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Published September 21 2010

Expert: Innovation key to energy success

BISMARCK – The kind of U.S. brain power and focus that went into creating video games and Facebook needs to shift to the nation’s energy development, a top energy official said Monday.

The country has “a wake-up call like none other” right now, said Arun Majumdar, director of the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy.

He compared today’s climate to when Russia launched Sputnik into space in the 1950s, leaving the U.S. feeling technologically left behind.

“We are in a Sputnik-like moment today except this time it is energy and the environment,” Majumdar said. “We have let other countries take the lead away from us, and it is time to innovate and take that lead back. That is our mission.”

Majumdar was one of the keynote speakers at Monday’s Great Plains Energy Expo and Showcase in Bismarck. About 350 people are attending the annual event aimed at bringing together all of the energy interests in the state to discuss the latest developments and common interests.

Majumdar’s agency was launched last year with $400 million in stimulus funding. Its goal is transformational energy research and development. A U.S. Senate appropriations bill for fiscal year 2011 provides another $200 million to continue the mission to develop high-risk, but promising, future energy technologies.

“We need to appeal to the high-risk pioneer culture that we have in this country … and energize and activate those pioneers,” Majumdar said.

The U.S. imports the majority of its oil from unstable nations – some of which don’t like us, Majumdar said.

“We need to turn that to zero. Zero,” he said.

Energy security, reducing emissions and U.S. technological leadership are the core of national, economic and environmental security, he said.

This includes developing a next-generation battery for electric cars, technologies that can reduce the cost of carbon capture, energy storage, new wind turbines, new ways of heating and cooling buildings, and new ways of drilling.

It also means updating the nation’s electrical grid, which Thomas Edison would recognize if he looked at it today, Majumdar said.

Technology alone won’t help the country without the people behind it, he said.

“We have the best science and engineering infrastructure in the world,” Majumdar said. “We just have not leveraged that to focus on energy, and we need to do that now.”

Congress should also enact a renewable energy standard that would require at least 15 percent of electricity comes from renewable sources, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Monday. Dorgan is hosting the fourth annual energy expo.

The energy expo continues today, with former presidential candidate Dick Gephardt giving a keynote presentation at 9 a.m. CT. at the Bismarck Civic Center. Retired Air Force Gen. Charles F. Wald will give a keynote address at 1 p.m. CT.


Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.