How can the U.S. government best drive innovation?
We have the best science and engineering infrastructure in the world—bar none. People still come here to do research and for higher education. Our university system is still the best in the world by a big margin. We just need to support that innovation ecosystem.
But the students in those universities are less interested in science and engineering.
I would love to see more kids go into science and engineering. I would love to see a post–Sputnik-like rise in interest in science and engineering. Post-Sputnik, "rocket scientist" became part of the jargon. I want to see the energy scientists and engineers in the jargon now. That will provide the national security, economic security and environmental security that will provide the security for our future.
How do we spur that interest?
It really starts at the middle school level. We need to promote as much science and engineering at that level. If you lose them at that level, then you have lost a good chunk of people. We need to get them aware of what is engineering and that they can have career—that this is fun. That this is something they can not only survive but thrive. They can actually change the world. That's really important. Those kids are really idealistic. They want to really help.
We had 60 kids in this conference. We made it a point to make sure that students show up from energy clubs across the nation—60 kids from 30 campuses. Last year was our first summit, and we put it together in two months. We didn't have all the planning. We found two or three students showed up. I said, "You have an energy summit without students?" It's unthinkable. This time we made it a point to bring in more students, and now these students will be our ambassadors—I think. They are forming a network of 20,000 students. That is huge. That's the future. These students, I don't have to convince them to get motivated. They're motivating me, they're energizing me. That's the real future. In that sense I'm really optimistic. If these students at colleges who are members of an energy club, if they can excite kids down in middle schools and high schools and make them energy-aware, and say their future is at stake out here and get them excited and make it fun, I think we'll be in good shape.