Gates, Immelt Call for Tripling of Energy Research

June 10, 2010
Group of industry leaders warns that lack of research and development in clean energy hurting U.S. economy and threatens national security.

A diverse group of corporate executives, led by General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, warned on Thursday that the U.S. has fallen too far behind in research on new forms of energy and needs to change its approach to the issue.

The group, entitled the American Energy Innovation Council (AEIC), urged the government to more than triple its current spend on energy research and development to $16 billion a year. It also proposed the creation of a national energy board to help advance energy technology investments.

Gates and Immelt were joined on the seven-member council by Lockheed Martin chairman Norm Augustine, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, Cummins CEO Tim Solso, and energy venture capitalist John Doerr, a partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers.

The AEIC, which appeared before the media in Washington, D.C., released a detailed report Thursday highlighting the challenges and opportunities available and was scheduled to meet with President Obama later in the day to discuss solutions.

The report warns that a continued lack of energy research and development will not only hurt the U.S. economy, but also cripple its international competitiveness and put its security at risk.

The R&D piece, with the government playing a strong role, is critical and urgent, Gates said.

Part of the trouble, the group said, is U.S. leaders and the public at large still dont fully realize the significance of the energy issue. Americans today spend more money on potato chips than we do on energy R&D, said Doerr.

According to the groups finding, the U.S. spends $80 billion a year on military research and $30 billion a year on health and medical R&D, but only around $5 billion each year on new energy R&D.

GEs Immelt says the U.S. has to devote more time and money toward the development of responsible forms of energy, which will require the cultivation of a partnership between private industry and the government. The report suggests that funding should be directed toward clean coal technologies, research on nuclear fission and new materials for energy efficient buildings.

Our job is to keep agitating and be a force for positive change, said Immelt. If the U.S. doesnt advance its clean-energy industry, he warns, everybody else around the world will. This is a primary pillar of national competitiveness.

Among its other recommendations, the AEIC called for further funding of the Department of Energys Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to $1 billion per year. The ARPA was one of the key government agencies which helped launch the Internet. Today, it focuses on high-risk, high-reward technologies. The group says it can serve a similar role in helping to commercialize alternative energy projects.

The AEIC also recommended the creation of centers of excellence in energy innovation, with universities and laboratories providing access to testing facilities to help spur research.

This is central to incubating innovation across different fields and institutions, said Cummins Solso. These can be our new hubs of invention. Our company has found that we win in the market by using our technical innovation to meet public standards while also developing products that meet the needs of our customers. The entire American economy can benefit from similar investments in innovation to help address our energy challenges.

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