In last night’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama indicated the White House would significantly increase its support for alternative energy transportation.
The president proposed the taking of a portion of oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust to pave the way for biofuels and electric vehicles.
Research and technology is yet needed he said, and the idea is to “shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.”
Among the needed technologies is yet-elusive battery chemistry that would yield up to “10 times” more energy density, and as we saw at the end of last year, the government is already starting to back a massive brain trust among top research labs around the country specifically aimed at developing at least five-times energy density improvement.
In his last term, Obama caught major heat for his alternative energy agenda, and not without some reason, such as his widely repeated goal of putting 1 million EVs and PHEVs on American roads by 2015. Electric cars have taken off, but sales were less than some predicted, and some automakers have very publicly backed away to let others do the heavy lifting while they focus on what they consider more viable technologies, such as gas-electric hybrids.
Nonetheless, in their second full year of sales last year, EVs and PHEVs did triple 2011 initial sales, and indicators are while a slower start than hoped for, the “shift” away from oil has begun. Without a doubt, however, they do need a boost to transcend to mass acceptance.
Back in the Saddle Again
In the year leading up to the election, the Energy Department actually demonstrated it was under political pressure in limiting green energy loans.
Even in the presidential debates however, Republican Mitt Romney said he’d endorse alternative energy research instead of “picking winners and losers” among individual companies.
The need is apparent, at least to some, if not all. It’s how to get there that has been the biggest source of friction, as is so often the case in many other arena in this politicized and divided country.
But one way or another Obama appears bent on finding sustainable solutions for the predicament faced by a waning supply of petroleum, as excerpts from his State of the Union address in context following indicate:
“Today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy. After years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years,” said the president. “We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar, with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it.“
Obama also touched on the somewhat controversial climate change issue as part of the reasoning and broadening his appeal to various interests to see alternative energy sources developed.
“We produce more natural gas than ever before, and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it,” said Obama. “And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen. But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.
“Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15,” Obama continued. “Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late.”
Obama then made a pointed bi-partisan appeal toward congressional support for the aforementioned Energy Security Trust, but said either way, he as president would exert all the influence he could toward alternative energy. His “all of the above” plan also calls for increasing natural gas usage, presumably as a stop-gap measure while researchers hope to develop much-improved electrified technology.
“Now, the good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth,” he continued. “I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations.
“I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy,” Obama continued. “Now, four years ago, other countries dominated the clean-energy market and the jobs that came with it. And we’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year. Let’s drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we. Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”
Work Already Underway
President Obama has had alternative energy transportation in his sites all along, and has only had to pick his moments, as he seeks not to utterly alienate those from which he needs cooperation.
As alluded to above, in December news broke that the U.S. Energy Department had begun a “Manhattan Project” type nationwide collaboration between top research labs to develop a new type of battery chemistry to enable electric cars to travel five-times farther and recharge faster.
The initiative is known as Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) and national security concerns were uttered in part of its justification and relatively modest funding of $120 million.
In any case, the president has again stated his agenda and intent to make all the executive-level actions he can with or without the well wishes of those on the other side of the aisle.
We’ll be looking to see what other developments come forth in coming months.