October 23rd, 2014


U.S. Secretary of Energy


At a recent Climate One gathering, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz outlined three major objectives for addressing the country’s energy challenges. “One is to support economic growth, good jobs, et cetera.  Secondly is to reinforce our security.  And third and perhaps, in my view, of greatest interest right now, is addressing the climate challenge.

So the issue is, how do we do all those three together?”

Moniz started things off on a positive note: the nation’s energy renaissance has meant good news for the economy. “There's no question that what's happening in energy has led to economic growth and jobs,” says Moniz. “Recently Fortune Magazine put out a list of 100 fastest-growing companies; 26 of those had their growth pegged to what's happening in energy.

“So we are seeing the economic benefits.  We are seeing CO2 reductions on the ground. Now the question is sustaining it and, in fact, accelerating the transformation to low carbon that we need to meet our climate challenges.”

One step towards that transformation, says Moniz, is driving down the costs of green technology. And it’s up to the U.S. to show leadership in this area. While federal subsidies have helped the process along, the government is also finding other ways to encourage growth. “For example,” Moniz reports, “we have dramatically increased the pace of issuing energy efficiency standards for appliances, electric motors, you name it.  It brings higher efficiency, lower emissions…we have issued $30 billion worth of loans and loan guarantees…And this is a way of jumpstarting areas.”

Moniz also name-checked the ARPA-Energy program, which provides mentorship and funds to help bring innovative technologies to market, as another way the government is feeding the startup pipeline. “So that's the model we like. We come in, we help get this thing pushed off, and then the private sector comes in to continue the deployment.”

Energy security was next on the agenda. As host Greg Dalton pointed out, the U.S. has significantly increased its own crude oil production, reducing the need for imported oil. The balance is changing, Moniz agreed. But while we’ve substantially reduced our dependence on foreign oil, “we still import 7.5 million barrels of crude oil per day.  We are an enormous importer still because of our enormous use...what the oil production increase has done for sure is dramatically lower our imbalance of payments.  So it's a lot more capital and a lot more resource that stays in our economy to go to other purposes.”

But while a boom in oil production may bring economic benefits, Moniz stressed that a lower carbon future is still very much the ultimate goal. “We are aggressively pursuing more efficient vehicles, alternative fuels, like next generation biofuels and electrification of vehicles, like getting those costs down on batteries.  So we are working very hard on reducing our oil dependence.

“The president's position is clear and so is mine,” Moniz declares. “We pursue an all-of-the-above approach.  We put resources into every fuel, fossil, nuclear, renewables, efficiency that will lower emissions.

“There will be multiple low carbon solutions.  They will look different in different countries.  They will look different in different parts of our country.  The important thing is to get to a low carbon solution.  And in that sense we think across the board there's going to be a role for just about everything if it reduces carbon emissions.”

In conclusion, Moniz quotes former Saudi oil minister Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani: “The Stone Age didn't end for lack of stones and the oil age won't end for lack of oil.” Rather, he says, putting our resources into renewable energy solutions will hasten the demise of oil dependence.

“We need to keep working, driving down the costs, such that the low carbon alternatives are going to be the best choice,” says Moniz. “They're good for security.  You don't have to worry about importing the sun or the wind or the earth's heat.  And I think in the end, the technology and associated business model innovations are going to have to carry the day.”  

- Anny Celsi
October 24, 2014
Photos by Ellen Cohan
The Commonwealth Club of California