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Friday, November 28, 2014         

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Federal spending on basic high-tech research helps Hawaii

By Pui Lam

POSTED:



At the second annual Asia-Pacific Clean Energy Summit this week in Honolulu, there will likely be plenty of discussion about how to achieve the state's audacious goal of supplying 70 percent of its energy needs with clean sources by 2030.

The event began Monday and ends tomorrow at the Hawaii Convention Center, with an estimated 800 attendees from 19 nations.

The state's Clean Energy Initiative is an admirable goal, but replacing most of Hawaii's energy sources with clean ones will require a sustained federal investment in basic research. The technologies needed are not available today at a reasonable cost.

Past investments have boosted our innovation capacity, strengthened our global competitiveness and created high-skilled, high-wage jobs. Additionally, more than half of growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) of the U.S. during the last 50 years is due to investments in science and technology.

Investing in basic research has led to innovations such as the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), GPS (global positioning systems) and the laser.

In Hawaii, our technology sector is one of the smallest in the country, ranking 46th among states, with 15,019 jobs, according to TechAmerica, a trade group based in Washington, D.C.

Recently, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye took a step toward strengthening the state's high-tech economy and laying the groundwork for clean energy by voting to fund the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science budget at nearly the $5 billion requested by President Barack Obama.

Inouye also voted for the president's requests for NASA, $5 billion, and for the National Science Foundation, $6 billion. Scientists in Hawaii whose work is funded by these agencies are engaged in research aimed at improving solar energy and electric batteries, to name a few projects.

Obama's funding requests would keep the agencies on track to double their budgets by the middle of the decade, a quest begun under President George W. Bush. Unfortunately, the House Appropriations Committee recently proposed cutting funding for the Office of Science, which would limit our country's potential for scientific innovation.

The office's budget is about one-tenth of 1 percent of the federal budget, but it does much more than simply expand our knowledge. Many physicists conduct basic research that will drive our economy in the future. In particular, the laser -- invented 50 years ago -- has become a critical component in industries and products accounting for nearly half of our country's GDP, according to a study by physicists Fred Schlacter and Thomas Baer.

There is leading laser research in Hawaii. Scientists and engineers are using lasers to monitor greenhouse gases, improve the efficiency of renewable energy production and develop low-cost, high-efficient photovoltaic panels.

As Congress moves forward with this year's budget, I urge our congressional delegation to support investments for a new generation of energy sources and a high-tech economy in the state by funding basic research.

With the challenges our country faces, now is the time to invest in science, a proven solution to our problems.






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