Moniz leads push for clean energy innovation

Source: By Jeremy Dillon, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Department of Energy’s clean energy research and development initiatives could use a branding makeover akin to NASA’s moonshot campaign.

The goal would be to help DOE meet the technological challenges of climate change, a leading House Democratic appropriator said yesterday.

Advocates argued during a hearing led by House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) that setting tangible, technological or pricing goals for different technologies would better spur the innovation needed to lower carbon emissions from power production and transportation.

Such a rebranding and targeted focus, Kaptur argued, could better help everyday Americans support and embrace the work already being done across DOE, which at times can prove complex for people to understand.

“I think to take additional steps there needs to be some kind of industrywide goal setting that the general [public] and every scout troop can adopt,” Kaptur said. “It’s hard for the public, other than purchasing an energy-efficient vehicle, it’s very hard for them to participate, and I think they want to.”

She added, “Somehow, we have to get these brilliant people to communicate with ordinary people.”

So-called moonshot initiatives are not unheard of at DOE, although they have been more focused than the effort to combat climate change.

The Obama administration launched a decadelong program to reduce the price of deploying solar energy, dubbed the SunShot Initiative. The price of solar energy has indeed dropped.

With such a success, lawmakers have pitched their own moonshot initiatives for other technologies like carbon capture and energy storage.

ClearPath Executive Director Rich Powell also pitched the idea of goals. The right-leaning clean energy advocate said such a focus could better deploy existing DOE resources and programs to meet the needed deployment timelines.

DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy has such targets for two demonstration projects for advanced nuclear reactors, Powell said.

“The case of the advanced reactor demonstration goal, let’s get two of these things running by 2025 — a very aggressive kind of moonshot — but realistically the sort of timeline we need to be hitting if advanced reactors are going to be playing a role in decarbonizing a large part of the power grid by the 2050s,” he said.

Even with targeted goals, the solution for much of DOE’s work on climate comes down to increased funding.

Unlike other agencies, DOE has largely avoided drastic cuts in spending or employment by the Trump administration. In fact, its annual budget has grown about 25% since President Trump took office.

Much of that has gone to nuclear weapons modernization, although some of the extra money has found its way into clean energy research.

That continues the trend launched by the Obama administration under the Mission Innovation umbrella, an international push to invest in technologies to combat climate change.

That push has resulted in additional research dollars, former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said during the hearing, but the scale of the problem has only intensified the need for more funding.

“Let me deliver the punchline up front: The scale and pace needed for the low-carbon energy transition, which is underway, has come to be understood as much greater than was put forward just four years ago at the Paris COP21 meeting, and DOE stands at the center of the energy science and technology innovation solutions that will position the United States for economic, environmental and security success in that transition,” Moniz said.