Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Calls for Sustained Focus on a Comprehensive Clean Energy Agenda To Spark Resurgence in U.S. Manufacturing and Mitigate Climate Impacts

August 14, 2013


Staying focused on a clean energy agenda and working collaboratively across the business, academic, and government sectors is the key to sparking a resurgence in United States manufacturing and to mitigating climate impacts, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson said today.

President Jackson was addressing a forum on American Energy and Manufacturing Competitiveness, jointly sponsored by General Electric, the Council on Competitiveness, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (DOE-EERE), and hosted by the GE Global Research Center, in Niskayuna, New York.

“To truly achieve energy security—with both a burgeoning supply of energy and plummeting carbon emissions—it is going to require innovation on a grand scale,” President Jackson said in speaking of the opportunities and challenges of implementing a long-term, comprehensive energy security plan. “Given the centrality of energy to our economy, if we act decisively, energy innovation can serve as the focus of a full-fledged resurgence in U.S. manufacturing—and global leadership that spurs exports and growth.”

To ensure that the United States leads in clean energy manufacturing, she said that the private sector, academia, and the government must work together to “create a fertile environment for innovation, and to overcome market failures that keep promising technologies from commercialization.”

She discussed a three-pronged, energy-based approach needed to generate a resurgence of American manufacturing including: using more energy-efficient technologies and approaches in manufacturing,  to keep the costs of domestic manufacturing competitive with the rest of the world; taking the lead in developing and manufacturing clean energy products; and recognizing the targets of opportunity for the future, and creating the capacities that will allow the U.S. to get a jump start on those targets.

President Jackson highlighted Rensselaer’s work with industry and government (federal and state) to advance manufacturing through (1) shared infrastructure including the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI), one of the world’s most powerful university-based supercomputers, (2) expertise to expedite the transfer of technology into commercially viable products and processes via the Center for Future Energy Systems, the Center for Automation Technologies and Systems (CATS), and the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center, and (3) guidance in applying the new digital tools and technologies to applications in clean energy and smart energy use and management via the recently launched Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications (The Rensselaer IDEA).

Detailing the interconnections of  climate impacts and energy security, President Jackson said,  “As recent natural disasters have demonstrated decisively—with (energy) supply chain disruptions that reverberated globally as well as immensely painful local effects—we all increasingly are subject to intersecting vulnerabilities with cascading consequences.”

Energy security requires that on a national basis, we do six key things, she said:

  • Create redundancy of supply and develop the diversity of energy sources to power our economy.
  • Invest in smart infrastructure for energy generation, transmission, and distribution.
  • Commit to environmental sustainability and energy conservation, with a calculation of the full lifecycle costs of energy sources, systems, and devices.
  • Adopt policies that ensure consistent regulation and transparent price signals.
  • Ensure well-functioning energy markets that are not distorted by excessive speculation or outright manipulation.
  • Think strategically about how each sector is matched to the supply source that will be the most efficient, cost-effective, sustainable, and reliable.

Noting the historic lack of a long-term “concerted response to the challenges of energy security,” in the U.S., President Jackson said, “for the last 40 years we have had a series of energy shocks and crises that have captured the attention of the public and of policymakers in this country and abroad….  Each time, we have responded to the crisis at hand with a limited attention span and short-term solutions—lacking the consistent breadth of vision and commitment of resources the overarching issue demands.” 

She applauded President Obama and his administration for having been “willing to think more broadly, and to take the longer view,”  in promoting an overarching energy program, including the recently announced plan for the nation to lead the world in what President Obama called “a coordinated assault on a changing climate.” 

The U.S. has the capacity to drive innovation on a “grand scale,” President Jackson said. “We have done this many times before, including during the space race that succeeded in putting a man on the moon. Energy security is, indeed, the space race of our time. We can accomplish something equally startling today, with infinite innovations contributing to a single outcome: abundant, affordable clean energy that safeguards the natural world, as it powers our economy and radically improves human lives. But it will take a sense of national purpose.”

The loss of federal investments in energy innovation, combined with other economic pressures, may deter critical collaborative efforts among business, academia, and the government to provide a more secure energy future, President Jackson said.  “We have made considerable progress in recognizing the need for an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, or ARPA-E, to fund transformational research, and a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation to revolutionize our products and processes.  Yet, the progress we have made may well be undone by concerns about the federal debt, budget impasses, and sequestration.”  Due to the federal budget impasse—the U.S. “once again may be backing away from key (energy) investments and policy development, when we should be plunging ahead,” Jackson said.

To read the full text of Dr. Jackson’s keynote address – titled “Clean Energy Manufacturing: A National Focus Can Unlock a Potential Treasure Chest,” go to:

Background on President Jackson
A theoretical physicist, Dr. Jackson has held senior leadership positions in government, industry, research, and academe. She was chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (1995 -1999), and is a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), co-chairs the President's Innovation and Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC). As PITAC co-chair, in 2011 she co-authored the Report to the President on Ensuring American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing, which provided an overarching strategy as well as specific recommendations for revitalizing the Nation’s leadership in advanced manufacturing. She is a member of the U.S. Department of State International Security Advisory Board (ISAB). She co-chaired the Council on Competitiveness Energy Security, Innovation and Sustainability initiative.

About Rensselaer
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is the nation’s oldest technological research university. The university offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in engineering, the sciences, information technology, architecture, management, and the humanities and social sciences. Institute programs serve undergraduates, graduate students, and working professionals around the world. Rensselaer faculty are known for pre-eminence in research conducted in a wide range of fields, with particular emphasis in biotechnology, nanotechnology, computation and information technology, the media arts and technology, and energy and the environment. The Institute is well known for its success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace so that new discoveries and inventions benefit human life, protect the environment, and strengthen economic development.

Press Contact Theresa Bourgeois
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