteries has been blocked by the limitations of using unstable water based solutions that break down and evaporate out of the battery as it breathes. Fluidic Energy’s innovative approach involves ionic liquids — extremely stable salts in liquid form “” using no water at all. If successful, the effort could yield batteries that weigh less, cost less, and are capable of carrying a four passenger electric car 500 miles without recharging, at a cost competitive with internal combustion engines. Read the fact sheet on the project (pdf — 264 kb), which is part of DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

Converting Sunlight Into Usable Fuel. Through a newly established Energy Innovation Hub led by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), an interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers are working to create an integrated system modeled after photosynthesis that can convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into usable fuels such as gasoline. The goal is to create a system of artificial photosynthesis that is ten times more efficient than traditional photosynthesis in converting sunlight into fuel “” paving the way for a major expansion of America’s biofuel industry and reducing our dependence on oil.

— Peter Sinclair

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