Has the recession affected what you do?
The answer is profoundly. Were it not for the policies in the stimulus bill, America would be out of the energy business. The capital markets to fund new solar—the capital markets are terrible. What has happened is Congress has said, "We want to see this kind of work funded."
More secure Department of Energy loan guarantees. There is funding for R&D. I am very optimistic.
Are you optimistic about the long-run?
There has never been a time to be more optimistic than right now. Obama has put together the dream team to work on energy and energy policy. I'm really privileged to be on the outside advising them. If you look at the team, they've got Cathy Zoi [DOE assistant secretary for and renewable energy], they've got Matt Rogers [a former McKinsey executive and now senior adviser to Energy Secretary Steven Chu]. He's creating four investment banks within the Department of Energy—here's $80 billion we want to invest really wisely. There's Carol Browner in the White House. We've got leadership in Congress that understands these matters—Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi. This is an A-Team.
You were tapped for the p resident's economic advisory board back in February. What has your role been?
I think this president has said he is not interested in being trapped inside the echo chamber of Washington, D.C. [Our goal] is to provide outside advice directly to him about what we can do to get our economy going. He's juggling a lot of balls at once. I think he's going to achieve his agenda. I think he's going to make sure this isn't a jobless recovery. I am an American, a grateful kid from St. Louis, and I think we've all got a responsibility to the generations to come to ensure that America is a leader for the planet.
Which brings me back to batteries. Regardlesss of whether or not the Earth is warming and it's caused by humans, the United States needs better energy storage to kick the foreign oil habit. Unproven electric vehicle programs aren't going to get us there. Only better batteries. Yawn.
Note: many people who read an article like this ask, "How much does that cost?" If you're really truly cynical and you discount all human effort outside of pure money changing hands (which is incalculable unless you go by lobbyist fees), then the figure for $1bil in funding may be around $2Mil. At least, that's how one might read the Wall Street Journal's numbers. I'm not cynical like you though.