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IEEE-USA President's Column

JULY 2008

Russell Lefevre, Ph.D.
2008 IEEE-USA President

Senate Leaders Pushing Comprehensive Energy Initiatives

Two recent events could be the beginning of major action addressing the energy challenges facing the United States. On 9 May, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) delivered a speech at Oak Ridge (Tenn.) National Laboratory entitled, "A New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy Independence." On 25 April, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) spoke at MIT about "The Energy Challenge We Face and The Strategies We Need."

After meeting with staff members from each of the senators' offices, I believe that these speeches represent an attempt to focus Congress' attention on the major energy issues facing us in the next decades. It is important to note that these speeches were given by two of the most influential high-tech senators in Congress.

Bingaman chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He and Alexander were the two people most responsible for the National Academy of Engineering report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, that spawned passage of the America COMPETES Act in 2007. (COMPETES stands for "Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education and Science.")

The speeches have identified the energy challenges and potential approaches to reaching a national strategy to proceed. Many of the points are well known but have not been collated into a form that can lead to action. The IEEE-USA Energy Policy Committee has been very active in promoting many of the policies noted by the senators. I will summarize the major points from the speeches and note what IEEE-USA is doing.

Bingaman makes the point that the energy challenge we face today is different from, and more encompassing than, what we recognized as our challenge just a few years ago. He sees it as global rather than national. It is to change the way the world produces, stores, distributes and uses energy so as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We are to shift the global economy from dependence on combustion of fossil fuels to use of non-emitting energy sources.

One of his key recommendations is to form a coherent national strategy that will formulate a research and development (R&D) plan that maps out a prioritized set of technological goals, the steps to achieve those goals and the time frame in which they should be met. He identifies 21 key innovative energy technologies, categorized as "efficiency improvement" and "low carbonization."

Bingaman proposes five steps towards establishing national energy R&D leadership:

  1. Strengthen science and technology responsibility and authority at the highest levels of government
  2. Prioritize critical, enabling energy technology areas
  3. Develop roadmaps and assign responsibility for pursuing each technology area
  4. Ensure sustained focus by requiring the president to detail proposed energy R&D funding across agencies
  5. Review and update our energy technology priorities regularly to reflect progress

Alexander, in his speech, noted seven "grand challenges" over the next five years.

"To begin the discussion," he said, "I suggest asking what steps Congress and the federal government should take during the next five years toward these seven grand challenges so that the United States would be firmly on the path toward clean energy independence within a generation."

Alexander's criteria for choosing the challenges are:

  1. Grand consequences
  2. Real scientific breakthrough
  3. Five years
  4. Solutions must fit the family budget
  5. Consensus

From these criteria, he identified seven grand challenges:

  1. Plug-in electric cars and trucks
  2. Carbon capture
  3. Solar power
  4. Nuclear waste
  5. Advanced biofuels
  6. Green buildings
  7. Fusion

It is heartening to see two of the Senate's most influential leaders promoting the need for a comprehensive national energy strategy and ideas on how to achieve it.

Our Energy Policy Committee will be conducting a workshop for committee members and invited guests on 21 Aug. 2008 to explore Alexander and Bingaman's proposals, as well as other energy options. The committee hopes to develop its own set of recommendations to reduce U.S. demand for foreign oil, and to develop new technologies that can help assure reliable, adequate, economical and environmentally responsible energy resources.

IEEE-USA stands ready to assist Congress in this critically important area.

See Bingaman's speech at

See Alexander's speech at

Please send comments to

Updated:  29 September 2011
Contact: Chris McManes,


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