including new economic opportunities and improved national security.3 For the economy, he said, solar energy would be able to create “millions” of new jobs and provide a key pillar of the economy for the twenty-first century. Solar energy would spur innovation, he said, and create “a pathway whereby we’re producing clean energy in our country.” From his perspective as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he said, he saw the advantage of reducing the country’s dependence on foreign oil. “We have to keep reminding ourselves,” he said, “that this is a critical step.”
National Renewable Energy Goals
In 2009, President Obama set a goal of deriving a quarter of energy used in the United States from renewable sources by 2025 (up from seven percent in 2007—see Figure 1) and, to this end, committed $59 billion from the economic stimulus package to clean energy projects and tax incentives and a further $150 billion over ten years to develop and deploy new energy technologies.4 Elaborating on the President’s goals, Under Secretary of Energy Kristina Johnson highlighted, in her symposium remarks, the objective of conserving 3.6 million barrels of oil within 10 years, reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 83 percent of 2005 levels by 2050, and the building a world-class workforce for a sustainable green economy.5
Energy from the Sun: The Photovoltaic Challenge
According to the National Academy of Engineering, fossil fuels are not a sustainable source of energy. Moreover, it has noted, “for a long-term, sustainable energy source, solar power offers an attractive alternative. Its availability far exceeds any conceivable future energy demands. It is environmentally clean, and its energy is transmitted from the sun to the Earth free of charge. But exploiting the sun’s power is not without challenges. Overcoming the barriers to widespread solar power generation will require engineering innovations in several arenas—
2See National Academy of Sciences, Electricity from Renewable Sources: Status, Prospects, and Impediments, Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2010. See also National Research Council, The National Academies Summit on America’s Energy Future: Summary of a Meeting, Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2008. Speaking at the National Academies Summit, Dr. Steven Chu noted that reliance on the dominant sources of energy being used today poses grave risks to humans. These “hidden costs” of damages from air pollution associated with electricity generation relying on fossil fuels, motor vehicle transportation, and heat generation alone has been estimated by the National Research Council at $120 billion in the United States in 2005. Not included in this figure are damages from climate change, harm to ecosystems, effects of some air pollutants such as mercury, and risks to national security. See National Research Council, Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use, Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2009.
3See the summary of Senator Udall’s remarks, delivered in the symposium of July 29, 2009, in the Proceedings section of this volume.
4The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 includes substantial new national investments in renewable energy, smart grid, transmission, advanced vehicles, energy efficiency, and many other aspects of energy, environment, climate, and sustainability. The $787 billion U.S. economic stimulus bill includes at least $59 billion in new spending and tax credits for the development and expansion of energy technology. The Obama Administration’s $3.55 trillion budget proposal for fiscal 2010 calls for spending $150 billion over 10 years to promote clean energy and energy efficiency. It includes nearly $75 billion to make permanent a tax credit aimed at stimulating private-sector investment in research and development.
5See the summary of Under Secretary Johnson’s remarks, delivered in the symposium of July 29, 2009, in the Proceedings section of this volume.