In a promising development for aspiring clean energy scientists, engineers, and technicians, the Obama administration's 2011 budget request includes a proposal for the nation's first comprehensive federal education initiative focused on the clean energy sector, called RE-ENERGYSE (Regaining our Energy Science and Engineering Edge).
The initiative was originally proposed by President Obama in his April 2009 speech to the National Academy of Sciences, which he said would inspire and train young Americans to "tackle the single most important challenge of their generation -- the need to develop cheap, abundant, clean energy and accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy."
If appropriated by Congress, RE-ENERGYSE will be coordinated by the Department of Energy (DOE) and National Science Foundation (NSF), beginning with an initial investment of $74 million in clean energy-related education at universities, community and technical colleges, and K-12 schools. This will include a new $50 million program within DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (see full proposal), a $5 million program in DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy (see full proposal), and a $19 million program within NSF (see overview and fact sheet). A summary of each program is included below. DOE's well-known Solar Decathlon is also proposed to become part of RE-ENERGYSE in FY2011.
This proposal comes after Congress rejected the original RE-ENERGYSE proposal in the administration's FY2010 budget request, despite support from over 100 universities, professional associations, and student groups. The administration was forced to reduce its request from $115 million to $74 million -- an unfortunate reduction, especially given the nation's lagging position in STEM education and the global clean-tech industry -- but the program is a very important step toward a full federal clean energy education initiative. Despite the current budgetary environment, the administration sees RE-ENERGYSE as a significant priority for supporting the nation's clean energy transition and improving U.S. competitiveness in this sector. As the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy wrote in its proposal:
"In order to make the leap in global energy technology leadership, the U.S. must also make the leap in energy education... This effort will help universities and community colleges develop cutting edge programs, with redesigned and new curricula to produce tens of thousands of other highly skilled U.S. workers who can sustain American excellence in clean energy in industry, trades, academia, the Federal government, and National Laboratories."
Indeed, universities and colleges have a critical role to play in accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy and reclaiming U.S. competitiveness in the global clean-tech race. Universities perform 54 percent of the nation's basic research, a fundamental building block of technological and scientific development. Universities and colleges are the training ground for the next generation of scientists, engineers, teachers, and leaders in government and industry. And universities are the launching ground for numerous entrepreneurial ventures to bring those innovations to the marketplace.
College students have a unique opportunity and an essential role to play in advancing this initiative. RE-ENERGYSE needs a much stronger base of support to pass Congress this year, especially in the current budgetary environment, and as the primary stakeholders in the program, students can be particularly influential in organizing a coalition of supporters and directly voicing their concerns to members of Congress. That's why Americans for Energy Leadership, Energy Crossroads, Associated Students of Stanford University, Scientists & Engineers for America, Breakthrough Generation, and a growing number of youth-led groups around the country are leading a student mobilization behind RE-ENERGYSE and working to advance larger federal energy education policy to build on this important program. See more at www.leadenergy.org and stay tuned!
Summary of RE-ENERGYSE FY2011 Programs:
DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy summarizes its program as follows: "RE-ENERGYSE will develop leading edge undergraduate and graduate programs; help between 3,000 and 6,000 highly educated scientists, engineers, and other professionals enter the clean energy field by 2016; and approximately 7,000 to 13,000 professionals by 2021. By 2016, efforts will result in the development of approximately 75 community college and other training programs to equip thousands of technically skilled workers for clean energy jobs. By 2016, thousands of U.S. residents and students will be educated about clean energy technologies leading and cost saving benefits [from energy efficiency]."
DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy summarizes its program as follows: "This program will provide important educational support to bolster nuclear engineering and science programs at U.S. universities, which supports continued use of nuclear power... RE-ENERGYSE supports university nuclear engineering programs through scholarships and fellowships. These fellowships will complement existing Federal efforts and will help ensure that the next generation of scientists and engineers are available to support existing and future nuclear energy generation capacity and provide necessary innovation... In FY 2011, the RE-ENERGYSE program plans to fund approximately 88 one-year scholarships and 30 three-year fellowships to students enrolled in nuclear energy-related fields of study of disciplines at U.S. universities and two-year colleges."
National Science Foundation summarizes its program as follows: "In FY 2011, NSF will invest roughly $19.0 million in RE-ENERGYSE through five existing research and education programs that help develop the future STEM workforce. These programs provide fellowships, traineeships, and research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as build collaboration between academia and industry. NSF will contribute at least 5 percent of its support for the following programs towards specific, energy-related awards: Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF); Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12); Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT); Support for community colleges through Advanced Technological Education (ATE); and Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) sites."