Remarks
Avi Gopstein, Senior Technical Advisor to Ambassador Pascual
Czech - U.S. Sustainable Energy Conference: Innovation in Sustainable Energy
Czernin Palace, Prague, Czech Republic
September 20, 2012


Good morning. As Ambassador Eisen said, it is the prerogative of every diplomat to begin their remarks with acknowledgements. And so I will begin by thanking the government of the Czech Republic and Minister Schneider for their gracious hospitality, and Ambassador Eisen for his efforts in bringing together this conference. Science and Technology Advisor to Secretary Clinton Bill Colglazier regrets that he cannot be here himself, as he and I agree this topic is of great importance and he very much wanted to speak on these issues, and I am honored to be here this morning to discuss sustainable energy innovation.

Expanding access to sustainable and secure sources of energy is a cornerstone of President Obama’s Administration, and is fundamental to the economic growth and stability of the global economy. Secretary Clinton recognized the importance of energy to U.S. foreign policy, and in November last year created the new Bureau of Energy Resources at the State Department to enhance the State Department’s global engagement on energy diplomacy, transformation, transparency and access.

Energy issues of course do not stop at our borders, and at almost the same time as the State Department set up the new Energy Bureau the Department of Energy released its Quadrennial Technology Review. The technology review provides a simple yet comprehensive policy framework for prioritizing technology innovation for energy transformation and presents the first ever integrated energy technology R&D strategy from the Department of Energy.

These two achievements - the publication of the Department of Energy’s comprehensive technology review and strategy as well as the State Department’s creation of an Energy Bureau to streamline and synthesize energy engagements worldwide – are seminal actions as the United States’ looks to lead the energy transformation of the 21st century. In fact I have the distinct honor and pleasure of having contributed to both of these exercises – first as Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of Energy where I co-authored the Quadrennial Technology Review, and now as the Senior Technical Advisor in Secretary Clinton’s Energy Bureau. I can tell you there has never been a more exciting or promising time for energy policy and innovation in the United States and around the world.

In the earliest months of this Administration back in 2009 the United States invested over $90 billion of Recovery Act funding on projects and initiatives for renewable energy and energy efficiency. By 2011 the United States led the world in total overall investments – both public and private – in renewable energy at over $50 billion. As a result, we have doubled non-hydro renewable electricity generation under this Administration, and are ahead of schedule to obtain 20% of our electricity from wind energy by 2030. In 2010 we saw year-over-year domestic deployments of solar power grow by 92%, and in 2011 this grew again by 109%, and we continue to make significant progress towards commercially viable advanced biofuels.

The development of unconventional natural gas has helped reshape the United States power sector, in combination with dramatic expansion of renewable electricity generation, improving energy efficiency, and other factors. Last year carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation were more than 10% lower than in 2005, with the lowest total emissions from the power sector since 1997. Indeed, through May of this year coal fired electricity generation in the U.S. has dropped to just 36% of total power generation, a ratio that has not been previously seen in my lifetime.

In the transportation sector this Administration has issued the first two significant improvements in vehicle fuel economy standards in nearly 30 years, so that the United States will double the fuel economy of new vehicles sold by 2025. And lower oil consumption combined with increased domestic petroleum production has reduced United States oil imports to levels not seen since the late 1990’s.

But while we are excited by our accomplishments of late, there is considerable challenge in transforming an energy system that is big, complex, pervasive and diverse. Indeed, President Obama’s “All of the Above” approach to energy is the acknowledgement that the energy system upon which modern society relies is neither simple nor monolithic. It will take more than a single resource, a single technology, or a single policy action to achieve our long-term goals of energy security, sustainability, and economic progress. Improving the efficiency of our energy consumption, diversifying the energy sources we rely on, and advancing energy technologies are all critical to meeting overall energy needs.

Internationally, the Administration’s approach is founded in part upon the nexus of energy access and sustainable development, social welfare, and environmental quality. Energy access is fundamental to economic development and human welfare, and it is critical for political stability, yet more than 1.3 billion people still lack access to electricity. Our challenge is enormous in both promoting access and working with governments to create policy and regulatory frameworks that can attract the investment needed to both sustain the delivery of service and keep up with increasing demand for power as economies grow.

The United States is deeply committed to universal access to modern energy services through initiatives such as the United Nations Sustainable Energy For All program. Yet the projected costs associated with these goals cannot be borne by governments alone. It is because of this that the Bureau of Energy Resources is engaged with governments and industry alike on a number of international initiatives designed to foster enabling environments that promote public and private investment in sustainable energy production and access.

Many countries have isolated power grids that are not robust to disruptions and have been unable to attract investment in additional power infrastructure or affordable renewable energy. Interconnected power systems expand the market base and, therefore, allow for greater integration of renewable energy resources and more affordable, efficient, and diverse clean power. Accordingly, President Obama and Secretary Clinton strongly supported a Colombian initiative, launched last April at the Summit of the Americas, called Connecting the Americas 2022, an initiative under which countries across the Western Hemisphere will enhance electrical interconnections over the next 10 years.

Beyond electrical interconnection, future sustainability depends on today’s roadmaps and actions. Accordingly, the Energy Bureau is engaged in sharing best practices and program design for topics from unconventional natural resources to transformational planning.

Through our energy governance and unconventional gas programs we share technical expertise and best practices for shale gas extraction, reservoir unitization, and transparency and good governance with nations on every continent. Through the Global Bioenergy Partnership we help develop regional and national action plans focused on sustainable biomass-based fuels and power generation. And through the International Renewable Energy Agency the United States, along with the Czech Republic, supports work on assessing renewable energy technologies and promoting policy solutions. These are but a few examples of the Obama Administration’s commitment to global energy partnerships.

Of course technology innovation is a crucial component of energy transformation and sustainability, but to be most effective we cannot pursue innovation with abandon. While we reach to capture the rewards of new energy technologies that could not have been imagined in years past, we must balance more assured activities against higher-risk transformational work in order to hedge against situations where reasonably assured paths become blocked by insurmountable challenges.

Innovation for energy sustainability must therefore include optimization of our existing energy systems, so that the technologies of today can be used more efficiently, reliably, cleanly, and economically. This focus on improving the current system translates to significant new research and development endeavors for technologies that range from power electronics to grid monitoring and control.

The United States’ research on nuclear power generation is an interesting example of how we can improve the efficacy today’s technologies while advancing tomorrow’s state of the art. Assistant Secretary Lyons from the Department of Energy, who will speak later this morning, will speak about the next generation nuclear technologies his Office is pursuing, including Small Modular Reactors. But I think the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Lightwater Reactors Energy Innovation Hub, or CASL Hub, initiated by Secretary Chu last year is equally as important.

Currently 104 reactors generate roughly 20% of the United States electricity, and this Administration has facilitated the construction of the first two new reactors in decades via the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program. But we also recognize that many of our reactors are approaching the end of their designed lifetimes. Extending these operating lifetimes by 20 years is relatively commonplace, but given the timeline for energy transformation 20 years doesn’t buy you that much extra time and the prospect of potentially losing two-thirds of the United States current carbon-free power generation to future retirements remains daunting. And so the CASL Hub was born.

By exploring two highly technical issues that affect the operation of existing light water reactors, the CASL Hub is creating predictive modeling tools that provide new ways to comprehend nuclear technology and the associated risks and opportunities. While focused on understanding safety issues associated with additional life extensions and power uprates of the current reactor fleet, the CASL Hub – which is a consortium of participants from the National Laboratories, industry, and academia – has provided new and valuable capabilities that have generated insights into issues ranging from accident investigations to new technology development.

As we look to transform our energy systems there is also much for us to learn from our international friends. The challenges associated with integrating significant quantities of non-dispatchable renewable electricity generation into our legacy power grids are real, and I am incredibly impressed that the Czech Republic has reliably integrated the world’s 6th largest cumulative installed solar capacity into a system that serves just 10 ½ million people or approximately the 80th largest country. That this very dramatic photovoltaic deployment, which now accounts for more than 10% of your total installed generation capacity, occurred over only a few years – and yet your grid has remained stable – can provide real lessons to the United States and others as we look to rapidly increase deployments of renewable and clean generating technologies worldwide.

The world is in the midst of massive energy transformation, from increasing access and resource diversity to reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. It is the responsibility of all to ensure this is done responsibly, economically, and rapidly. The dramatic shifts within the United States energy system that have occurred over only a few years have convinced me that we can achieve our goals, and the world will be a better place for it. There has never been a better time to work on energy.