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Profile: Mark Muro

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An opinion column posted in Yale Environment 360, a publication by Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, calls for the US to “dramatically accelerate the development of clean energy technology.” Authors Mark Muro, a fellow of the Brookings Institution, and Teryn Norris, a project director at the Breakthrough Institute, echo the words of Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, who has called for “Nobel-level” breakthroughs and a “second industrial revolution” in clean energy technology to overcome what they term “the world’s interlinked energy and climate challenges.” Muro and Norris write: “To renew the US economy, respond to global climate change, foster the nation’s energy security, and help provide the energy necessary to sustainably power global development, America must transform its outdated energy policy. Innovation and its commercialization must move to the center of energy system reform. The nation must move urgently to develop and harness a portfolio of clean energy sources that are affordable enough to deploy on a mass scale throughout the US and the world. In short, we must make clean energy cheap.” Muro and Norris propose the creation of a series of “renewable energy research hubs,” also called “energy discovery-innovation institutes,” or e-DIIs, funded with a combination of federal, state, university, and private funds. These e-DIIs would, they write, “take the lead in accelerating the development of reasonably priced alternative energy technologies and bringing them to the marketplace.” E-DIIs in different regions would focus on different technologies, they write. Institutes in the Southwest might focus on solar technologies, while institutes in the Great Lakes might focus on advanced battery technologies or hydrogen fuel cells, and institutes in the Great Plains might work on developing sustainable sources of biofuels. Muro and Norris envision successful institutes garnering as much as $6 billion a year in funding, while producing breakthroughs in a variety of renewable energy technologies. By the 2040s, global energy demands are expected to triple from current energy needs, while global greenhouse gases must be reduced by up to 85 percent to avert what the authors call “disruptive climate change.” Nations emerging into the community of developed nations, such as China, India, and Brazil, will lead the demand for additional energy, and will turn to increased use of fossil fuels if cheap and viable renewable energy platforms are not readily available to them. Muro and Norris write: “[I]n the absence of similarly affordable and large-scale clean energy sources, the nations of the developing world will turn to coal and other fossil fuels to power their development, just as we in the United States have done. And that would virtually assure massive climatic destabilization, regardless of what occurs in the developed nations of the world.” Market-based solutions such as carbon taxes and cap-and-tax policies do not do enough to spur renewable energy development, the authors contend. They conclude: “In important ways, the energy innovation institute concept represents a contemporary adaptation of the research paradigm created through the land-grant acts passed by Congress in the 19th century. Then, federal investments established a network of university-based agricultural and engineering experiment stations, augmented by extension services capable of interacting directly with the marketplace. That program was instrumental in developing and deploying the technologies necessary to build a modern industrial nation for the 20th century, while stimulating local economic growth. Today, the US needs a similarly bold campaign to enlist America’s universities, laboratories, and companies in solving one of the most complex and important problems—the transition to a clean-energy economy—that the nation has ever faced.” [Yale Environment 360, 4/30/2009; Breakthrough Institute, 4/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Muro, Breakthrough Institute, Stephen Chu, Brookings Institution, Teryn Norris

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

President Obama speaks on the topic of clean energy in front of the Copper Mountain Solar Project in Boulder City, Nevada, in March 2012.President Obama speaks on the topic of clean energy in front of the Copper Mountain Solar Project in Boulder City, Nevada, in March 2012. [Source: CleanTechnica (.org)]An analysis by Reuters claims that the $90 billion investment made by the federal government to generate jobs in the field of clean energy (see February 2009) has not produced as many jobs as initially touted. In March 2012, President Obama spoke in front of the Copper Mountain Solar Project in Boulder City, Nevada, which uses 1 million solar panels to power 17,000 homes. The facility only employs 10 people. The green initiative has put people to work retrofitting over a million homes to lower heating and cooling costs, and energy generation from solar and wind sources has nearly doubled since 2008. But some say the program has not created enough jobs. Critics say the program was expected to lower the unemployment rate, currently hovering above 8 percent, and say it has not done so. Supporters say the administration promised too much in the short term and fear a backlash that might undermine support for clean-energy policies across the board. Clean energy specialist Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution says, “All of this stuff is extraordinarily worthy for driving long-term economic transformation but extremely inappropriate to sell as a short-term job program.” Janet Bluman, head of the Foundation for an Independent Tomorrow, says, “From my perspective it makes more sense for us to arm our clients with the basic skills, rather than saying, ‘By golly, you will do something in the green economy or you won’t work.’” Bluman claims that her organization, which trains people for jobs in the Las Vegas area, has seen positions in trucking and accounting go unfilled because training money had been earmarked for green efforts. The federal program earmarked some $500 million for job training, and has employed some 20,000 people, far short of its stated goal. Republicans say the clean-energy program is merely a way for the Obama administration to give money to Obama’s friends (see October 15, 2012). GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has claimed, “[Obama] handed out tens of billions of dollars to green energy companies, including his friends and campaign contributors at companies like Solyndra that are now bankrupt.” Romney and other Republicans have not advanced proof of their allegations. Supporters say that in the long term, clean energy will “create a bounty of stable, middle-class jobs and fill the gap left by manufacturing work that has moved overseas,” as Reuters reports. White House officials say that there is more to the clean energy program than creating jobs. “We have a record of success that has created tens of thousands of jobs and is ensuring that America is not ceding these industries to countries like China,” White House spokesman Clark Stevens says. “Thanks to the investments we’ve made, these industries will continue to grow, along with the jobs they create.” Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), an opponent of the program, says: “The green jobs-training program just didn’t work. It was a poor investment of tax dollars.” Darren Devine of the College of Southern Nevada says: “Will it add a significant number of jobs, enough to make a real dent in our unemployment? No, I don’t see that happening.” What it will do is help the country reduce its energy consumption, lower the amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere, and help create jobs in the clean-energy and other fields, such as health care, education, and technology. [Reuters, 4/13/2012]

Entity Tags: Janet Bluman, Barack Obama, Charles Grassley, Darren Devine, Obama administration, Copper Mountain Solar Project, Reuters, Willard Mitt Romney, Mark Muro

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises, US Solar Industry

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