U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz visited UMass Boston on Friday to discuss America’s progress toward a carbon-free economy and the value of public education in hastening a clean-energy future.
Moniz, who was appointed by President Obama in 2013, addressed several important topics in a wide-ranging informal conversation with students, faculty, and members of the university’s new Sustainable Solutions Lab.
The Fall River native was back in his home state to visit the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center's Wind Technology Testing Center in Charlestown, and announce a new federal strategy for offshore wind development.
“We can legitimately think we are at a turning point in offshore wind,” Moniz said, citing a new facility in the waters off Rhode Island that is scheduled to be operational soon. “Europe has been doing it, but frankly with far less emphasis on innovation than we are bringing to the table.”
Some critics contend the United States is moving too slowly in its transition to greater use of renewable energy, but Moniz said that’s not the case.
"By any traditional measure, things have been happening pretty fast,” he said. “It wasn’t that long ago wind was 1 percent of electricity; now it’s 5.6. Solar was, roughly speaking, zero. Now it’s 1.”
“The energy business, traditionally, is very slow moving,” he said. “This is not throwing in the towel, this is just recognizing reality. … That’s the system within which we have to innovate.”
Moniz took several questions from the audience, including one about what role public universities can play in advancing the cause of clean energy.
“I think the thing, especially with a group like this, is you just have to keep working at elevating the public discourse," he said. "Some of that will be in your classrooms. We just have to elevate the public discourse.”
The secretary closed with a story about his recent hiking trip in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, where he received a spontaneous invitation to speak about energy issues to a room of about 30 people.
“The real challenge is, how do you schedule 4 million meetings with 30 people [apiece], and have candid, fact-based, sensible solutions,” he said.