By Frank James
How many physicists does it take to change the White House light bulbs? Apparently one if he's Nobel laureate Steven Chu.
In an effort to show just how serious his administration is about energy efficiency, President Barack Obama said Chu would be working on replacing the White House light bulbs to more efficient models.
Obama alerted us to Chu's work to make the White House lighting more energy efficient as part of a larger administration effort to lobby the Senate and the nation beyond for climate-change legislation which the House passed on Friday but which still faces an difficult uphill slog in the Senate.
Beyond the symbolism of changing the White House light bulbs, Obama said his administration's efforts included new efficiency standards for lighting which, he said, would save copious amounts of energy.
For instance, the president said the new standards would save so much energy over a 30-year period, that Americans would be able to power their homes and businesses for 10 months with the savings. The president hoped that statistic would have enough of a "wow" factor to get people's attention. That remains to be seen.
An excerpt from the president's remarks:
The first step we're taking sets new efficiency standards on fluorescent and incandescent lighting. Now I know light bulbs may not seem sexy, but this simple action holds enormous promise because 7 percent of all the energy consumed in America is used to light our homes and our businesses. Between 2012 and 2042, these new standards will save consumers up to $4 billion a year, conserve enough electricity to power every home in America for 10 months, reduce emissions equal to the amount produced by 166 million cars each year, and eliminate the need for as many as 14 coal-fired power plants.
And by the way, we're going to start here at the White House. Secretary Chu has already started to take a look at our light bulbs, and we're going to see what we need to replace them with energy-efficient light bulbs.
And if we want to make our economy run more efficiently, we've also got to make our homes and businesses run more efficiently. And that's why we're also speeding up a $346 million investment under the Recovery Act to expand and accelerate the development, deployment, and use of energy-efficient technologies in residential and commercial buildings, which consume almost 40 percent of the energy we use and contribute to almost 40 percent of the carbon pollution we produce.
We're talking about technologies that are available right now or will soon be available -- from lighting to windows, heating to cooling, smart sensors and controls. By adopting these technologies in our homes and businesses, we can make our buildings up to 80 percent more energy efficient -- or with additions like solar panels on the roof or geothermal power from underground, even transform them into zero-energy buildings that actually produce as much energy as they consume.
Now, progress like this might seem far-fetched. But the fact is we're not lacking for ideas and innovation. All we lack are the smart policies and the political will to help us put our ingenuity to work. And when we put aside the posturing and the politics; when we put aside attacks that are based less on evidence than on ideology; then a simple choice emerges.
We can remain the world's leading importer of oil, or we can become the world's leading exporter of clean energy. We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc, or we can create jobs utilizing low-carbon technologies to prevent its worst effects. We can cede the race for the 21st century, or we can embrace the reality that our competitors already have: The nation that leads the world in creating a new clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy.
That's our choice: between a slow decline and renewed prosperity; between the past and the future.