When many conservative national leaders are asked about their priorities, they like to cite an “all of the above” energy policy as their preference. They then follow it up with the argument that the government “shouldn’t pick winners or losers.
As a conservative myself, I am a strong believer in those free market conservative principles – it’s almost never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket, and the government exists to ensure freedom and competition, not to pick knights and create fiefdoms. The problem is those principles are becoming political cover talking points for not setting energy policy priorities. As the saying goes, “if everything’s a priority, then nothing’s a priority.”
It wasn’t always this way. In the late 1960s, our elected leaders prioritized funding for research to unlock natural gas tucked away in hard-to-reach areas underground. The Energy Research and Development Administration (now the Department of Energy) was created out of that investment, and ultimately worked with industry leaders to develop hydraulic fracturing techniques that have made the United States a global leader in natural gas production.
Today, we have no shortage of promising technologies that could similarly transform energy development and strengthen our position as a world leader, not to mention our energy security. But piecemeal investments aren’t enough. We need bold, strategic investments in technologies of the future if we want to be leading in the future. We need “All-of-the-Above” Energy Policy Priorities.
Here’s three that should garner broad, bi-partisan support from conservatives and liberals alike:
Energy storage is said to be “the holy grail” of a truly all of the above energy future that is diverse, affordable, reliable, secure and cleaner on the environment. But grid-scale energy storage technologies are still too expensive and short-lived. In 2018, Congress funded energy storage research at $48 million dollars. President Trump’s 2019 budget proposed only $8 million. Energy Secretary Perry understands the importance of energy storage research but was once again put in an unenviable position of having to defend this woefully inadequate level of investment at a recent Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the Department of Energy’s budget. The Administration, particularly the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), should put forward a budget number that truly reflects energy storage’s holy grail status.
Advanced Carbon Capture
Like it or not, about 80 percent of the world’s energy still comes from fossil fuels, and the innovation race centers on managing their carbon footprint. Capturing carbon emissions from energy exploration and production has been the focus of a slew of new technologies in recent decades – with increasing success. For example, a coal-fired plant outside Houston recently installed equipment that captures about 90 percent of the plant’s emissions. This is one of the most promising prospects for the power sector and represents an immense opportunity for American innovation because of the wide range of domestic applications and export potential. Energy Secretary Perry underscored this with his recent trip to India.
Small Modular Nuclear Energy Reactors (SMNRs)
America is the largest producer of nuclear energy in the world, accounting for about 20 percent of its total electrical output. The benefits of an SMNR over a standard nuclear reactor are clear: they require less initial capital, are more efficient, and are easily replicated in a factory setting (instead of on-site). SMNRs are based on a proven and safe technology that dates back to research that began in the 1940’s and resulted in the first naval nuclear submarine being launched in 1954, the USS Nautilus. Since then, the U.S. Navy has continued to safely operate a fleet of nuclear submarines and cruisers.
With greater investment in R&D and stream-lined permitting, SMNRs can become competitive with other energy options like natural gas. The recent announcement by the Department of Energy to fund $60 million in advanced nuclear research and first-of-a-kind demonstrations is a good step in the right direction.
These three areas could truly transform our energy future, but not anytime soon unless we make them a priority. As for any concern about “not picking winners”, the true winners will be our children and grandchildren who will have a robust “all of the above” diverse, resilient and cleaner energy future. I’d be happy to pick those winners every time.