FutureStructure

U.S. Energy Secretary Talks Offshore Wind Farms at Brown University

Ernest Moniz’s visit comes at an important time. At the Paris climate talks last winter, the United States and 19 other nations, including Japan, China, Germany and the United Kingdom, signed on to a commitment to double spending on clean energy research and development by 2021.

by Alex Kuffner, The Providence Journal, R.I. / April 19, 2016
U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz at the roundtable discussing energy innovation in Rhode Island. Twitter/ErnestMoniz

(TNS) --With the federal government planning to aggressively ramp up its funding of clean-energy research to help address climate change, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz heard from engineers and entrepreneurs at a roundtable at Brown University about their plans to develop new technology.

One idea put forward by Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski and backed by University of Rhode Island ocean engineer Chris Baxter called for setting up a regional partnership to focus on bringing down the costs of offshore energy by building up local infrastructure.

“I can think of no better place to work on these issues than southern New England,” said Grybowski, whose company is building the first offshore wind farm in the nation.

“Clearly, this state has got a great ocean resource. It has an even better human capital resource at the universities and at small companies,” Moniz said.

Moniz came to Brown to deliver a lecture on Monday afternoon about his role in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal. The morning roundtable on clean energy was hosted by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the Rhode Island Democrat who is a leading voice in Washington on responding to climate change.

In introductory remarks at the event, Whitehouse highlighted the need to take action, pointing to the threat to Rhode Island’s coast posed by rising seas and the potential impact on the state’s fishing industry from warming waters and acidification.

“We’ve got a big stake in the game,” the senator said.

Moniz’s visit comes at an important time. At the Paris climate talks last winter, the United States and 19 other nations, including Japan, China, Germany and the United Kingdom, signed on to “Mission Innovation,” a commitment to double spending on clean energy research and development by 2021.

For the U.S. Department of Energy, that means increasing its R&D budget from $6.4 billion to $12.8 billion. The department has requested a 21-percent increase in funding this year, but Moniz said it’s unlikely that Congress will approve that level of increase.

Nevertheless, he said that elected officials on both sides of the aisle have expressed support for the DOE’s proposal.

“It has potentially tremendous leverage and real opportunity to accelerate innovation,” Moniz said.

During the roundtable, Moniz heard from state energy commissioner Marion Gold, Christine Smith, director of innovation programs at the state Commerce Corporation, and others about Rhode Island’s efforts in the clean-energy sector.

They include programs to conserve energy that have been ranked among the most effective in the nation. Rhode Island is also home to a number of budding energy companies, such as VoltServer, Bioprocess Algae and Utilidata.

- After the event, Moniz gave special attention to a federally funded project at Brown University to develop a tidal energy system that uses hydrofoils.

“This could play a role particularly in bringing electricity to isolated communities, be it in Alaska or be it in developing countries, if they are close to rivers with good tidal systems,” he said. “That is just one example of innovation in this state right now.”

©2016 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.