Monday, February 12, 2007

Changing the Patterns of Energy Use

Representative Bart Gordon, chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, is convinced that government must play a role in changing the way that energy is produced and consumed. Accordingly, he is re-introducing a measure, H.R. 364, to create a research agency to move beyond traditional energy sources and develop technologies to address 21st century challenges.

In Energy Research for All, Alec Dubro of wrote:
Many of today’s IT chiefs, as well as probably most consumers, choose to believe that the modern computer industry was created by the genius of the marketplace. At this point, much of the development is private sector, but the entire information industry rests on a network of publicly financed and directed research.

And so it must be with energy development. The private sector by definition pays for research with a direct, and ideally rapid, return on investment. Moreover, such research is proprietary, hidden from public view. Then, there is the question about the seriousness of research conducted by the energy companies. If the management of Exxon-Mobil has a choice between pursuing a known technology that brought them $40 billion in profits last year and unknown technologies that may never pay off, it’s not too hard to see where their sympathies and attentions lie.

Taxpayer-funded research, on the other hand, can be broader and less focused, looking well beyond the next quarterlies. ARPA-E, if it materializes, would benefit existing and startup industries, as well as continuing research. And it can meet public standards rather than profit-motivated goals.

Will our energy development proceed in an entirely profit-motivated direction or in a way that meets the goals and standards of the public? This bill could help in the creation of technologies that address public concerns.