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Day two of the Google.org-Brookings Institution conference was punctuated by a panel moderated by Tom Friedman. The lively discussion covered topics including policy leadership, innovative business models, the potential for plug-ins to become ‘greener’ over time, and the security and stability of the grid. Two important themes emerged – the importance of plug-ins and clean energy for U. S. economic competitiveness and the policy and leadership needed to make this industry transformation a reality.
Jon Wellinghoff, Commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), surprised many in the audience by describing the 40 million electric vehicles on the road today in China (many of which are scooters) and emphatically argued that the grid is ready for plug-ins today. John Podesta, President of the Center for American Progress, credited Germany’s feed-in tariff with creating a vibrant solar industry in Germany and causing the U. S. market share of the global solar industry to decline from 45% to 10%. Assistant Secretary of Energy Andy Karsner announced a $30 million Department of Energy investment in plug-in vehicle technology. Sue Tierney talked about the fact that leadership on plug-ins is currently happening outside of Washington at the state level and within the business community. Finally, Congressman Jay Inslee inspired the crowd by suggesting that we need visionary leadership on plug-in vehicles and renewable energy, likening the climate crisis to the challenge put forth by John F. Kennedy when he launched the Apollo program to put a man on the moon in 10 years.