Washington, D.C., March 30, 2011 — The nation's dependence on imported oil was the theme of President Barack Obama's energy speech at Georgetown University March 30.
Obama spelled out three ways to increase energy independence in the transportation sector: by using vehicles fueled by natural gas, biofuels or more efficient traditional engines.
However Obama said electric vehicles would be the best fix. Obama set a goal of deploying one million electric vehicles by 2015. During his presidency, the Department of Energy has created incentives for American companies to develop the vehicles as well as for Americans who buy them.
"There are few breakthroughs as promising for increasing fuel efficiency and reducing our dependence on oil as electric vehicles," Obama said.
Furthermore, the president called for the federal government to "lead by example," adding that he has directed the every vehicle used by the government to be upgraded to alternative fuel, hybrid or electric systems by 2015.
The factor keeping electric vehicles from truly taking off, he said, is the size, weight and efficiency of the batteries themselves. Obama said his administration has invested about $2 billion in grants for companies to develop better batteries and kick-start the American electric vehicle industry.
"Soon, America will be home to 40 percent of global manufacturing capacity for these batteries. And that means jobs. But to make sure we stay on the road to this goal, we need to do more — by offering more powerful incentives to consumers, and by rewarding the communities that pave the way for adoption of these vehicles," he said.
Obama said it doesn't take a Nobel Prize winner like Energy Secretary Steven Chu to tell you that electric vehicles run on electricity. So, he said, electricity should be generated in a safer, cleaner way.
"Even if we reduce our oil dependency, a smart, comprehensive energy policy requires that we change the way we generate electricity in America," he said.
A centerpiece of the speech was a call for a "clean energy standard," which would be a modified renewable portfolio standard that allows for renewables as well as natural gas, cleaner coal and nuclear power.
"Just like the fuels we use, we also have to find cleaner, renewable sources of electricity. Today, about two-fifths of our electricity comes from clean energy sources. But I know that we can do better than that," Obama said. "In fact, I think that with the right incentives in place, we can double it."
Obama repeated his plan, spelled out in his most recent State of the Union address, for 80 percent clean energy generation by 2035.
"A Clean Energy Standard will help drive private investment. But government funding will be critical too. Over the past two years, the historic investments we've made in clean and renewable energy research and technology have helped private sector companies grow and hire hundreds of thousands of new workers," he said.
After mentioning nuclear energy, Obama paused to speak about the ongoing situation at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. He said that in response to the disaster, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would carry out a safety review of every nuclear power plant in the U.S.
Obama also said that nuclear power releases no carbon dioxide and that where nuclear power can be used safely, it should be used to make electricity production cleaner.
"We will incorporate those conclusions and lessons from Japan in designing and building the next generation of plants. And my administration is leading global discussions towards a new international framework in which all countries operate their nuclear plants without spreading dangerous nuclear materials and technology," he said.
Another way to change the way power is generated and consumed, he said, is to waste less energy. Obama called for more efficient building materials and incentive programs to help homeowners install energy efficiency measures.
"These investments that will save consumers and business owners tens of billions of dollars a year, free up money for investment and hiring, and create jobs for workers and contractors," he said.
Addressing the political landscape, Obama said that as president he would not accept cuts to energy research and development programs.
"At a moment like this, sacrificing these investments would weaken our energy security and make us more dependent on oil, not less," he said. "I will not accept that outcome for the United States of America."