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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Lack of a Comprehensive Global Energy Security Roadmap Putting the U.S. at Risk

July 23, 2008

Lack of a Comprehensive Global Energy Security Roadmap Putting the U.S. at Risk

BTUs Behaviors, Technologies, and Underlying Principles — should frame the energy debate

A major restructuring of global energy markets is underway, challenging all to think about energy in new ways, yet the United States is at risk of being left behind because the nation lacks a comprehensive global energy security roadmap, warned the former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a speech to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco on Tuesday. 

“If we fail to think about the issue appropriately, if we trivialize the complexities, or yield to the temptation to wish for a magical ‘quick fix,’ we will not get there from here,” said Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “We must know where we are and where we must go. We must get the goal right, get the plan right, and get it done.” 

“As a way of framing our understanding, I would suggest that we must think in terms of BTUs — not the British Thermal Units of energy or heat — but Behaviors, Technologies, and Underlying Principles,” Jackson said. “We must create the incentives, disincentives, and level of awareness needed to alter individual behaviors, corporate behaviors, and — leading by example — governmental behaviors. We must re-shape our investment in existing technologies — including renewal and upgrading of key elements of energy infrastructure — and support basic research to exploit the promise of new technologies. And we must do all of this strategically, according to a coherent set of underlying principles. These BTUs will form the basis of a comprehensive energy security roadmap.” 

Noting the importance of the energy issue in the context of the 2008 elections, Jackson called for a more intensive focus on the energy challenge, with leadership from the top encouraging participation across the board from government, corporations, universities, and individuals. 

“Our leadership must be compelling and convincing — or we will lose the moment, lose the inherent economic opportunities, and relinquish global energy security leadership to others,” she said. 

Jackson outlined her vision of the necessary components of a comprehensive U.S. energy plan that addresses energy security goals and the linked concerns of climate change and sustainability. She detailed six basic principles including: (1) redundancy of supply and diversity of source, (2) support for well-functioning energy markets, (3) investment in sound infrastructure for energy generation, transmission, and distribution, (4) providing for environmental sustainability and energy conservation, with calculation of full lifecycle costs, (5) the development of policy alternatives that include consistency of regulation and transparent price signals, and (6) linking optimum source to sector of use. 

Innovation also must be a critical component of any energy strategy, Jackson said:  “We must innovate the technologies that uncover and exploit new fossil energy sources and improve their extraction.  We must innovate the technologies that conserve energy and protect the environment.  And we must innovate the technologies that lead to alternative energy sources that are reliable, cost-effective, safe, as environmentally benign as possible, and sustainable.” 

Innovation will require “consistent, sustained, long-term investment in basic research”... and investment in people, the human capital necessary for the robust innovation the energy challenge demands, Jackson said.  Noting her “deep concerns” that the national capacity for innovation is in jeopardy, she said “Converging forces have created what I call the ‘Quiet Crisis’ which is eroding the production of scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technologists we need.  The scientists and engineers, who came of age in the post-Sputnik era, are beginning to retire.  At the same time, we are no longer producing sufficient numbers of new graduates to replace them.  This looming talent gap already is evident in the nuclear and oil and gas sectors.” 

Jackson also continued to raise concern about the misplaced focus on "energy independence" rather than the correct goal of energy security and sustainability, noting that in the globally interconnected economy “there is no energy independence.” 

Dr. Jackson is engaged in the energy issue from an unusual array of vantage points: as President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute — a technological research university; as a member of the Board of the NYSE Euronext, FedEx, IBM, Marathon Oil, and PSEG; and as former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (1995-1999). She also is actively involved in a range of policy-development initiatives including as co-chair of the Council on Competitiveness's Energy Security, Innovation, and Sustainability initiative; as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations climate change task force, and previously through a range of national initiatives on innovation that resulted in enactment of the America Competes Act. A theoretical physicist, Jackson has held senior leadership and advisory positions in government, industry, research, and academe, with a particular focus on global energy security and the national capacity for innovation.

To read the full text of Dr. Jackson’s July 22, 2008 speech to the Commonwealth Club – titled “You Cannot Get There From Here:  Why the U.S. Needs a Comprehensive Energy Security Roadmap,” go to

For information on “Global Energy Security” go to:

For information on the “Quiet Crisis” go to:

For a video of the event, including the question and answer session following President Jackson's remarks go to:

Contact: Theresa Bourgeois
Phone: (518) 276-2840