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Energy companies hail Obama’s goals for clean energy technology
By Hamdhoon Rashad - January 31, 2011

Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

Those who think they have previously heard President Barack Obama speak about doubling U.S. investment in technological advancements are not alone.

Two years ago, Obama said the U.S. needed to reach a level of research and development it has not seen since the height of the space race.

In what he referred to as "our generation's Sputnik moment" in his State of the Union address Tuesday, Obama once again turned his focus to reinventing U.S. energy policy.

"We'll invest in biomedical research, information technology and especially clean energy technology," Obama said.

Anna Pavlova, director of government affairs at Johnson Controls - a global technology and industrial company that creates advanced batteries for hybrid and electrical vehicles and  environmentally friendly equipment for heating, ventilating and air-conditioning - said talks with White House officials indicated their readiness to back research and development in companies like hers.

"We are very happy to hear that the president is going to be very invested in this idea," she said.

As part of Obama's clean energy strategy, the Department of Energy launched three energy innovation hubs that will help advance work on clean-energy technologies. These hubs will launch projects that can be handed off to the private sector to take to the marketplace.

"At the California Institute of Technology, they're developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars," Obama said. "At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they're using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities."

Thomas Mason, director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said in an interview, "A talented team was put together as part of the proposal, including academic, industry and utility partners to work on this project."

This project, which first received money in August, uses supercomputers to maximize energy production. Once the project is in full operation, the electricity generated through clean energy using nuclear power sources will have a "tremendous economic benefit," Mason said.

During a briefing at Department of Energy Wednesday, Secretary Steven Chu said the department's Argonne National Laboratory, which has been a leader in advanced battery R&D, has developed cutting-edge cathode technology vital for reaching Obama's goal to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

This new technology is now being licensed by California startup Envia Systems.

General Motors Ventures recently invested $7 million in Envia Systems to provide GM with batteries for electric and hybrid cars that don't have to be recharged as often and require less maintenance.

On its website, GM said Envia's battery technology should make electric cars more affordable.

Referring to Obama's pledge that clean energy is "an investment that will create countless new jobs for our people," Chu said these jobs will be for college graduates and others across the country. 

"We think that the rebuilding of the American infrastructure and developing these new industries allows a broad swathe of the talented Americans to be used," Chu said.

Chu said he is optimistic the country can meet Obama's goal of generating 80 percent of the country's electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

"We are in a race. This is an economic race to develop those technologies the world will demand, and want and buy, and so it is going to have in many respects a much more profound influence on our lives in the future" he said.

Companies like Direct Energy and SkyBuilt Power are optimistic that President Obama's energy goals will be met.

"There is plenty of natural gas for us to get through to achieve the president's goal of creating 80 percent of clean energy by 2035," Chris Perrault, vice president of government relations at Direct Energy - a provider of electric and natural gas service to residential and business customers - said during a panel discussion on clean energy Thursday. The Business Council for Sustainable Energy, an industry group that favors market-based approaches to clean energy, sponsored the discussion.

"We can do that in America. We already have the technology available to meet that goal," David Muchow, CEO of SkyBuilt Power, said.

SkyBuilt Power, which provides renewable energy power systems for the military and commercial markets, says its mobile clean energy products operate for years with little or no fuel, reducing the costs and pollution associated with diesel generators.

As energy companies prepare themselves to meet the goals, the biggest challenge is financing.

"We'll need to invest a lot in our fields," Pavlova said. "There are a lot of incentives that the government can do."


This article was originally published here.