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Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy David M. Turk discussed the federal government’s plans to foster the transition to clean energy at a Monday seminar held by the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
President Joe Biden has set ambitious clean energy goals for the United States, including reaching 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035 and net-zero carbon emissions in the overall economy by 2050. At the event, Turk discussed the motivation behind these commitments and DOE efforts to tackle the clean energy goals with technology.
“These goals actually come straight from the science — straight from all the science that’s been done for many, many years, saying, how do we avoid the worst consequences of climate change?” Turk said.
Turk elaborated on the reasoning behind the clean energy goals, including national security concerns and the high cost of climate change to the U.S. economy. In 2022, extreme weather in the U.S. caused a total of $165 billion of damages.
Citing the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, Turk said transitioning to clean energy also comes with “inherent national security benefits.”
“It’s relatively easy for Putin to turn off the spigot on natural gas flowing from Russia and to Europe,” he said. “It’s more challenging for him to put a big solar shield over Europe or to stop the wind from blowing from offshore wind and onshore wind.”
Turk also outlined the department’s plans for tackling the clean energy goals with technology in three categories, which he dubbed “technology on hand,” “technology on the cusp,” and “technology on the horizon.”
“Technology on hand” includes cost-competitive technologies that the federal government hopes to rapidly integrate into the economy, such as at-home solar power and electric vehicles, Turk said. The DOE also funds “technology on the cusp,” according to Turk, including “cutting-edge companies” on the cusp of commercialization.
Referring to “technology on the horizon,” Turk described government progress on fusion energy technologies, citing a recent breakthrough reported last December, in which a laboratory fusion reaction produced more energy than it took in.
“We got more energy out than we put in,” he said. “That is a big deal. We’re not there to commercialize fusion yet. We’ve got a lot of work to do on that front, but this is the kind of investment the U.S. has made for years and years — the kind of investment in my opinion, we need to keep making going forward.”
Turk said the pace of the transition to clean energy will have wide-ranging consequences.
“Climate change is riding on that — whether we're successful or not on that front — but there's an awful lot more,” he said. “U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, environmental justice, energy justice — there's an awful lot riding on how quickly, how successful this transition is going to be.
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