Ambassador David H. Thorne
12 February 2010
Remarks by Ambassador Thorne at the Conference “Global Energy Demand: Scenarios and Strategies for Uniting Development, Innovation, and the Environment”, February 12, 2010
Young Conference Room, U.S. Embassy
Good morning. Welcome to the U.S. Embassy. I am really delighted that we are able to host this event today. At the start I’d like to recognize and thank our co-host partners: ESSO Italia and the non-profit association Environmental Sustainability and Energy Sources or SAFE. Thank you for working with us on this event.
As President Obama’s personal representative in Italy, I can assure you that the topics that will be discussed here today are among the most important issues that the Administration is grappling with.
I know that ExxonMobil will be presenting its “Outlook for Energy: A View to 2030” and I look forward to learning about what they see in their crystal ball. But I’d like to start out this morning by offering some comments on the energy panorama that the U.S. government would hope to see if we were to look into a crystal ball aimed at Europe in 2030.
When we look though that crystal ball, we hope to see a lot more use of truly renewable forms of energy. We hope to see more windmills, more solar panels, more innovative use of second-generation biofuels, and more use of geothermal energy. Around the world there are promising technologies that make use of the power in sea waves and tides. There is great hope for breakthroughs in solar technology that will allow us to exploit the vast, and largely untapped potential of solar energy. President Obama clearly sees the potential here – not just the energy potential, but the economic potential – the potential to create a green economy in which people will find their jobs and careers in the businesses that will develop and deploy these new and improved technologies. In his State of the Union Address in January, he promised that his Administration will act decisively to catalyze innovation and economic growth, noting that “no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy.”
One U.S. start-up which has invested here in Lazio is producing groundbreaking solar arrays, with special lenses mounted in such a way that they can produce more energy, using less space than traditional solar panels. And Italian thermodynamic solar technology, using molten salts, is enabling solar plants to provide power even when it is cloudy or at night. As we look to 2030, we can envision not only industrial-scale solar energy installations, but also houses in which windows and roofs produce electricity that is then sold back to the grid – an area in which Italy has important experience that it has shared with the world through the Major Economies Forum Global Partnership.
Another thing to keep in mind when we talk about 2030 is to remember that just as none of us knew what a Twitter or a Blackberry was twenty years ago, twenty years from now we will certainly be using technologies that none of us even imagine today. It is important that all of us – those of us in government and those in the private sector – do what we can to foster the academic and research environments that will make these breakthroughs possible.
I know that bio-fuels – especially corn-based ethanol—have had their critics in recent years, but I don’t think we should lose sight of the enormous potential that bio-fuels hold. Our Department of Energy, for example, is now working on cellulosic ethanol projects that would use breakthroughs in genetics – the genome revolution -- to develop fast-growing poplar trees that could then be quickly processed into ethanol. One of the keys to producing the bioenergy of the future is converting this cellulose into fuel, so we can also use plant stalks and agricultural waste products that don’t compete with food production. U.S. Department of Energy and Italian researchers are working on this, by studying the genome of a fungus that attacks grapes, to try to find exactly the right fungus to break down cellulose. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Italian technology experts are also developing a better way to gasify woodchips, so waste from furniture factories could safely be used to power the factories and their neighbors. By 2030, we may well find that the fungus that was the scourge of Puglia’s grape industry, and the waste that seemed like nothing more than a disposal problem, will be the sources of energy that heat our homes and power our computers.
In his State of the Union speech, President Obama spoke of his administration’s plans to re-launch nuclear power in the United States. We strongly support the Italian government’s plans to return Italy to nuclear power. Right now, we are all talking about Third Generation nuclear plants, but looking ahead to 2030, we expect to see significant progress toward Generation IV plants. Some of these designs, called fast reactors, promise to address two key nuclear power problems: a looming shortage of fuel, and the long-standing problem of nuclear waste. Italian and U.S. scientists are already hard at work together, as part of the Generation IV International Forum, on developing designs that will reduce the amount of radioactive waste produced and will produce more energy from the original amount of fuel.
Let me add here that we believe that American firms have a lot to offer Italy and other European countries as they return to nuclear power, and we expect these firms to be given fair opportunities to compete for contracts.
One of the things that we would like to see in that crystal ball would be improved ENERGY SECURITY. What we are saying is that we would hope to see Europe take steps to reduce the vulnerability that inevitably comes when a country or a region is very dependent on one single supplier. We see a lot of ways in which energy security can be enhanced, many ways in which vulnerabilities can be reduced: By 2030, for example, we hope to see pipelines bringing gas directly to Western Europe from the Caspian Region. We also hope to see more pipelines bringing natural gas in from North Africa. LNG plants make it possible for gas from all around the world to be used here in Europe. By 2030, we hope we will see a more thorough integration of energy markets in Europe.
Discussion of energy also brings us to the issue of climate change. Obviously no responsible discussion of the energy panorama for 2030 can fail to discuss this important topic. You all know that climate change is one of the top concerns of the Obama administration. This administration has made a commitment to reduce U.S. carbon emissions by about 17 percent by 2020, and by more than 80 percent by 2050. We know that the EU will be making similar efforts. We hope that other big emitters – especially China and India – will by 2030 have joined us in reducing emissions.
This, of course, implies much greater use of renewable energy, much greater efficiency in energy use, and the use of new technologies – like carbon capture and storage – to reduce carbon emissions and the global warming that all of us know results from these emissions.
So there you have it. That’s our vision of the energy panorama for 2030: Increased use of nuclear power, and renewable energy. More integrated and competitive energy markets. Enhanced energy security brought about through the greater diversity of supply, and greater diversity of routes for shipment. And most important of all, the kind of reduction in carbon emissions that will be consistent with the long-term survival of our planetary eco-system.
I look forward to learning more about ExxonMobil’s outlook, and about the ideas of other people here today. Thank you all, and again, welcome to the U.S. Embassy.