To address the climate crisis, Granholm been hosting clean energy summits modeled after the ambitious moonshot program that led to landing Americans on the moon in 1969. The DOE’s Energy Earthshots Initiative focuses on bringing together key players to figure out how to accelerate breakthroughs in “linchpin” technologies in the quest for clean energy. A Hydrogen Shot Summit took place at the end of August, and committed to a goal of reducing the cost of clean hydrogen by 80 percent within the next decade. The Long Duration Storage Shot happened a few weeks later, and set a target of reducing the cost of grid-scale energy storage by 90% – also within the next decade. The DOE plans to hold half a dozen more Energy Earthshots over the next year.
And by investing in these promising technologies and cultivating public-private partnerships, the Biden administration expects to develop clean energy industries that will support well-paying union jobs, as well as reverse the harmful effects of human activity on our climate.
These 21st century imperatives were scarcely a gleam in the eye when the Department of Energy was created in 1977 in response to a series of energy crises. This was happening during a decade of rising oil consumption in America and other countries in the Western world, while domestic oil production was waning. At the same time, tensions in the Middle East led to crippling embargos by oil exporting nations. Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter all had suffered through these events, and recognized the need for a more cohesive approach toward energy policy.
As a new Cabinet-level department established during President Jimmy Carter’s administration, the DOE was assigned a portfolio of various fuel- and energy-related programs that had arisen at various times over the past century and previously were scattered throughout the Federal government. The DOE developed a framework that coordinated all of those federal agency functions. It centralized energy data collection and analysis, developed energy regulatory programs, and marketed federal power. The Department also became responsible for promoting energy conservation programs, and for funding long-term research and development of energy technology.
And finally, the DOE assumed oversight of America’s nuclear capabilities.
The United States had gotten involved in nuclear weapons development during World War II. (To put this in perspective, remember that only 50 years earlier, Americans were marveling at the invention of electric light bulbs at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition.) The Manhattan Project tapped some of America’s most brilliant minds in a secretive effort to build a nuclear bomb that would defeat the enemy. Following the successful – and horrifically deadly – detonation of those weapons, Americans reacted with a combination of relief to see the war come to an end, but misgivings about the destruction that had been unleashed. President Harry Truman, who had authorized dropping the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, vowed to safeguard the technical processes of production until further intensive research might demonstrate “how atomic power can become a powerful and forceful influence towards the maintenance of world peace.”
The Manhattan Project's work at the B Reactor at the Hanford Site in Washington State was kept so secret during World War II that even the workers did not know they were working on plutonium that went go into the bomb dropped on Nagasaki - until they read about it in the paper afterwards.