By JOHN M. BRODER/NYT
WASHINGTON — The United States is badly lagging in basic research on new forms of energy, deepening the nation’s dependence on dirty fuels and crippling its international competitiveness, a diverse group of business executives warn in a study to be released Thursday.
Bill Gates said the lack of energy research hurt American’s competitive standing.
Jeffrey Immelt, of General Electric.
The group, which includes Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft; Jeffrey R. Immelt, chief executive of General Electric; and John Doerr, a top venture capitalist, urges the government to more than triple spending on energy research and development, to $16 billion a year. And it recommends creation of a national energy board to guide investment decisions toward radical advances in energy technology.
Mr. Gates said in an interview that drastic changes were needed in the way the United States produced and consumed energy to assure its security and to begin to address climate change. He endorsed the administration’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, but said that was not possible with today’s technology or politics.
“Among all the swirl of different ideas of how to raise the money and how to regulate carbon,” he said, “there is no way either in this country or internationally you’re going to come close to meeting an 80 percent reduction unless you have an immense breakthrough.”
He said that the only way to find such disruptive new technology was to pour large sums of money at the problem, with the clear understanding that any number of ventures would fail before the eureka moment arrived.
Mr. Gates and his fellow executives are stepping forward at what may prove a pivotal moment in American energy policy. Oil continues to spew from a crippled well in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration is pushing for a new approach to energy and climate policy and the Senate is about to embark on a debate on a set of conflicting proposals that pit not only Republicans against Democrats but different regions of the country against each other.
There is no assurance that this latest effort will produce new ideas or bear fruit.
The executive group, which calls itself the American Energy Innovation Council, will propose a series of measures that it hopes will transcend the politics of the moment and put the nation on a path to a different energy future.
The group notes that the federal government spends less than $5 billion a year on energy research and development, not counting one-time stimulus projects. About $30 billion is spent annually on health research and more than $80 billion on military R.& D. They advocate a jump in spending on basic energy research because the private sector cannot provide that level of capital for unproven technologies, but do not say where the new money can be found.
“When our company shifted our attention to clean energy, we found the innovation cupboard was close to bare,” said John Doerr, of the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. “My partners and I found the best fuel cells, the best energy storage and the best wind technology were all born outside of the United States.”
Mr. Gates said the group had not yet identified any potential breakthrough technologies, but was looking at advances in known energy sources — nuclear power, solar and wind — as well as in technology to store electricity and capture carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel plants.
The group says that the nation must put a price on carbon emissions, but does not endorse a single method like a tax or a cap-and-trade scheme. “There are many paths,” Mr. Gates said, “but there are problems on every single path. What you need is a strategy that identifies those blocks — whether it is science, economics or regulation — and breaks through them.”
The business group, which also includes Norman R. Augustine, the former chairman of Lockheed Martin; Ursula M. Burns, chief executive of Xerox; Charles O. Holliday, former chief executive of DuPont; and Theodore M. Solso, chairman of Cummins, plan to announce the project on Thursday morning, then meet with Congressional leaders and with President Obama.
Jason S. Grumet, the president of the Bipartisan Policy Center and an adviser to the group, said that what set this effort apart was not only the members of the panel but the moment in American history.
“In the shadow of the tragedy in the gulf,” Mr. Grumet said, “to have people who are iconic figures in the fabric of the American economy saying it’s time to choose our energy future creates the possibility of a Sputnik moment in the American political dialogue.”