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Energy Secretary Chu says US faces a new “Sputnik Moment” in China’s clean energy successes

In a speech at the National Press Club, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that the success of China and other countries in clean energy industries represents a new “Sputnik Moment” for the United States, and will require a similar mobilization of innovation to enable the US to compete in the global race for the jobs of the future.

Secretary Chu observed that China’s investments in clean energy technologies represent both a challenge and an opportunity for the United States. While China’s experience with rapid, large scale deployment of technologies makes it an important global testing ground and creates opportunities for scientific partnerships between the two countries, it also means that the US cannot afford to take its scientific leadership for granted. Secretary Chu stressed that US economic competitiveness depends on jump-starting the next round of American innovation in clean energy. Specifically, Secretary Chu highlighted several crucial technologies where the United States must innovate or risk falling far behind, such as:

The original Sputnik Moment
On 4 October 1957, the Soviet Union placed Sputnik—a 184-pound satellite—into a low earth orbit. The first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite, Sputnik beat the US and its Project Vanguard to space.
Two generations after the event, words do not easily convey the American reaction to the Soviet satellite. The only appropriate characterization that begins to capture the mood on 5 October involves the use of the word hysteria. A collective mental turmoil and soul-searching followed, as American society thrashed around for the answers...
Almost immediately, two phrases entered the American lexicon to define time, pre-Sputnik and post-Sputnik. The other phrase that soon replaced earlier definitions of time was Space Age. With the launch of Sputnik 1, the Space Age had been born and the world would be different ever after.
  1. High Voltage Transmission. China has deployed the world’s first Ultra High Voltage AC and DC lines—including one capable of delivering 6.4 gigawatts to Shanghai from a hydroelectric plant nearly 1,300 miles (808 miles) away in southwestern China. These lines are more efficient and carry much more power over longer distances than those in the United States.

  2. High Speed Rail. In the span of six years, China has gone from importing this technology to exporting it, with the world’s fastest train and the world’s largest high speed rail network, which will become larger than the rest of the world combined by the end of the decade. Some short distance plane routes have already been cancelled, and train travel from Beijing to Shanghai (roughly equivalent to New York to Chicago) has been cut from 11 hours to 4 hours.

  3. Advanced Coal Technologies. China is rapidly deploying supercritical and ultra-supercritical coal combustion plants, which have fewer emissions and are more efficient than conventional coal plants because they burn coal at much higher temperatures and pressures. Last month, Secretary Chu toured an ultra-supercritical plant in Shanghai which claims to be 45 to 48% efficient. The most efficient US plants are about 40% efficient. China is also moving quickly to design and deploy technologies for Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plants as well as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

  4. Nuclear Power. China has more than 30 nuclear power plants under construction, more than any other country in the world, and is actively researching fourth generation nuclear power technologies.

  5. Alternative Energy Vehicles. China has developed a draft plan to invest $17 billion in central government funds in fuel economy, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric and fuel cell vehicles, with the goal of producing 5 million new energy vehicles and 15 million fuel-efficient conventional vehicles by 2020.

  6. Renewable Energy. China is installing wind power at a faster rate than any nation in the world, and manufactures 40% of the world’s solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. It is home to three of the world’s top ten wind turbine manufacturers and five of the top ten silicon based PV manufacturers in the world.

  7. Supercomputing. Last month, the Tianhe-1A, developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology, became the world’s fastest supercomputer. While the United States&mash;and the Department of Energy in particular—still has unrivalled expertise in the useful application of high performance computers to advance scientific research and develop technology, the US must continue to improve the speed and capacity of its advanced supercomputers, Chu said.

There are differences between the original Sputnik event of 1957 and the current Sputnik Moment, Chu said:

  • While the US is competing for leadership in energy innovation, it has much to gain by cooperating with China, India and other countries.
  • In the next two decades, China will build new infrastructure equivalent to the entire US. 80% of India’s infrastructure in 2030 does not exist today. These countries present the US with potential new markets, and a laboratory for innovation.

Chu called for increased support of energy R&D, especially where private investments don’t recoup the full value of the shared social good or when a new technology would displace an embedded way of doing business. He also called for “sensible”, long-range energy policies that have bipartisan support to guide the private sector of US.

Secretary Chu detailed a number of promising research efforts supported by the Department of Energy now underway, including:

  • 500-mile EV batteries. With the help of Recovery Act funding, Arizona-based Fluidic Energy is working with Arizona State University to develop a new generation of higher energy density metal-air batteries (metal air ionic liquid batteries, MAIL). To date, the development of these batteries has been blocked by the limitations of using unstable water based solutions that break down and evaporate out of the battery as it breathes. Fluidic Energy’s approach involves ionic liquids. If successful, the effort could yield batteries that weigh less, cost less, and are capable of carrying a four passenger electric car 500 miles without recharging, at a cost competitive with internal combustion engines.

  • Solar fuels. Through a newly established Energy Innovation Hub led by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), an interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers are working to create an integrated system modeled after photosynthesis that can convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into usable fuels such as gasoline. The goal is to create a system of artificial photosynthesis that is ten times more efficient than traditional photosynthesis in converting sunlight into fuel, paving the way for a major expansion of the US biofuel industry and reducing dependence on oil.





Your envisioned PV system does not need batteries. For 90% of PV systems there is no need to be off the grid. In fact, there are advantages to being on the grid, selling back excess power at peak hour, and getting free energy at night from the credits. No expensive batteries required.



Of course, particularly in the US there's really no need for any additional power plants as the US economy is wasting so much energy/electricity compared to other developed countries and efficiency is almost always cheaper than building any new power plant.

Regardless: If you order directly from a manufacturer you can obtain entire PV systems including inverters for less than $2 per W:
(Not to mention the prices you can obtain if you want to power an entire city.)
And installing a PV system is not really rocket science.

Also, I'm not quite sure why one would need 9125 kWh per year as even 2000 kWh for one house is doable with efficient appliances.
And what do you need batteries for? You're connected to the grid, aren't you?



I'll stay with clean centralized Hydro for a few more years.

That hydro is not yours. :-) You can't simply say: "Oh, give me that cheap, clean hydro, and let the rest of the country sort out its own problems."

Nearly all big rivers have been dammed and there are not much options left for new dams. Hydro causes inundation of vast areas of often fertile land, and in that way poses it's own set of environmental and social problems.

Hydro will play a key role to compensate for fluctations in renewable generation. But measured in generation capacity, its contribution will always remain limited.

Be careful with cost calculations for PV. It's obsolete as soon as the ink has dried. This graph is a nice illustration of that fact.


A few more fact:

- requirements based on a 1500 sq. ft. well built 100% electric residence with efficient appliances, lights, computers, and heat pump, excluding PHEVs and BEVs. For each PHEV/BEV the size of the system would have to be increased by about 10 Kw.

- energy production and storage is enough to supply demand without help from the grid. or your BEVs. However, your PHEVs/BEVs could be very useful on rainy days.

- cost is for a complete turkey system including design, installation, solar panels, controls, inverters and storage units, not for an home-made partial system that would supply 30% of demand or so.

Of course, PV Panels and Storage units cost will go down year after year but a complete system will be rather expensive for many years to come.


Local Hydro power is really OURS and supplies 110% to $115% of OUR consumption. It is NOT private and does not belong to any individual (s) but to all users. Since most rivers harnessed are where local population is very close to zero and not suited for farming NOT much damage is done, no more than the 1,000,000 adjacent natural lakes. For unclear reasons, Caribou's local population multiplied by 10X after some of the major rivers were harnessed. Wolf population will probably do the same since they feed on Caribou.



You said central hydro, not local hydro.

Who is 'OUR' in this context? You and your family? Your hometown? The US?

How much of hydro potential do you think there on a national or global scale?

Some small communities can be an exception if they a large river across their land that is suitable for hydro. But these are exceptions and the majority will have to find other source of clean energy.

The Three Gorges Dam displaced about a million people in China. To make the comparison to natural lakes is odd, since these have always been there and never displaced people.

If you have an area with low population density, then it is usually considered 'nature'. The problem is that because we need to feed and house 6.7 billion people on this planet, the area of nature that is left in the world is shrinking rapidly and if the last bits and pieces here and there get gobbled up by hydro projects, then that is a high cost to pay. I'm not saying that this is the case with all hydro projects, just that it is a limiting factor to the increase in hydro capacity.


Getting back to Chu for a moment, the USA had several opportunities to get ahead of the curve and maintain an untouchable technological lead.

  1. In the 1960's, the Molten Salt Reactor was tested and proven to be superior to PWRs for safety and simplicity of operation.
  2. The Integral Fast Reactor was the next step after the EBR-II had proven details like passively-safe core designs, and would have created a proliferation-proof, carbon-free power source without pressurized coolants and slashing uranium requirements.
The MSR was killed by an AEC head whose career had been in the US Navy, and the IFR was killed by the Clinton administration in 1994. The lead in these technologies is going to go to Russia, China or even India.


Anne: Our Hydro plants can currently produce over 42,000 megawatts. Our peak consumption is close to 36,000 megawatts. Our average year around consumption is close to 23,000 megawatts. Nuclear is under one megawatt, wind is a bit more but going up by another megawatt or so every year. Hydro power could be doubled to about 80,000 megawatt and total good winds potential is about the same. Combining Wind and Hydro could produce all the clean energy required for many decades.

E-P: Powerful lobbies decide what is good for the country, certainly not the people. We may think that we decide every 2 or 4 years with our votes but that's a mirage. With enough $$$, lobbies supported Flower Parties can swing voters as they wish. That is also true for reactors, coal power plants, heavy ICE vehicles, energy drinks, junk food etc etc.

Anne: Locally, Shale Gas lobbies are doing their out most to convince the local farmers that Shale Gas is cleaner and safer than our 110% hydro electricity. The reality is that we have low cost Hydro/Wind electricity surplus for the next 100+ years and we need shale gas as much as we need Three Hummer I per family. Farmers are doing their best to block SG exploration on their farms but they may not be able to fight the Government (who maintains that it owns the undergrounds) and major SG lobbies, for much longer. Civil unrest is expected in some places if SG explorations are not better regulated and farmers are not better compensated for the real and potential damages done to their farms and living environment. A 100% electrified economy does not need NG or SG or Oil or Coal.


This house requires 4024 kWh per year to provide both electricity for hot water as well as heating (heat pump):
A Tesla Roadster consumes 0.127 kWh/km. A PV system with 2 kW and a capacity factor of only 15% produces enough electric energy to travel 20700 km with this vehicle in one year.

And who knows what sort of commercial nuclear reactors the far future may bring. But China is certainly, currently betting on the fusion reactor in our sun system, which is already working reliably for free and China is connecting close to 50 GW of new fusion power collecting capacity to the grid every single year...

Coke Machine

Healthy Breeze, I hate to break it to you, but corporations do not pay income taxes. They are passed onto consumers, so in reality your "corporate" 0.25% income tax would be an individual 0.25% income tax.


"China is rushing ahead with green energy as a big government mandate..."

Ummm, no. They're still building two coal-fired power plants each week. The big government mandate is to build coal-fired power plants as fast as possible. This will result in emissions of eight gigatons CO2 per year in 20 years.


There's no contradiction. China is building all kinds of electric generation at a furious rate. Next Big Future notes that of 50 nuclear plants under construction worldwide, 30 of them are in China.


Yes, China is currently commissioning 4 new nuclear power plants, 29 others in construction and 39 more in planning stages for a total of 72 out of the 120 announced two years ago. Since many of the above 72 will be larger than expected, that may affect the grand total.

Wouldn't be surprised that China will use more of it local or imported cheap coal to produce liquid fuels and gas, when more nuclear power plants are on line.

Henry Gibson

It is delightful to hear from Anne and the rest of you on solar energy.

Not only is solar energy free and unlimited, but coal and oil are also free and unlimited for a while yet, and they are the results of free and unlimited solar energy of millions of years ago.

No agent for nature collects money for the oil and coal removed. Nor is there an collection agent for the sun. The people who are selling it have taken it away from the rest of the earth's population and are trying to sell it back at a profit to themselves.

Almost never is the cost of land area required for collecting solar energy mentioned in the discussion of its costs. Just try to buy land free of any taxes or governmental control anyplace in the world, and you will find out how expensive collecting solar energy is. Try to get permission to drain part the remaining flooded polders of the defunct Zuider Zee to install photo voltaic panels and you will find that the cost is infinite.

The problem with the free and unlimited energy is the cost of collecting it and distributing it and the various difficulties associated with doing that.

The very largest nuclear reactors use less than 20 pounds of uranium a day and actually produce less than that of unstable atoms as actually radioactive waste. In every other industry in the US energy efficiency is being demanded, but the US had a president Carter who decreed that 99 percent of the uranium mined had to be wasted.

The US now has a president Obama who has effectively decreed that in the whole of Nevada there is no place for an unstable atom because he has been misled by Senator Reid and many others to believe that there are no unstable atoms now in Nevada that could leak into the water supply and is convincing the public of this to stay elected and has forbidden the far safer storage of radioactive atoms in tunnels there than to continue storing them in ponds at the reactors.

Every bag of balanced crop or lawn fertilizer imported into Nevada is radio-active as is every live thing. Both Reid and Obama contain the still radioactive waste of ancient stars, and the mayor of Las Vegas should ban their presence in that city and also every bag of fertilizer since he was going to ban the far less dangerous shipment of fuel rods.

Under no cicumstances will a person be killed by the radio-activity of shipped fuel rods, but many people are already being killed by ethanol being transported in people in automobiles. But fewer are killed by by ethanol mixed with gasoline in the tanks of automobiles. Any additional monies that might be spent to safeguard nuclear wastes will have far greater life saving effect if spent for limiting the transports of ethanol in organic containers operating automobiles.

Every penny spent by China on photovoltaic systems is better spent on buying new CANDU reactors which can run on a mix of reclaimed fuel rods from other reactors and China's and the world's far more abundant thorium than uranium. The reactors can then be operated on reclaimed thorium fuel rods and additional new thorium.

Even the company that invented CANDU reactors is trying to hide the fact that ordinary present technology CANDU reactors use less uranium total from the mines than any other reactor. Their new proposed semi CANDU will use enriched uranium and will produce fewer "waste" fuel rods, but more uranium will be wasted at the centrifugal enrichment plants so more uranium will be wasted total. The cost of the enriched fuel including the cost of the enrichment facilities is hidden from the buyers of the new reactors who will not have to pay for so much heavy water anymore.

Heavy water is not a capital expense because it is not used up much and so it can be leased to reduce the capital costs and increase uranium efficiency. Heavy water can and is repeatedly being purified and mostly lasts forever. The small amount that is used up by the gamma rays or neutrons in a reactor, produces cheap neutrons for additional fission energy or tritium for safety lights.

Wax bars made of heavy hydrogen and carbon, preferably heavy carbon, can serve, like gold, as a money substitute. The purity of the whole bar can be determined in seconds by simple non invasive machines, unlike gold.

Many tons of unused heavy water are not now being used for anything but storage and some research because it was not sold or leased. A high percentage of existing nuclear reactors could save refueling costs by using a light water-heavy water mix in the reactors during part or all of the fuel cycle; in order to, to extend the life of the fuel rods as they are being deactivated by fission product atoms. Especially after many years of storage, used undamaged fuel rods can be brought back into their reactors and used if the reactors are partially or mostly filled with heavy water. It must be stated; however, that fuel is not a large cost of the operation of any reactor.

The major cost of electricity produced by a nuclear reactor is the capital cost and this can be reduced significantly by government building and ownership.

Much of the capital cost is due to excess requirements promoted by people who do not know that they are radioactive and that the sun and other stars bombards them with radioactivity and that many of the minerals of the earth, including those in foods, bombard them with radioactivity and that X-Rays are a major source of a persons radioactive exposure as are airplane flights. The cells heal damage from oxygen and other chemicals and also are very experienced, from before humans existed on the earth, at healing damage from radioactivity, including X-Rays from any source including uranium etc. and that from the built in radioactive potassium.

The uranium and thorium and other elements that may be fissioned by yet unknown facilities are concentrated solar energy saved from massive stars of the past. The uranium and thorium will vanish even if not used by the human race, so they might as well be used. Most of the U235, the main nuclear fuel, has already vanished since the formation of the earth and most of the remainder U235 will vanish long before the sun expands to destroy the earth, so it might as well be used by humans. In natural minerals, U238 is right now naturally contributing radioactive "waste" in large quantities directly to the environment and the rivers lakes and other waters of the earth as well as being radioactive itself.

Supported, mostly unknowingly by fossil fuel interests, politicians and "environmental" groups and persons have made nuclear power far more expensive to use than is necessary and this cannot be justified by the actual known statistical dangers which are far far less than the highway system. Even the proposed hidden deaths of people from radiation induced cancer from Chernobyl are a small fraction of the actual deaths from cancer alone in the areas mostly affected. Most people do not know that all life forms have always had built in radioactivity and are themselves radioactive wastes.

Even with the current high prices, nuclear energy is the cheapest way to reduce the amount of CO2 released to the air. The major exception to this statement, right now, is the required use of cogeneration in all buildings where natural gas is available. No subsidies for solar electricity should be given to any facility that uses natural gas unless it already burns all of its natural gas in cogeneration units. This includes private homes and ethanol production facilities. ..HG..

Roger Pham


The Land costing too much for mounting of solar energy collectors? How about solar PV's on every existing roof and every existing building top and south-facing walls? The lands and the mounting structures are already paid for! Local utility companies may lease a household's roof for a minimum fee in order to mount a solar PV. This is an excellent way for distributed power generation in order to minimize brown-out in very hot summer days when electricity consumption is at its peak.

Solar and wind energy too intermittent to be reliable? How about using the excess renewable electricity to produce compressed H2 all in one step, and store it locally for use in rainy and windless days or for use in other seasons.

Are we too paranoid about radioactive materials? Even though radioactive materials are present everywhere, they are present in trace amounts insufficient to cause high risk for cancers and birth defects. However, when the level of radiation exceeds the ability of living things to repair or to overcome the mocular damages caused by high-level of radiation, then we will have elevated risk of cancers and birth defects, as well as shortened life span. It is the latter situation that we must avoid.

Also, don't underestimate the potential catastrophy caused by nuclear bomb or materials in the hands of terrorists. Where do Saddam's Iraq, North Korea and Iran get their bomb-building nuclear material from? From nuclear reactors provided for by other nations in the pretext of electrical generation. Can you recall how much money has the US spent to invade Iraq to remove this type of weapon of mass destruction? This money use to invade Iraq has created a negative chain of effect leading to massive budget deficits in the US government in the last several years, and for years to come! This has put the next several generations of Americans at risk for poverty, crimes, joblessness, hopelessness, while a select few in the government, defense contracting, oil and gas, and few other big businesses got filthy rich from mortagaging and hemorrhaging America's future!

Do you want me to continue this rant about the ills of fossil-fuel energy and nuclear energy?

How about using the excess renewable electricity to produce compressed H2 all in one step
Very expensive and quite lossy. It makes much more sense to stockpile biomass than to convert electricity into hydrogen and back.
don't underestimate the potential catastrophy caused by nuclear bomb or materials in the hands of terrorists. Where do Saddam's Iraq, North Korea and Iran get their bomb-building nuclear material from? From nuclear reactors provided for by other nations in the pretext of electrical generation.
No they don't. NK, India and Pakistan all generated their plutonium using small "research" reactors; Iran's threat doesn't come from reactors, but the enrichment systems they're building. Pressurized light-water reactors cannot be run on the short cycles required to make weapons-grade plutonium, and nations which buy manufactured fuel don't pose any threat from weapons-grade uranium.
Do you want me to continue this rant about the ills of fossil-fuel energy and nuclear energy?
Not unless you fix your arguments.

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