Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hot, Flat, and Crowded

Since I am trying to get a job in the field I decided it is very much in my best interest to be able to have an intelligent conversation with anyone over energy technology and policy. I therefore bought a half dozen books that cover the topic from several different viewpoints. I started with Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas Friedman.

The following quotes from him pretty much sum up what I have seen in the field:

"For all the talk in magazines and by politicians about the energy issue, if you look at our walk and not at our talk, you would have to conclude that the United States has no sense of urgency when it comes to energy research. It is as if Sputnik has gone up, the nation has been challenged again to reinvent itself, this time in regard to energy, but we're sleepwalking into the future-still quietly hoping that it's all just a bad dream from which we'll soon wake up again, able to fill our tanks with dollar-a-gallon gasoline and drive off with Green Stamps and a set of NFL-logo glasses"

"Even an extra $1billion to $2 billion investment by the federal government in basic science research could make an enormous difference. "the amount of money going into this area for research is a fraction of what is needed," said Alivisatos [a scientist working at LBNL ]. "These days, if you meet a student working in chemistry, physics, or biology and you tell them you want them to work on a solar energy project, their eyes light up. This is what they really want to work on. There are thousands of students who want to work on this problem, but we cannot find the fellowships to support and enable them to do the work that is needed.""

""But let's just remember what happened in the latest budget cycle: Seven hundred research proposals for working on solar energy were turned down for fiscal 2008. The[Department of Energy] put out a call for proposals, the response was overwhelming, scientists all over the U.S. responded with research proposals, and the money did not materialize. The DOE is really trying. They thought they would have $35 million to spend on basic solar research. We got $5 million for our project and we were one of the few to get funded. Think about that potential - think about how many scientists and how many postdoc [students] were ready to work on this problem, and they were all basically turned away. Thousands of scientists who want to work on the energy problem are not able to work on it today.""

"If you add up all the federal dollars going into energy research together- and that would include research on oil, gas, and coal as well as solar- said Daniel M. Kammen the University of California, Berkeley, energy policy expert, it would total around $3 billion in government money and about $5 billion in private sector and venture funds, "which is about nine days of fighting in Iraq." Energy is a $1 trillion-a-year industry and that means reinvesting about $8 billion in R & D constitutes 0.8 percent of revenues."
Some of the brackets are mine, some are his. If it was up to me there would not put the bracket [students] after the term postdoc. These are people who have a PhD, and would be considered full scientists if they had just picked a hotter field.

I certainly can vouch for the armies of graduate students who would prefer to be working on this issue but are not because they can't find a professor in the field who has managed to secure funding to do the work. One of the most frustrating things about reading up on this issue is how long we have known we should be doing something, or even talked about how much we were doing, while we have done almost nothing. It does not seem to be getting better in the Democratic congress, they cut the science budget for the Department of Energy when even Bush wanted it increased. The next president is the only person in the country with any real chance of changing things and with the price of oil tanking I somehow doubt anything will be done.

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