Energy official: Having the ‘best brains’ isn’t enough

We need to translate that brainpower into business. And we also have a strong ecosystem for entrepreneurship and for business, with the world’s best financial system and most open capital markets. If we can leverage the strength of each of these parts in an aligned way, and apply them to work in the energy field, we’ll be unbeatable. But we face a very competitive world.

We’ve got to figure out how to create jobs and grow our economy sustainably, using our own resources and alternatives to oil imports. We have to look at ways to produce clean electricity, and we need to shift the paradigm within the next 10 to 15 years. Other nations realize this need, and they are investing heavily to make this transition as quickly as possible, because whoever gets there first will then figure out how to sell it to the rest of the world. Ultimately, we have to decide whether we’re going to be buyers of sustainable energy, or whether we’re going to be sellers.

Majumdar offers some trend lines: The United States has fallen to No. 3 in total clean energy investment, behind China and Germany — and No. 9 when clean energy investment is viewed as a fraction of GDP. 

“In terms of five-year growth rates in clean energy, we’re No. 11,” Majumdar notes, lamenting that it’s “staggering” how far the United States is falling behind the competition in key energy manufacturing sectors including solar cells and lithium-ion batteries.

Majumdar touts the department’s research into next-wave batteries for electric cars. “These would make electric cars have a longer range and a cost comparable to today’s gasoline-based cars, so that electric cars could be sold without subsidies,” he notes. The interview also explores other technologies that Majumdar finds promising, such as new heat-storage tech, and delves into the need to make the U.S. power grid more like the Internet.

Check out the whole thing here.