Vice President Joe Biden visited the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, Friday to announce that Boulder-based U.S. e-Chromic won the first “America’s Next Top Energy Innovator” challenge. Biden used the occasion to lay groundwork for the 2012 election, answering critics on the right who paint government as the enemy of free enterprise and who cast the Obama administration as insufficiently enthused over U.S. achievements or exceptionalism. Biden celebrated the long record of U.S. entrepreneurial success and argued that the relationship between government and industry in America has been vital in making the country a juggernaut of capitalist productivity and a model for countries around the world.
“Sometimes it takes national [government] investment to spark entrepreneurial innovation. That [relationship] is part of our national DNA,” Biden told the crowded events room off the main laboratory building as camera shutters whirred. Biden then ticked off a list of transformative pro-business U.S. government projects, including the drive to connect the nation by rail in the 1860s and to land on the moon 100 years later.
“[Pres.] Kennedy’s moonshot speech… go back and read it. It wasn’t just about the moon. It was about creating an army of scientists– and look what resulted from their work…. The free-enterprise spinoff that came from that investment was not able to be calculated.”
The computer revolution at the top of 21st century U.S. business success, for example, was a product of the NASA-led federal effort to get to the moon.
“You hear people saying government is anti-business. They say that [government investment] is socialism,” Biden said, speaking softly, as though intimately, and with an air of incredulousness. “That’s bizarre. It’s the most pro-business thing we can do.”
‘Science is back’
Biden came to the lab straight from a Denver 2012 fundraiser and he was flanked by Colorado U.S. Democratic lawmakers Sen. Michael Bennet and Reps Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter.
“I don’t mean to be chauvinistic,” Biden said at several points during his roughly 15-minute talk. The phrase came to seem like less of a statement of fact and more like a notice that he would be happily tooting the nation’s horn.
“We have the best engineers, physicians, human capital,” Biden said. “This isn’t chauvinism. I want China to succeed, but our economy is three times the size of China’s economy. People say China has already eaten our lunch. I say to them, look at what we’ve accomplished… The American spirit has risen to challenges time and time again. It’s not even close.”
Biden said that only one piece of the puzzle had been missing over the last eight years.
“It was missing until Obama came along,” he told the crowd of lab employees. “Science is back.”
Americans understand what we’re doing, he said, despite the abuse Republicans have heaped upon the stimulus package or the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in the years since it passed.
“Americans can cut through the baloney about ‘choosing winners and losers,'” he said, referring to assertions that the government hinders productivity by meddling in free-market competition. “We can cut through that foliage. The American people are enthusiastic. They know this is an opportunity to create millions of green jobs, to expand the middle class, and to create an energy policy that increases national security.”
In his 1962 moonshot speech, Kennedy struck a similar note.
“This year’s space budget is three times what it was in January 1961, and it is greater than the space budget of the previous eight years combined,” Kennedy said at Rice University in Houston. “That budget now stands at $5,400 million a year– a staggering sum, though somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year. Space expenditures will soon rise some more, from 40 cents per person per week to more than 50 cents a week for every man, woman and child in the United States, for we have given this program a high national priority– even though I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us.”
Jobs, environment, security
Speaking at NREL before Biden, Perlmutter said he’d just returned from Korea and wanted to add that the National Renewable Lab, which is sited in his 7th District, enjoys international acclaim.
“This facility is well known and it will be creating jobs for many years to come.”
Bennet said that everywhere he traveled around the state during his campaign last year, Coloradans expressed concern with the way the U.S. middle class has been shrinking and with the fact that the country has embraced an energy policy that “sends our treasure to the Gulf states for oil.”
“The work being done here at NREL will lead to the kind of private investment that will grow good middle class jobs and break our reliance on foreign oil,” he said.
The “America’s Next Top Energy Innovator” challenge is part of a larger effort by the Obama administration to streamline the process through which entrepreneurs can take technologies developed by the Department of Energy at government labs like NREL to the marketplace. The challenge allows startup companies to license government technologies for $1,000, a cost savings of up to tens of thousands of dollars in usual licensing fees. Right now there are roughly 15,000 unlicensed patents available through the program. Only about 10 percent of federal patents have been licensed for commercialization, according to the DOE.
U.S. e-Chromic is adopting technology developed at the lab to create thin-film window material that reflects sunlight as a way to increase efficiency and reduce energy costs.
Biden said that by reflecting scorching mid-day light from office and apartment buildings, the e-Chromic product could preserve vast amounts of energy and save the country billions of dollars each year.
“‘Science is back.’ I like that,” a Department of Energy public relations staffer was saying to reporters after Biden finished speaking and the crowd slowly filtered out of the building. “That was a good line, wasn’t it?”[ Image: Ernest Luning ]