April 18, 2010

Department of Energy Undersecretary Steven Koonin Discusses Mission, Goals for Sustainability

Print More

On Friday, proponents on all sides of the energy debate enjoyed food for thought in Olin Hall, as Dr. Steven Koonin, the Department of Energy’s undersecretary for science, spoke on the agency’s goals, mission and future.

“Our goal is to identify, develop and deploy cost-effective material, timely solutions and create jobs in the process,” Koonin said.

According to the DOE, the official goals for America’s energy challenges are energy security, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as promoting changes in energy supply, transmission, storage and use.  Quantitatively, these goals seek to promote a reduction of up to 3.5 million barrels of crude oil per day, in addition to a 20-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and an 80-percent reduction by 2050.

Although the US has sought to achieve this energy innovation, the impact remains minimal, and little commercialization of renewable energy sources exists for public use.

“One of the challenges in doing energy change is that it is slow without deliberate acceleration,” said Koonin.

According to Koonin, the reasons for the slow change lie in structural factors.  To achieve sustainability, adequate infrastructures must give consumers new access to energy-efficient technologies. However, this energy infrastructure depends on supply sides, which are big, expensive and have life spans in the order of hundreds of years.

Political and economic risks also exist because the energy change requires 40 to 50 years of financial investment.

The DOE faces its own challenges, Koonin said.  The sustained national goals have been lacking, and the funds are limited and unstable. Also, the DOE contains different executive branches, whose diffused efforts are difficult to unify.

According to Koonin, because the project of sustainability is so broad, with strong correlations to economy and environment, the U.S. government is the only organization capable of introducing sustainability.

In a project, entitled Energy System Simulation, the DOE integrates the advancement in high performance computing and laboratory research with practical sustainability projects, such as developing digital engines to replace internal combustion engines, modeling and simulating energy grids and researching the fluid underground.

Each of these goals in ESS exhibits different characteristics and difficulties, and therefore, the ESS will take different approaches in its program elements.

The goal of sustainability is the product of energy consumption. Countries who are not members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, account for an 82-percent increase in global energy use to 2030.  Further global energy challenges arise due to geographic imbalances in energy access and energy resources.

“Global development and population growth will place unprecedented stress on resources,” Koonin said. “These same factors will have a profound influence on U.S. domestic and global circumstances. Navigating these tasks will be our major goal

Original Author: Eugene Choi