Obama to Battery Developers: Step Up & Innovate, Funds Will Follow

Earlier this year, the nonprofit policy group Next 10 released a report on how energy efficiency and clean technology has provided stimulus for California’s economy — lending a fresh set of data to back up something we’ve noted more than once: The U.S. might do well to follow California’s lead on supporting clean energy, improving efficiency, and creating green jobs. (We’ll look at how the state cut energy costs with IT at our Green:Net conference next week.)

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President Barack Obama seems to agree. Speaking after a tour of Southern California Edison’s Electric Vehicle Technical Center in Pomona, Calif., he had plenty of kudos for the Golden State, saying “Californians aren’t just bearing the brunt” of the recession, but also “doing what needs to be done to overcome it.” Namely, developing clean technology.

Obama likened the work at Edison’s lab — and more directly, recent federal allocations — to historical breakthroughs in science and technology:

[O]ften, our greatest discoveries are born not in a flash of brilliance, but in the crucible of a deliberate effort over time. And often, they take something more than imagination and dedication alone — often they take an investment from government. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. That’s how we were able to launch a world wide web. And it’s how we’ll build the clean energy economy that’s the key to our competitiveness in the 21st century.

obama-sce2But Obama’s speech in Pomona today wasn’t all about accolades for California. That was just the warmup for defending energy spending in his budget and the stimulus package as necessary for keeping up with the rest of the world:

[T]he nation that leads on energy will be the nation that leads the world in the 21st century. That’s why, around the world, nations are racing to lead in these industries of the future. Germany is leading the world in solar power. Spain generates almost 30 percent of its power by harnessing the wind, while we manage less than one percent. And Japan is producing the batteries that currently power American hybrid cars.

The President also highlighted the $2.4 billion competitive grant program for advanced vehicle battery technology development included in the stimulus package, announcing some new details: The Department of Energy will award up to $1.5 billion in grants to U.S.-based manufacturers for battery and component production for plug-in hybrid vehicles. U.S.-based makers of electric-vehicle components, including motors, will get a smaller chunk — up to $500 million in grants.

Another $400 million will go toward demo projects for plug-in hybrids and “other electric infrastructure concepts,” according to a release from the DOE today, including truck-stop charging stations, electric rail and EV technician training.

Who’s in the running? Obama urged startups and larger companies to submit their ideas — and emphasized that Edison and its lab are hardly shoe-ins for funding:

Show us that your idea or your company is best-suited to meet America’s challenges, and we will give you a chance to prove it. And just because I’m here today doesn’t exempt all of you from that challenge — every company that wants a shot at these tax dollars has to prove their worth.

So, entrepreneurs: Start your plug-ins.

Photos courtesy Southern California Edison (top) and Whitehouse.gov

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