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Remarks at 21st Annual Energy Efficiency Forum

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

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Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Remarks at 21st Annual Energy Efficiency Forum

Thank you, Dave, for your kind introduction.

Twenty years ago, one of our hosts today, Johnson Controls, gathered a group of people in Washington D.C. and started a discussion about energy conservation in America.

And every year since then, business and industry leaders and government officials have come back here to continue that discussion.  What’s been talked about has never remained static.  Over the past two decades, the world’s energy demand has skyrocketed and science has given us a deeper insight into the dangers of climate change.

Today, the imperative of improving our energy efficiency has never been more obvious.

Where in the past, some White Houses viewed energy conservation merely as a “personal virtue,” this administration takes a different tack.

To this White House, it’s a key component of our national energy policy.

If you're looking for insight into just how this administration feels about the work of groups like the Energy Efficiency Forum, I’d simply ask you to recall what President Obama said during his State of the Union speech.

“The nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.  And America must be that nation.”

The way the president and I see it, energy efficiency technology must be pursued hand in glove with the development of new clean sources of energy if our clean energy economy is going thrive.

Now, we all know there are plenty of people in government, in business and in the media who are skeptical.   

They say clean energy technologies account for only a fraction of energy production around the world. 

And they will tell you that clean energy and energy efficiency may be nice.  It might make us feel good.  And it might even be worth investing in.

  • But to imagine that it can truly take a bite out of our fossil fuel consumption?
  • To suggest that clean energy and energy efficiency can be a significant driver of economic growth and job creation?

Well, the critics say, that’s just not realistic.  That’s just not serious.

I say they suffer not just from a crisis of political will or lack of imagination. Their criticism represents an unwillingness to confront the math staring all of us in the face:

The U.S. currently consumes more than 20 percent of the world’s oil and yet has only two percent of its reserves.   

If we fail to develop new sources of clean energy and transform the way we use energy across our economy, we know the future waiting for us.

Our challenge is to write a different story. 

Our challenge is to convince people that the development of clean energy and energy efficient technologies could spur the greatest economic opportunity of the 21st century.

The question before us, a question made all the more urgent by the BP spill, is:

Will America seize that opportunity?  

You know the president’s answer.  You know my answer.  We believe in the promise of clean energy and efficiency to solve our climate challenge AND expand economic opportunity in America.

 

Today, perhaps more than at any other time, it is critical that U.S. businesses be in position to lead the world’s clean energy and energy efficiency markets.

Our innovators and entrepreneurs have always risen to the occasion to solve the most intractable challenges. 

And meeting the world’s growing demand for clean energy while simultaneously reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is a difficult task.

But this is also, by far, this generation’s greatest economic opportunity. 

Worldwide, energy is a $6 trillion dollar market that has justifiably been dubbed the “mother of all markets.”  And the fastest growing energy sector is the cleaner and greener kind.

Efficiency is the “low hanging fruit” of the challenge before us.  The UN Foundation recently said that “governments should exploit energy efficiency as their energy resource of first choice because it is the least expensive and most readily scalable energy option.”

With efficiency, we don't have to depend on scientific breakthroughs or engineering miracles.  We're not waiting for economies of scale to get big enough so efficiency can compete with other energy alternatives.

It’s merely a way of maximizing the amount of energy you get from existing sources. 

It's no wonder that efficiency has lately been referred to as the “fifth fuel,” along with coal, nuclear, gas and oil.

Investments in emerging technologies like solar, wind and advanced batteries are vital to this nation's future, and the Obama administration is making unprecedented investments to help them grow.  Over the medium to long-term, they offer the greatest potential to grow our economy and prevent the calamitous effects of climate change.

But some alternative energy solutions aren’t quite ready for mass commercialization.  Efficiency is ready right now. 

Since coming into office, I am proud to say that President Obama has already done more to mitigate climate change and invest in clean energy and energy efficiency than any president in U.S. history.

The President has already made $80 billion in clean energy investments through the Recovery Act – with a good portion going to the type of basic R&D that is often too risky or too expensive for private sector investors.

The Recovery Act provides:

  • Consumer rebates for energy efficient appliances so people can replace outdated appliances with ones that will lower their energy bills;
  • It encourages modest-income homeowners to upgrade and weatherize their homes which will save most families on average about $350 a year on heating and air conditioning bills, and in the process help create up to 90,000 jobs.

And the president is also trying to empower the entire private sector with his proposals to reduce to zero the capital gains tax on investments in small or startup businesses; and with a measure to make the research experimentation tax credit permanent. 

At the Commerce Department, we’re working on expanding the clean energy marketplace from a number of angles.

At our U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, we’ve launched a fast-track examination program that aims to process existing applications pertaining to environmental quality, energy conservation, renewable energy resources, or greenhouse gas emission reduction in less than 12 months.

We know we need our entrepreneurs and innovators to advance energy efficiency technologies as quickly as possible.  And by protecting their intellectual property, we’re laying the foundation for ideas to quickly make it to market.

To ensure the U.S. economy can fully exploit all energy efficiency technologies, one of the Commerce Department's agencies – the National Institute of Standards and Technology – has been tasked by Congress to coordinate and accelerate development of interoperability standards for the smart grid.

If a smart grid is built nationwide, it can help reduce power demand by more than 20 percent.

And as distributed power sources like plug-in electric cars, rooftop solar panels and wind farms become a bigger part of America’s energy mix, we’ll need a smart grid to deal with energy coming from many sources and where some customers are consuming energy and others are feeding it back into the grid.

Importantly, the implentation of the smart grid will also create new American jobs throughout our economy.

It’s been estimated that by 2012 nearly 300,000 new jobs will have been created by its deployment.  And by the year 2018, when the smart grid has been more fully deployed, it’s expected that another 170,000 U.S. jobs will have come online. 

This means good-paying new jobs in electric utilities, but also in new businesses that are being created to take advantage of the smart grid. 

But even energy efficiency technologies here at home become more integrated into the U.S. market, we are also helping to sell the products American businesses make overseas.

A couple of weeks ago, I returned from China and Indonesia after leading the Obama administration’s first Cabinet-level trade mission since President Obama announced his National Export Initiative which seeks to double U.S. exports within five years.

It was, undoubtedly, an exceptionally productive trade mission.

And it had a simple focus: to promote exports of U.S. clean energy and energy efficiency technologies

Twenty-nine companies accompanied me over the nine-day trade mission.  And what we saw was really a glimpse into the future. 

Outside Tianjin, we visited a plant that is using American technology to manufacture lithium-ion batteries that will be used in electric cars that will ultimately be assembled back in the United States.

And we saw this type of partnership duplicated all over China, and the beginnings of cooperative arrangements taking hold in Indonesia as well. 

But let me be clear about one thing: While the Chinese and Indonesian markets have some of the world’s most forward-looking clean energy standards and offer vast potential for U.S. businesses, these countries also present U.S. businesses with some of their stiffest competition.

China is spending about $12.6 million every hour of every day on clean energy investments.

And Indonesia, which is home to about 40 percent of the world’s known geothermal energy reserves, is soliciting offers to help develop these resources – not just from American companies – but from firms located around the world.

If we expect to be able to compete and continue to lead the world’s clean energy and energy efficiency sectors, our country must make an even stronger commitment to pursuing clean energy.

We are going to have take bold steps that, in some quarters, will be viewed with deep skepticism.

But we can’t afford not to take them. President Obama understands that.

The centerpiece of his energy strategy, and of creating a widespread clean energy economy, is passing comprehensive energy legislation that will provide the market certainty that investors and entrepreneurs are waiting for.  

The House has already passed its version of this bill, and Senators Kerry and Lieberman proposed a draft bill for Senate consideration last month.

Comprehensive energy legislation will make the United States healthier, wealthier and more secure. 

But as expected, special interests have already lined up to claim, with little solid evidence, that this type of approach will bring economic hardship. 

Our Energy Secretary Steven Chu, likes to tell the story of how when California implemented the first refrigerator efficiency standards in the 1970s, critics went nuts.  They warned that the standards couldn’t be met at anything like a price consumers could afford.

But once the standards were set in stone, manufacturers assigned the job of meeting them to the engineers . . . instead of the lobbyists.

Today, the average American refrigerator is 10 percent bigger, half as expensive and uses two-thirds less energy.

The message here is simple:  When you get the incentives right, the private sector can respond with solutions that are both more effective and more affordable than anyone would have imagined. 

The same thing is possible when it comes to the development of clean energy and the deployment of energy efficiency technologies.

President Obama and the Commerce Department understand the potential of energy efficiency. 

And I look forward to working with you in the years ahead to make energy efficiency a far greater part of the energy solution – both here and around the world. 

Thank you.