'Green' Energy Needs a Big Leap

That’s the headline on this LA Times piece on Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s aim to produce “revolutionary” breakthroughs. Incrementalism? Highlights added for your convenience and pleasure:

When Energy Secretary Steven Chu talks about how Americans can break their addiction to oil and coal, he starts with his hi-fi amplifier. It’s so old that the on-off light burned out long ago. But inside lies a technology that — in its day — was as revolutionary as the changes needed to solve the nation’s energy problems.

Radios, telephones and other electronics once depended on fragile vacuum tubes the size of small light bulbs. Then scientists pioneered a smaller, cheaper and more durable replacement called the transistor, opening the way to trans-Atlantic phone calls and a host of other marvels, including Chu’s stereo.

Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, and other experts say similar [revolutionary] scientific breakthroughs are needed to make renewable power sources such as wind, solar and biofuels as cheap and easy to use as costly, environmentally damaging oil and coal. Toward that end, President Obama’s stimulus package contains $8 billion for energy research, including $400 million targeted for game-changing technology.

I’m glad the Times knew enough to add this:

The problem is that over the last three decades, the U.S. has spent many times that much on energy research and development — with nothing like a transistor to show for it.

“It’s very easy to say we should spend more” on research, said Jeffrey Wadsworth, chief executive and president of the Battelle Memorial Institute, which manages several Energy Department laboratories. “What really needs to happen is more effective use of the money.”

As Wadsworth is quick to acknowledge, that’s easier said than done.

Clap harder everybody!

Anyway, if Obama’s Nobel Prize-winning physicist Secretary of Energy says the plan is to shoot for revolutionary, game-changing technology, will folks admit that Obama is in fact shooting for revolutionary, game-changing technology?

[HT: Glen Whitman in comments below]