Reactions to President Obama’s Energy Speech from Boston Technology Leaders

10/23/09Follow @wroush

Xconomy didn’t score a ticket to President Obama’s speech on clean energy at MIT today, so we can’t bring you a first-hand report. But we’ve got something that’s arguably even better: perspectives from a range of local community members who were inside MIT’s Kresge Auditorium for the speech, which took place at about 12:45 p.m. today. We invited people from across the local energy ecosystem—including students, entrepreneurs, investors, and policy leaders—to contribute their reactions to the President’s remarks.

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So, dig in. If you missed the President’s speech, MIT has posted the video here on the MIT World video portal. And if you were there, or you watched the video on the Internet, by all means share your thoughts in the comment section. (You may also want to check out this priceless CNN video of Hawaiian-shirt-clad Alex Slocum, a mechanical engineering professor at MIT, explaining his idea for undersea wind energy storage to President Obama, with MIT President Susan Hockfield, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and Senator John Kerry looking on.)

Nick d’Arbeloff, president, New England Clean Energy Council

Man, that guy is a rock star. It is just incredibly refreshing to see the leader of this nation speak so eloquently and forcefully about clean energy, after the eight years prior. This morning he toured a couple of labs at MIT, including, I believe, one lab that is actually using viruses to grow batteries, as opposed to assembling them. So he was exuding enthusiasm about what he had seen and his positive impressions of the innovation culture that exists within MIT and the broader region.

Needless to say, Obama gets it, and he gets it in a big way. Also attending were, of course, Governor Patrick, and Secretary Bowles, but also John Kerry, who has emerged as a major leader on energy as the Kerry-Boxer bill has made its debut. It’s hard not to look at this event, combined with Kerry’s bill, as the beginning of a new chapter in America’s journey to real climate leadership.

There is a very tough path to tread between here and some type of cap-and-trade bill in Congress, but the President was incredibly upbeat, and he made it clear that difficult odds have been overcome on many many occasions in our nation’s history, and he was confident that we would overcome the odds this time around.

In front of him were roughly 800 clean energy leaders and students whose interests lie within the energy field, and I think they walked away believing that—well, every day is a mixture of optimism and pessimism with regard to Congress and the U.S. energy future, but we have a leader in the Oval Office who is really not going to rest until he makes this one of his legacies. And it’s really nice to know, speaking as one agent of the clean energy revolution, that we’ve got Barack Obama at our backs.

I think it was cheerleading—but it was well-directed, well-received cheerleading. I don’t think there’s a lot to announce here. There are a lot of moving parts in Washington right now, and he could have enumerated all those different parts and he could have made bets on which part is going to move first, but I don’t think that would have made sense. More important is simply to say this battle will be joined and the war will be won.

This is a president who is completely committed to the value that science brings to the table, to the proposition that science and the exploration of scientific truth and the innovations that are derived from it are fundamental ingredients in our way out of this crisis. And granted, it wasn’t a big, honkin’ announcement, but science is a really important thing to stress. Put it this way: if this President had arrived at MIT with a history over the past 10 months of less commitment to clean energy and less commitment to scientific research and less commitment to climate leadership and then made a major announcement, that would be only a fraction as important as what has transpired instead, namely that the administration has been completely committed to clean energy. The fact that no major initiatives were announced today is, in that context, not a huge disappointment at all.

Gregg Dixon, senior vice president of marketing, EnerNOC (NASDAQ: ENOC)

My general impression is that President Obama is getting behind the promises he made on the campaign trail, and cleantech is certainly one of those promises. MIT is a great place to make a speech and to get people excited and to raise awareness. Very simply, it was an executive-level commercial for clean energy, to say ‘Let’s go.’ That can never hurt.

You want to go where you’ve got a friendly crowd if you’re going to push an issue, so that makes sense to me. But the proof is in the pudding. It’s a facade of a building that still needs to be built. You’ve got to build this clean energy economy. So simply throwing money at the problem and talking a great game doesn’t … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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