Palm Springs, California -- Cathy Zoi of the U.S. Department of Energy might have one of the world's longest job titles. She's the Acting Undersecretary for Energy and the Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy.
She's on her second stint in Washington, D.C. with a big title and a big job. Amongst her many roles, she's responsible for the billions of DOE recovery act investments.
She spoke with Ira Ehrenpreis at the Clean-Tech Investor Summit in Palm Springs.
The DOE has had a reputation as stodgy, but Ms. Zoi is anything but stodgy.
"We need to drive down the costs of our technologies," she insists.
She notes that the energy sector has typically devoted a trivial 0.3 percent of their revenue towards Research and Development. Compare that to the four percent to 15 percent that other industries like pharmaceuticals or IT devote to R&D. She realizes that that number is driven by the electrical utility market structure but she knows that number has to rise.
John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins and other venture investors and CEOs, as part of the American Energy Innovation Council, have suggested that the U.S. needs to invest $16 billion to $20 billion per year in energy R&D.
Zoi quoted Norman R. Augustine, the retired Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin and Former Undersecretary of the Army:
“One thing that is clear based upon my own career in industry and government is that when faced with major challenges of high technological content in a time of austerity, the last thing one should under-fund is R&D. […] To do so is the equivalent to removing an engine from an overloaded aircraft in order to reduce its weight.”
One effort currently underway at the DOE is to create energy hubs or "Bell Lablets." Zoi spoke of several hubs funded by DOE, such as Philadelphia's green building hub, LBNL's hub for sunlight-to-fuels and hubs for nuclear software simulation.
Another multiyear DOE effort, according to Zoi, is figuring out how to "make PV genuinely cost competitive -- what will it take to get PV to $1 per watt installed for the whole system?" She talked about getting the balance of plant people, power electronics people, and module people to talk -- groups she said did not traditionally speak with each other. Zoi added, "If we can get to $1 per watt, we will be at 6 cents per kilowatt-hour."
Zoi notes that the oil and gas guys pop in on senators all the time. The cleantech industry must do this, as well. She pleads for the cleantech industry to "be present" in D.C. and "tell the good stories that are happening in your companies" to the politicians in D.C. There are billions and billions flowing from other sectors but alternative energy has only spent $140M in lobbying efforts.