Reframing the Energy Discussion: Cubic Miles of Oil

Courtesy of Shutterstock.

In 2006, the world finally surpassed an enormous benchmark: the consumption of one cubic mile of oil each year. That’s equivalent to 1.1. trillion gallons or 26 billion barrels of oil.

In the conversation surrounding energy consumption, it can be hard to keep interest and sustain any meaningful dialogue as commentators must often wade through various units and conversions in discussing new energy sources. How does a Btu compare to a kWh? How many barrels of oil does it take to produce the same amount of energy as a ton of coal? Continue reading

Subcomittee Investigates Nonproliferation Metrics for Defense, Energy

On Tuesday, June 12, the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities investigated the determining metrics for nonproliferation programs.

The meeting, which was led by Senators Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Rob Portman of Ohio, featured testimonies from Madelyn Creedon, the assistant secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs, Anne Harrington, the deputy administrator for the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation with the National Nuclear Security Administration at the Department of Energy, and Kenneth Myers, the director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and of the U.S. Strategic Command Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction. Continue reading

FAS Roundup- February 13, 2012

FAS Roundup: February 13, 2012

New report on future of nuclear power, DoD inspector takes on classification oversight,  freedom of the press and much more.


  • On February 8, 2012, FAS honored Dr. Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy, and Dr. Richard A. Meserve, president of the Carnegie Institution for Science, at a dinner event in Washington, DC. Secretary Chu was recognized with the Hans Bethe Award and Dr. Meserve received the inaugural Richard L. Garwin Award for distinguished service. The evening’s Master of Ceremonies was John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Science Adviser to the President. The distinguished guests included Congressman Rush Holt, General Brent Scowcroft, Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Gregory Jaczko, NRC Commissioners Kristine Svinicki, George Apostolakis and William Ostendorff, and FAS Board Members. Stay tuned to our website next week for video of the event.
  • FAS also released a new report produced by FAS and Washington and Lee University at a briefing on Capitol Hill on February 8, 2012. The report, on the future of nuclear power in the United States, was written by a distinguished group of experts who provided insights about the safety, security, building, financing, licensing, regulating, and fueling of nuclear power plants.  Speakers at the event included authors Dr. Albert Carr Jr., Mr. Stephen Maloney, Dr. Ivan Oelrich and Ms. Sharon Squassoni. Dr. Charles Ferguson and Dr. Frank Settle, editors of the report, served as moderators of the panel.

New Report on Nuclear Power

From the Blogs

  • Detention of U.S. Persons: What is the Existing Law?: When Congress passed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, it included provisions that authorized U.S. armed forces to detain persons who are captured in the conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces. However, Congress also said that those provisions did not provide any new authority to detain U.S. citizens or others who may be captured in the United States.
  • DoD Inspector General Takes on Classification Oversight: In a move that can only strengthen and improve oversight of the national security classification system, the Department of Defense Inspector General has begun a far-reaching review of Pentagon classification policy. Among other things, the Inspector General review will focus on “efforts by the Department to decrease over-classification.”
  • A Profession Nobody’s Heard Of: What does a health physicist do? Health physics is the profession that deals with radiation safety for people and the environment. Currently, there is a shortage of health physicists in the United States, and the majority of those running radiation safety programs are not trained radiation safety professionals. Dr. Y writes about what exactly a health physicist does, and their importance to the scientific community.
  • Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin Online: The Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin is a quarterly journal published by the U.S. Army to promote awareness and discussion of current topics in military intelligence.  Although unclassified, the Bulletin is not made available online by the Army. Recent volumes can be found on the FAS website.
  • Leaks, National Security, and Freedom of the Press:  A new book, “Who Watches the Watchman” by Gary Ross, explores the the phenomenon of leaks from multiple angles, including their history, their prevalence and their consequences.  Most interestingly, he considers the diverse motivations of leakers and of the reporters who solicit, receive and publish their disclosures. Some of these he finds defensible, and others not.
  • The Radium Age: A century ago, people used radium to treat diseases (such as cancer) and even consumed to help one’s overall health. Radium was also used in products such as watch dials and fishing tackle. With today’s hypersensitivity to radiation this is hard to believe – but one of the reasons for today’s hypersensitivity to radiation might actually have something to do with the profligacy of earlier decades.

Volunteer Opportunity for DC Members

  • FAS will have a booth at the 2nd Annual USA Science and Engineering Festival which will be held on April 28-29 in Washington, DC. We are looking for volunteers to staff our booth-come share your knowledge and career experiences with festival attendees! If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Melanie Stegman at [email protected].For more information on our booth and the festival, click here.     

FAS in the News

Future of Nuclear Energy in the United States

Will Nuclear Power in the United States See a Revival This Decade?


Background resources on nuclear energy

WASHINGTON (February 8, 2012) – In the wake of the devastating meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, many Americans are now reevaluating the costs and benefits of nuclear energy. If anything, the accident underscores that constant vigilance is needed to ensure nuclear safety. Policymakers and the public need more guidance about where nuclear power in the United States appears to be headed in light of the economic hurdles confronting construction of nuclear power plants, aging reactors, and a graying workforce, according to a report made public today by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and Washington and Lee University.

Continue reading

FAS Roundup- November 7, 2011

Letter to the Obama administration regarding nuclear budget, new podcast highlighting sustainable energy and water security, 2011 intelligence budget spending on the decline and  more.


From the Blogs

  • Prospects Fade for a Separate Intelligence Budget: Steven Aftergood writes about the National Intelligence Program budget, which will mostly remain hidden in the Department of Defense budget for the foreseeable future; it will not be given a separate budget line item or a separate appropriation despite the efforts of budget reformers and intelligence community leaders.

Continue reading

We Need Clean Energy R&D: Where are the Investors?

By Carrie R. Williams, FAS Intern

There is broad consensus that clean energy investments are critical to the long term stability, security and economic welfare of the United States.  Rep. Paul Tonka (D-NY) recently said, “We cannot cut our way to number one.  If we are to stay competitive as a nation in the long term, we must invest in new technologies, clean energy and job creation.”  But who will make the investment?

Globally, in 2010 governments invested more than $5 billion in renewable energy research and development (R&D).   By comparison, the United States invested $5 billion for all energy R&D during the same period.

In FY2012, the total proposed budget for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)—the lead financial supporter of energy R&D in the United States—is  $29.5 billion, with $3.2 billion going to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and $550 million for Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E).  This would represent an 11.8% increase over FY2010.  However, the House of Representatives is seeking to terminate ARPA-E and decrease EERE funding by $786.3 million for FY2012—drastically cutting the clean energy R&D budget of the federal government.

Within the DOE, EERE and ARPA-E hold the bulk of the clean energy R&D budget.  The EERE mission focuses on strengthening the United States’ energy security, environmental quality and economic vitality through public-private partnerships.  This office seeks to accomplish this mission by financially supporting organizations that work to enhance energy efficiency and productivity and/or bring clean, reliable and affordable renewable energy technologies into the marketplace.  Modeled on the DARPA funding framework, which has funded basic research to create the computer, among other technologies, ARPA-E funds high-risk, high-reward energy ventures.  Created in the America COMPETES Act, ARPA-E’s mission is to fund innovative energy technology projects with the potential to reduce foreign energy imports, cut energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and improve efficiency across the sector.  For example, in the first round of proposals ARPA-E funded projects related to axial-flow wind turbines and crystalline silicon wafers.

Additional energy R&D and early commercialization funding is also provided through tax benefits, grants, loans and contracts created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.  This stimulus bill created $260 billion in energy tax credits for companies and consumers, with the goal of improving the market penetration and share of efficient, clean energy technologies. However, these tax credits either have expired or will expire in 2011.

Along with tax credits, DOE also received $1.4 billion in supplemental loans, grants, and contracts for R&D which is distributed between the Office of Science, fossil energy research and development, general science and research activities and the Innovative Technology Guaranteed Loan Financing programs.

With the ARRA money ending and the DOE clean energy R&D budget likely to shrink, researchers and early commercial investors must look to alternative sources of funding and capital.

What are their options?

Chief amongst the likely energy R&D funders will be: private investors both domestic and foreign, universities, and big corporations.

In 2010, venture investment in clean energy companies rose to $5.1 billion in the United States, 23% of all venture capital investment for the year.  Meanwhile, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports that in 2010, renewable energy investment worldwide rose to $211 billion.  While the majority of this funding goes to finance large scale deployoment projects rather than R&D or early commercialization activities, the level of financing indicates there is great interest in renewable and clean energy technologies as good monetary investments.

Large corporations that rely heavily on fossil fuels are beginning to turn to renewable and sustainable energy sources; while not a traditional source of clean energy investment, they are likely to prove to be a valuable source of R&D and commercialization funding.  Google – a company whose data centers uses 0.01% of the world’s total electricity consumption in 2010– is looking to invest $350 million in the renewable energy industry.  According to Google Green, Google has cofounded the Climate Savers Computing as well as joined The Green Grid.  These two groups are dedicated to improving efficiency and sustainability standards for computers and data centers around the world in order to reach a goal of a size zero carbon footprint. Big corporations are looking to reduce their reliance on foreign oil and reduce their impact on the environment; moreover, the cash funding available to many large firms – especially those in the technology sector – provide clean energy R&D entrepreneurs with the support needed to commercialize and develop bigger and better things in the future.

With federal funding likely on the decline, a larger percentage of energy R&D responsibilities may also fall to research universities in the U.S., including internationally recognized public universities such as Colorado State University (CSU), which has programs and researchers looking into alternative fuels, clean engines, solar energy production capabilities, “smart” grid technology, wind engineering, water resources and much more.  However, in the current weak economy, public universities – even those with the best programs and most brilliant researchers – face a high risk of budget cuts that impact hiring and merit scholarships to attract the best talent, as well as investments in laboratory facilities and new research projects.

Private universities such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) make significant contributions to the clean energy R&D industry through research and patents as well as financial opportunities.  In 2008, Transformative Integrated Power Structure (TIPS) was developed by electrical engineers at MIT to increase the efficiency of power conversion in semiconductors, which will be cr.  TIPS has been patented and commercialized by a start-up, Arctic Sand after testing proved it reduced power losses by 50-75%.  Arctic Sand was able to capitalize on MIT intuitive research to reach out to the core market of data centers as a way to increase energy efficiency where it is needed the most.

With the United States facing the largest budget deficit it has ever seen, the federal government is committed to cut spending and reduce the deficit over the next 10 years by $1.5 trillion.  The clean energy sector can no longer depend upon federal government funding and must reach out to alternative and even unconventional sources for development support.  Reaching out to domestic and foreign investors, university led R&D and commercialization ventures, and corporate funding all have a role to play.

As Mike Bowlin, chairman and CEO of ARCO said in 1999, “We’ve embarked on the beginning of the last days of the age of oil.  Embrace the future and recognize the growing demand for a wide range of fuels or ignore reality and slowly – but surely – be left behind.”  The United States cannot afford to be left behind when the reality of federal funding slips away.  The country, its clean energy entrepreneurs, and its investors must continue to push forward the state of clean energy technology and market penetration before it’s too late.