At the first Science Meets Congress event, Energy Solutions for a Sustainable Future, energy and innovation experts from academia, government and the private sector talked with Scientific American Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina about American's energy future.
At the first Science Meets Congress event Energy Solutions for a Sustainable Future, energy and innovation experts from academia, government and the private sector talked with Scientific American Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina about American's energy future. Panelists included Eric Rohlfing, acting director of ARPA–E; Francis Martin O’Sullivan, director of research for MIT’s Energy Institute; and Rosemarie Truman, founder and CEO of the Center for Advancing Innovation. Hosts were Scientific American and California Congressman Jerry McNerney.
Steve Mirsky: Welcome to Scientific American's Science Talk hosted on January 29, 2018. I'm Steve Mirsky. On this episode, "Imagine a kite that's like a think strip of fabric. It has ___ electric components in it. It generates 10 times the amount of energy that a windmill does. You can transport it. You can't transport a windmill. Transport it to a disaster relief site and generate energy."
That's Rosemary Truman. She's founder and CEO of The Center for Advancing Innovation and she was part of a recent discussion titled Energy Solutions for a Sustainable Future that took place at the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill. Scientific American represented by our editor in chief, Mariette DiChristina, sponsored the conversation along with Congressman Jerry McNerney from California.
It was the first in a planned series of events called Science Meets Congress. Other panelists were Francis Martin O'Sullivan, director of research for MIT's Energy Institute and Eric Rohlfing, acting director of ARPA–E. That's the Advanced Research Projects Agency Energy.
The audience consisted of journalists, members of congress, and congressional staffers. What follows is an edited version of the audio from the panel hosted by Mariette DiChristina.
Mariette DiChristina: Hi. I'm Mariette DiChristina. I'm the editor in chief of Scientific American. I hope you're here for a discussion around Energy Solutions for a Sustainable Future. Before we begin with that discussion, I would love to introduce Representative Jerry McNerney who I'm just delighted can join us today to get us started.
Jerry McNerney: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. As we know, there's some big challenges with regarding the energy future of our country and our world. We have climate change. We have resiliency issue. We have the cost. We want to make sure energy is cost competitive so that we can continue to grow our economies. And a little problem here in the United States, the partisanship is sort of a little bit of an impedance. If we work hard, we can get through those things.
I just wanted to tell you a little bit about my background. I'm one of two PhD scientists in congress. I have a math degree in differential geometry. I spent 25 years in the industry creating wind energy technology, which was a lot of fun, and then I came here to congress bac in 2007.
The good news, and there's plenty of really good news in this field, is that the technology is out there. It's coming down in cost. It's becoming more reliable. Right now, we see that renewables and natural gas together meet about half of our national energy needs, which means we're reducing carbon emissions. Also we see the states – the individual states – enacting policies that encourage renewable energy and clean energy technology.
The challenges that we have in the electrosytem, we have outages. We saw what happened in Puerto Rico when it got hit with that storm. We saw California we got wildfires that took out significant portions of our grid. We need to make our grid more resilient and we do that by becoming more distributed in energy sources. Again, renewables are perfect for that. Storage is going to help that a lot. We see real opportunities out there.
Another challenge we have at a national level is finding the national will to move forward strongly enough to meet the challenge that we have. We need resources. We need policies. We're not quite there getting those things yet. Again, the states are doing a great job. We need to show that kind of leadership here in Washington. We have challenges. We have opportunities. We have things moving in the right direction and I hope that this forum continues to help move us in that direction.
Mirsky: Francis Martin O'Sullivan, director of research for MIT's energy institute spoke next.
Francis O'Sullivan: Just to frame this, I'd actually like to resonate with some of the comments that Representative McNerey has just made. We are certainly in the midst of a profound period of change in our energy system. I characterize it really as once in a century transition actually. That's particularly centered today in electricity and the convergence of things like the electricity system with things like ______.
There are three salient trends that are driving that. The first is undoubtedly decarbonization, potentially a controversial topic in this part of the world but let me be very clear. Decarbonization is happening in some instances because of policy, but we are now entering into a new phase for carbonization, one where the pure economics of decarbonization make more sense. We're seeing technologies like wind and solar ______ _____ becoming increasing the technology of choice for adding new capacity to our system here in the United States. Last year, about 60 percent of all of our new capacity additions was in that form. That's going to accelerate going forward. That's of course taking place here and around the world, so that's one very important trend.
The second important trend is decentralization. We have had a system for a century which is a particular structure that has leveraged the tremendous economies of scale that have _____ from the type of large scale thermal facilities we've used to generate power, large transmission, high voltage transmission and so on.
Over the past decade, with the help of agencies like ___, I should add, we have opened up an entirely new set of tools ____ toolbox to enable the so called distributed energy resource paradigm. These technologies, some of them are generation technologies like _____ _____ _____.
Others are more broader tools like storage. They are really enabling us to think very differently about how we provide our energy sources. They are going to reshape the delivery of electricity in this country. They're going to help with the electrification of many other parts of the world where today they are underserved or not served. We have to embrace that opportunity as well. I will add these are also tools that we are going to lever to deliver greater resiliency and reliability to our system, so that's really very, very important.
The third trend which is more generic than simply in the electricity sector is of course digitalization. So things like decarbonization and particularly decentralization, these are exciting movements and having the technologies to deliver them is great, but the real value can only be realized through the application of digitalization. We have to think about a more dynamic grid going forward that's going to be much more spatially and temporally resolved. We're going to use digital infrastructure to enable that. We're going to have the right solution deployed at the right point on the grid to deliver the most cost-effective energy service, the most reliable and the most resilient energy source.
I think those are – that combined does really represent a profound change. There are a few other points that I want to add to this that are also important. Electrification either in pure battery EVs or heavy hybridization is going to happen. It's going to be cost effective. It's going to be a sensible solution and we have to think very carefully about how we take advantage of this, of course.
The other critical issue and I think it's relevant here since we're in the realm of politics – we need to appreciate that there's one other key trend taking place today. Customers are being increasingly empowered through these new technologies to make decisions about their own specific energy sources. Customer engagement is now a really important issue. If you speak to utility executives, I'll tell you, one thing that they're very concerned about – very excited about – is customer engagement. You speak to the high-tech community in the West Coast – we'd say _____ too, of course – this is really front of mind.
With these new technologies, we can have a much more bespoke set of energy services delivered. Again, that's going to add value. That's going to drive our economy forward. It's going to create value not just in supporting things like decarbonization but in the broader sense of driving innovation and really helping the United States remain at the forefront of the energy space. That's all very exciting, but I don't want to be naive or Pollyannaish about this. We have some challenges that have to be overcome that are very relevant to this community here in D.C., for example, to really take advantage of these trends.
The first is that today's power markets and energy markets broadly are not necessarily well set up for these trends. We need to really step back from these debates and be more thoughtful about where we want to go into the future. This is not a retrospective activity. We need to be more prospective and we need to put in place market frameworks that are going to make sense to take advantage of these technologies for our broader economy.
We need to think very carefully at the state level, I would add, about the institutional issues that matter, so electrify specifically doesn't respect the boundaries of our states and so on. I think we need to be more thoughtful about how we integrate state level policy with the broader goals of taking advantage of these trends.
The final point is that we shouldn't be naïve to the technology needs that still exist. We've made a lot of progress, but there's still a major opportunity – a major need – for the development of range of enabling technologies – further enabling technologies. I'm sure we're going to hear about more of that in a moment. I won't delve into it. We at MIT certainly are kind of abreast of this, we feel, and are working very hard to enable that across the spectrum as well.
Mirsky: Next up was Eric Rohlfing, acting director of ARPA–E, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, Energy.
Eric Rohlfing: I represent ARPA–E. When I'm asked to have perspectives, I have kind of a unique view of the world because I'm like the kid in the candy store, the geeky scientist kid in the candy store. I see every cool energy technology idea that there is. Our role is exactly – to segue from Frank – is to create the enabling technology of the future. We are the DARPA equivalent for energy. We're supposed to be very forward looking, very prospective and asking, what are the key technologies that will enable the grid of the future, will enable the transportation system of the future, will enable the complete integration of digital and energy technologies?
We have literally everything under the sun – also literally under the sun – from plasma physics for better fusion energy to plant biology for fuels to window coatings for single-paned windows. It's a huge spectrum. When asked to survey the landscape, I usually try to pick a few things here and there. I could go with the grid but I'm actually going to go with transportation instead just to complement kind of things you said.
Obviously, transportation is changing dynamically. Electrification is coming. It's here. It's upon us. But also mobility. Mobility is a service. The digitization of mobility is here. We have a couple of programs, one of which I wear another hat as a program director on, and one called Nextcar. Nextcar is all about connected and automated vehicles. That's a technology that's coming, everybody knows is coming. It's being driven primarily at this point by issues associated with safety.
We saw the opportunity to say, "Look, in an era – in an environment where you have cars that are completely connected and sharing information with each other and with the infrastructure, there's a huge opportunity for energy savings. You don't need a new powertrain. All you need to do is use the information that's coming to the vehicle to better optimize the vehicle controller and the powertrain controller. Imagine if your vehicle knows exactly where you're going, knows the grade that's coming up, knows the traffic conditions, knows the status of the lights. We think you can get a 20 percent efficiency improvement in vehicle economy without doing anything except changing software."
That, to me, is an example of the kind of programs that ARPA–E looks at. It looks at that niche where people are thinking about it one way, but we see the technology empowering an energy mission which is our mission to do that.
Another area keeping in transportation where we're looking at is biofuels. Right now, petroleum is very inexpensive. Biofuels are not economically viable, but we're looking again into 10, 20, 30 years down the road and asking, if we have a viable biofuels enterprise in this country, how will we do that? How will you address the challenge of food versus fuel? We have a couple of programs in that area. One is called TERRA. We spend a lot of time thinking up clever acronyms. I don't want to tell you how much time.
TERRA is addressing the question that if you want a significant biofuel or bioproduct economy, you have to accelerate the rate of _____ gain in biofuel crop. We've done that for food crops. Corn is an amazing crop, but 100 years ago it was this scrawny little thing called maize and it didn't feed anybody. What should we do for crops? This program is focused on energy sorghum, which is an excellent biofuel precursor. It grows in lands that aren't so useful for food crops.
What we've done there is taken a merger of robotics, of sensing big data analytics to say, "Okay, phenotyping for plant breeders is typically you have a bunch of germ ____ and you plant a bunch of seeds." You go out in the field and somebody measures how high it is or whatever. We're using robots. We're using sensor technology. We're using big data analytics to combine it with the genomics to hopefully rapidly accelerate breeding for biofuels crops and energy sorghum using lands that are less than optimal for food.
Those are kind of two examples of the many examples of the kind of things we do at ARPA–E. We are the DARPA for energy. We're constantly looking for those new niches of ___ enabling technologies. Obviously in grid, one of the big enablers of storage, we've had a long track record in funding storage projects. Some of those technologies are now gone out of the lab into the field where they're actually making an impact. With that, I think I'll pass the torch.
Mirsky: Back to Scientific American's Mariette DiChristina.
DiChristina: I'd love to turn next – I was interested to hear about uses of land that's not optimal or looking for niches in key enablers. I think one of the things, Rosemary, that we talked about a lot is looking for opportunities and things that otherwise might be getting overlooked. I would love you to speak to that if you would.
Rosemary Truman: In the United States, we spend about $160 billion a year on R&D. Over the last seven years, we've spent about $1 trillion, with about 250,000 inventions that are sitting on the shelf that have more than 13 years of patent life and only point 5 percent to 1 percent of those get out a year. Point five to point seven percent of the inventions that are federally funded get out a year. What does that mean, get out? That they're actually commercialized. They're found and then they're commercialized.
Some of the challenges that we have are first of all finding these inventions. I just mentioned the ones that are patented so you can find them through USPTO, but they're about five times to ten times the amount that are not patented that are not disclosed. The energy efficiencies and tools of the future could be sitting there on the shelf either patented or not. The finding is one thing.
The second thing is assessing the invention once you find it. The NASA portfolio is probably one of the best portfolios we've reviewed in terms of energy. It has a great number of energy saving inventions because everything that goes into space has to be energy efficient. Assessing those inventions, it's very complicated. They're written in such technical terms. I'm an engineer and I think that I could understand what these things say. Read it a few times and it's very difficult to ascertain what this invention does and there are lots of applications for it. So assessing the invention. Finding it first and then assessing it second. So you find something that's really a great invention. Then you need to lift it out.
So licensing then is the next challenge. 70 percent of licensing agreements fall through in the negotiation process because of the disconnect between the person who wants to license the invention and the licensee. How do you make inventions that are licensable? License and agreements terms that will work for everybody? It's sunk cost because we tax payers have paid for it already. The licensing is the next step. Then the question becomes post-licensing. What we've observed – we have about 170,000 inventions we work with in my company. What we've observed when we've gotten the licensing going – we've got the license agreement closed. We've closed the deal.
Then the question becomes, can they transfer what they said they were going to transfer out? About 50 percent of the time, half of the invention they can't find, meaning like if it's a software, hardware, mechanical, electrical communications stack, there's a piece missing. Software, for example, is always a piece that's hard to find.
The future of energy could be sitting on our shelf and I bet you it is. It's probably been created multiple times actually. That becomes another issue when it comes to even just the publication, even pre-invention. If something doesn't work, we don't publish about this. We don't like to publish things that don't work. If we published things that didn't work, then we'd know they don't work. Let's not do that again or let's do it a different way.
We have incredible amount of opportunity in terms of what we have. If you extrapolate what I just mentioned, the 150,000 inventions times five or times ten, 2.5 million inventions sitting on the shelf. Sunk cost. About $3 trillion worth of IP sitting on the shelf that we could have a significant opportunity to mine. What I think our big opportunity is in the United States is to significantly change the way we harness our intellectual property.
When we give out this $160 billion a year to different organizations – universities, hospitals, research institutes across the U.S. – we govern it properly. The inventions become disclosed and we have a clearing house for all the inventions. We have a systematic approach to harmonizing the data around the inventions so that you can actually mine it, characterizing it and then making it searchable so that you only have to go to one place.
If you're not familiar with this scenario, if I like your inventions – and I like yours and yours – I have to go to three separate databases. Then I have to talk to three separate people. Then you have to talk to the inventors. It's a herculean effort to pull together the inventions into one place. There are snippets of solutions out there right now, but a policy change would be required to actually harmonize – it's very simple. Harmonize the data. Put it in one database. Create a clearinghouse. Also tell people how they can get the invention.
Here's a very basic scenario. If you're a $5 billion company and you're a startup with no money and I have a packet of Oreos, one of you guys _____ the Oreos. If you go to the store and get the Oreos, it's going to cost $3.00. For you, the Oreos would cost $5 million and for you, I'm going to give the Oreos for free. That's currently the way licensing works. It's an art and it depends on who it is that's coming to get the invention. From my perspective since it's sunk cost that the taxpayers all pay for, it should be used to commercialize and create knowledge-based jobs and create ____ new markets in the United States.
DiChristina: Facebook Groups, okay. I've been a member of a few Facebook Groups prior to starting a business and then I've used Facebook Groups to find specific – for my target market, I was able to find groups that – I was able to kind of bring traffic back to my own group that I created. I probably am a member of like 20 different groups through Facebook. There's a wide variety of different groups from recovery groups to entrepreneurial groups to just random groups like that.
Rohlfing: I just wanted to follow up on Rosemary's comments. This is going to be a ____ for ___. In terms of getting most bang for the buck from federal R&D, I think ARPA–E has a unique construct for doing that. Yes, we provide funding for research and the research is key. It's high-risk research so a lot of it will fail. We recognize that. A part of our charter is also to find a pathway for that research. Not just to produce publications, not just to produce patents, but to get into the real world. We have a technology to market activity which is deeply embedded and ingrained in all of our projects from day one.
Our program directors work closely with technology to market advisors, all of whom are hired into the agency because they're passionate about energy technology. They want to change the world. They're working with the researchers and saying, "Look, this technology is awesome. You're going to do this research. If it's successful, I don't really care if you publish your paper." I will take you up on your comment. Publishing failure is an important thing because we have a lot of failures and it is important to know that. We have a repository of failures. We know what failed so hopefully we'll remember what not to fund again.
It's very insightful, I think, especially to work with academics. Every project has a technology to market plan. Every project has some plan that's going to help them at every step of the project. I think it's worth giving a concrete example. We had a project started in 2012 in Harvard – Joanna Eisenberg's group – an amazing project on slippery coatings. Basically they took a nanostructured porous material, impregnated that with a slippery fluid, and that made essentially a liquid liquid interface that fluids slide right across. We went into that project and the first thing we did is say, "Let's do a technoeconomic study to figure out what the appropriate markets are that could have the biggest impact," because there are a myriad of things you could apply this to.
Through that process, they decided that, believe it or not, refrigeration was an early first market that they could attack. That's basically saving energy in cost in not having to defrost commercial freezers as much. It may not sound like the coolest application. Sorry for the pun. It's a really cool application. That was a good example of helping them find what the right path initially to market might be. Subsequently, they spun out a company called Slips. Now they're actually moving toward what could be a much more impactful application, which is _____ free slippery coatings for shipping. That could have a huge energy impact. That's an example.
If you want more information, there's a video on our website where Joanna talks about exactly how that worked. We have a lot of examples like that. It is incumbent upon an agency like ARPA–E to make sure that the yield coming out of our research is as high as possible and I think we're doing that in a very active way, a very hands-on way, providing the resources, the expertise, the advice, and ultimately the matching with the appropriate investors for our project. Just wanted to follow up with that.
Truman: Yeah. I think that's a great example. We probably could go back and forth with examples each way. I won't mention the agency. This particular agency had a kite. Imagine a kite that's a thin strip of fabric and it's about 200 feet of fabric. It has __ electric components in it. It generates 10X the amount of energy that a windmill does and is about 100 times less costly. The maintenance is practically nil compared to a windmill. The kite works on a – there's a motherboard at the bottom and a bunch of sensors. Optimizes the positioning of the kite with two guide wires. You're generating tons of energy. You can capture the energy much more efficiently.
The kite can be deployed for when you're hiking and camping, so for consumer purposes or for commercial purposes. You could transport it. You can't transport a windmill. Transport it to a disaster relief site and generate energy. This particular invention has been around for eight years. We just bought out three companies on it last year. It's fantastic. Change the world. Change invention. Simple, right? But again, it was not published on any website. These are examples of these hidden treasures that we have in the United States that we could embrace and commercialize.
DiChristina: The ____ is for people who aren't specialists here is what a piece of electric does –
Rohlfing: It basically just converts mechanical energy to electric energy and then vice versa.
O'Sullivan: I just want to add one final point to this particular thread and the discussion that I think is really relevant, again, to the audience here today. First, one of my hats at MIT is I'm on the faculty at the Sloane School of Business and I teach a class on energy venture. Energy is a tough business. Ultimately, it's a commodity and it's difficult to capture value. It's difficult to grow those businesses. Because of that, it's really important that people, for example in this town, understand the criticality of having an end to end value chain in supporting the development of new energy technologies.
Let me just kind of emphasize three in a simplistic sense, three horizons of support that are really required. Each of which, I should add, the federal government has a very important role to play in. First very clearly, there's basic science and basic research. The United States has built its economy on the back of us being leaders – being the leader in developing these technologies at the basic science level. I myself came to this country to university, to attend MIT. Many colleagues just like me who become Americans who stay here, who want to add value. That is a unique selling point and a lot of that is driven by support from the federal government for basic science and engineering.
From that filters the type of fantastic work that you then see at agencies like ARPA–E, so good ideas that are coming from the bench but that need some support in order to really begin to match them with the markets. That's not an easy thing ultimately because just like the Harvard invention, a lot of the basic science has a kind of multiplicity of applications and you need some time to really understand where that's going to go and to build up relationships and so on that are going to get it to the market.
Finally, and this is a real challenge I think for energy – energy is a big money business at the end of the day. To really get scale and to be able to win, to really have transformative impact, you need to be able to finance new technologies at scale. The United States, with the loan program office at the Department of Energy as an example, have been very thoughtful over the years in providing just a little bit of capital to support technologies that are nearly there but that need that scale and that you cannot get the commercial bank ability for.
We have _____ ______ _____ today at scale, the absolute cheapest source of generation in many parts of this country. Utility executives will tell you that. That was made possible – and I'm dead serious – five or six years ago through the loan program office supporting just three or four programs. They made money on them ultimately. It was a good return for the taxpayer as well. I really think that that's important to appreciate. There are going to be some challenges in this kind of transition, but people need to understand we need to bring all of the instruments that the government can do in a kind of integrated sense to this challenge to support that because from that, we're going to have some really tremendous outcomes.
Mirsky: Next, audience members got to ask their questions.
Audience: Nick Campbell, ______ intern, EDP at _____ research. All the stuff you guys are talking about is really exciting me because I'm ____scientist by training. The technologies sound fantastic. There's clearly unrealized huge potential we can make. We're all talking about increasing efficiency and making a huge impact. I'm fascinated about it.
One issue we haven't really talked about is the social impact and how important social science is to this. One of the key election issues in the recent presidential election was energy focused. It wasn't about – the ______ wasn't about getting new technologies or making more money for America or whatever. It was essentially around jobs in a legacy industry. I'm interested to know whether enough focus is being given to social science implications and engaging with those solutions as well, the implications of the solutions you guys are talking about for society.
DiChristina: Anybody want to have a go?
Rohlfing: I'll take a whack at it, but I might diverge a little bit. Obviously, one of the keys to any new technology is adoption. The key to that is who is going to adopt the technology and how will it be adopted. In ARPA–E we have a range of programs that in some cases the adoption will need to happen in the power industry. In other cases, it's directed at the consumer.
An example of that is a program that I manage called Transnet where we're trying to use the information that all of us have in these devices to optimize the energy efficiency of an urban multimodal transportation system. Obviously, when you're talking about influencing travelers' behavior, you have to understand the social and behavioral sciences. What motivates people to make route choices, to make mode choices, and how can we influence that?
We look at that program as probably our largest foray into the behavioral sciences. It's about adoption by a consumer of a new technology in an incredibly competitive marketplace. We all use Google Maps now. Our phones are really smart. We can't get anywhere without them, right? We can't navigate. We're hopeless without them. The question is, how can you embed energy into that kind of technology? This is another example of a technology that's already here. How can we embed energy into that kind of optimization system? That's where behavioral science is key to understand what people will adopt, why they will do it, how you can incentivize them. Not exactly answered your question because that's a policy question and we're a technology agency.
Truman: I think there's an interesting _____ a lot of people who are innately interested or involved in basic research and technologies see growth opportunities. But many people hear these things and worry about the future. I think we do share an obligation to figure out how best to adapt these technologies to soothe society. I completely agree with the point.
I think one of the things this panel is raising is how we best do that collaboratively and with the right kinds of frameworks. For instance, Frank, you were just talking a little while ago about customer engagement. Certainly, that also means consumer engagement with these technologies.
O'Sullivan: Can I just make one point along those lines? I think it's a great question. It's actually probably the most important question in many respects because there's lots of technology ______ on the shelf, by the way, out there. The question is how is that kind of going to diffuse into the market and so on.
I think one thing that's in the kind of broader debate or discussion about energy today, there's this kind of bimodal it's this way or that way. I think we have to really get over that. We have to bridge between these two kind of futures. The reality is that the energy system we have is very different in different parts of this country and we should embrace that. We should appreciate the fact that we have different types of resources today that we're using.
As we look to the future in terms of kind of our innovation pathways, we should also understand that. One thing that I tend to advocate for is that when we think about changing the energy system, we really should focus on kind of having innovation at a regional level. So understanding the nature of individual regions, what makes sense within that context, what is possible, and then supporting that. That really calls for an all of the above, if you wish, kind of agenda. By the way, that's the key to success anyway. You need to have that all of the above kind of agenda.
I think we failed, actually, to manage to get there. I think if we were able to, at a federal level, have a more coherent conversation about how we at a regionally resolved level think about supporting energy innovation, then I think you could build a coalition that perhaps is a little more aligned than we have today.
McNerney: One of the things that worries me about the transformation that Frank has talked about is potential backlash. If the society is not prepared to embrace the technology – a perfect example is what's happening in the coal industry. All these coal workers are put out of jobs, basically because of natural gas, but they've devoted their lives, their parents have devoted their lives and stuff to coal mining. They're not really prepared to move on. We need to make sure that we take care of that and give them a ladder out of that sort of spiral that they've found themselves in. If we don't do that, then we're going to have backlash and we're going to be putting ourselves backwards like we're seeing.
DiChristina: It seems like maybe one lesson at least I'm taking from this conversation is any new technology that's planned to be adopted should come along with a conversation with various stakeholders about who might be affected and how do we set up the right sorts of frameworks for transitions if needed, ongoing education to help make a more inclusive economy. Other questions? I see one.
Audience: Jack Laschever. I'm with Nature Research. My question is more of a consumer question I guess of public perception. It seems like so much of what we're talking about here is ultimately driven by public opinion and consumer demand. I think one of the great challenges that we all know about is the fact that there are a great number of individuals who don't really think about decarbonization. When they go to buy a car, they're thinking about how much does it cost and what is the quality and they don't go that extra step.
If there is a – I don't know the statistic, but if half of the population does not believe that man has anything to do with climate change, ultimately don't we have to change the perception of the public that this is important? What part does communications and changing public opinion about this play? That drives commercial demand. It controls how many scientists that we have in congress and are there things that we can do to change public perception and opinion.
O'Sullivan: I think the key is to not worry about that climate issue. That is not going to solve that problem. I think it's kind of a religious issue. From my point of view, that's a private issue. What we need to do and where we're approaching is a point where these technologies are desirable for all of the reason that people desire shiny phones and convenience value add lifestyle benefits etc., etc. In the commercial space, the cost-effective solution competitiveness. At the federal level, energy security and national security. We're approaching that space actually. That is the key.
I think in terms of our objectives and trying to support that, we ought to focus on moving these technologies forward with a view to delivering on those features. You are not going to win this battle if you're just kind of focused on the climate benefits. That's my honest opinion.
Rohlfing: I would second that opinion. You have to compete economically and that's what's going to drive this. When you plug in your cell phone to charge overnight, you don't know where the electrons came from. They came from solar or from wind or natural gas. You don't care. You don't have to be convinced one way or the other on a quasi-religious or ideological framework. You want cheap electricity and that's what we have to provide. We have to compete economically for sure.
DiChristina: With the last 30 seconds that we have, if there's one thing you could tell people in the audience that they could do to be supportive of a better energy future, is there a piece of advice you'd like to share?
Rohlfing: Be informed. Understand the state of technology, what's new in technology. Get briefings. Come up to speed. Take advantage of scientists and engineers to talk to in your districts or in your states. Understand the lay of the land and what's new in technology. Stay informed is probably one of the biggest pieces.
Mirsky: That's it for this episode. Get your science news at our website, www.scientificamerican.com, where you can read the story by Clara Moskowitz about how neutrons may lead a second secret life as dark matter. And follow us on Twitter where you'll get a tweet whenever a new item hits the website. Our Twitter name is @sciam. For Scientific American's Science Talk, I'm Steve Mirsky. Thanks for clicking on us.