Energy Secretary Steven Chu outlined his vision for turning the national laboratories into energy-innovation factories on August 6. The Nobel-winning physicist told the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) that their $26 billion research network should do less basic science and more work on large-scale innovations.
Chu compared the cost of applied research to the cost of piloting and deploying a new technology, saying that the latter's minimum buy-in is $50 million to $100 million; applied research is a fraction of that. "The question is, how should we be apportioning the applied research money?" he said.
Chu asked PCAST for "constructive criticism" regarding DOE's grants for energy research, citing examples where money was awarded for projects that were not truly innovative. However, he said that proposals now being submitted are generally more impressive than they were a few years ago.
"That's why good energy and climate legislation is really important -- it sends a long-term signal that we're going to be living in a carbon-constrained economy, and that unleashes a lot of creativity," he said.
"There is an opportunity to draw more people into science and technology areas, because energy and climate change has to be solved by more science. That is beginning to draw younger folks into it, because there's a new idealism about that. We have to be sure these students are supported, and the professors who teach them are supported."
"This is billions of dollars per year. It's very valuable, and if we can invest it wisely, we can go much faster."
Streaming video of Chu presentation at August 6-7 PCAST meeting