Tuesday, June 24, 2008

McCain: $300 Million for New Battery

McCain proposes a new way to advance the development of electric vehicles:

The Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting is proposing a $300 million government prize to whomever can develop an automobile battery that far surpasses existing technology.

The bounty would equate to $1 for every man, woman and child in the country, "a small price to pay for helping to break the back of our oil dependency," McCain said in remarks prepared for delivery Monday at Fresno State University in California.

McCain said such a device should deliver power at 30 percent of current costs and have "the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars."
I like the idea of using contests to spur innovation. Besides the money, the fame of winning also works as motivation for researchers to get involved. Other similar prizes I like are the X Prize has $100 million set aside for challenge in clean fuels and Richard Branson has $25 million set aside for the first person to create a CO2 scrubber. The development of self driving cars was also spurred along by DARPA's Grand Challenge.

I am not sure about the specifics of whether $300 million for a battery that delivers power at 30% of current costs is the right way to structure the prize, but an improved battery is a key technology that is needed.

A while back I proposed the idea of a $2 a gallon tax on gasoline to fund grand challenges in renewable energy, with one goal being the development of a battery such as McCain proposes. I still think this is a good idea, although I proposed this back when gasoline was $2.5 a gallon. I would ease the tax in now as gasoline prices drop down making sure we don't get over $5 a gallon in the short term, but also setting $4 a gallon as a minimum price going forward.

Here was Obama's response to McCain's plan:
After all those years in Washington, John McCain still doesn’t get it. I commend him for his desire to accelerate the search for a battery that can power the cars of the future. I’ve been talking about this myself for the last few years. But I don’t think a $300 million prize is enough. When John F. Kennedy decided that we were going to put a man on the moon, he didn’t put a bounty out for some rocket scientist to win – he put the full resources of the United States government behind the project and called on the ingenuity and innovation of the American people. That’s the kind of effort we need to achieve energy independence in this country, and nothing less will do.
I agree with him that $300 million by itself is not enough. I proposed $300 billion a year with the gasoline tax, but that was to cover other advancements in renewable energy as well.

But, he seems to be against the idea of a contest, if I understand him correctly, deriding it a "bounty out for some rocket scientist to win". Not sure if he is aware that Google is doing just that with their $30 million Lunar X PRIZE for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit video, images and data back to the Earth. I don't get how putting the "full resources of the United States government and the ingenuity and innovation of the American people" is mutually exclusive with using contests.

Hopefully the next president will put serious resources behind the advancement of clean renewable energy and use contests as a method of energizing researchers to develop these new technologies.


Audacious Epigone said...

Not to be overly cynical, but might it be that Obama doesn't like free enterprise in any form?

Fat Knowledge said...


Funny you should write that. Just after I read your comment, I was over at Andrew Sullivan's blog where he had the following remark on McCain's proposal:

McCain really doesn't get market economics, does he?

Apparently you are anti-market if you are either for or against this proposal. :)

And let me just say that I am pro-market except for when I am not. :)

For, me the proposal is anti-free enterprise, but I support it because I believe there are externalities to gasoline that make the price we are paying non-reflective of the true cost. This means that a free market doesn't give you the optimal level of consumption.

So, I am all for government intervention to decrease usage of oil and support for development of alternatives.

As for how the government should disburse that money to speed up development, I like contests. I also like government funded R&D on subjects that have a long payback timeframe (15+ years) where industry is unlikely to invest.I am not sure what Obama has in mind.

In general I am having a hard time figuring out what the economic philosophy of Obama, Obamanomics, really is. To what extent does he support free trade? How about balanced budgets? You take a look at the economists he is surrounding himself with and they seem centrist to me (pro free trade, pro balanced budgets, government run social security and universal health care) but his rhetoric doesn't come across that way. I am not sure how he would govern.

Audacious Epigone said...


Makes sense to me too, where the risk factor due simply to such a long duration is so high.

Re: Obama's governance, he doesn't want you to know. Why would he? His whiterpeople and black constituencies definitely do not care about the same things--there is very little overlap, really. And 'Obamacons' or whatever they're fancied as are probably going to mostly be disappointed with his liberalism which they're currently unaware of, since Obama is so good at coherently summarizing the conservative position on a host of things, which Obamacons take to mean that he is politically moderate and that he understands them--maybe the latter, but that doesn't mean he agrees with them in the least.

Fat Knowledge said...


You know I have been disappointed by both Obama and McCain in how they are running conventional Democratic and Republican campaigns. I thought we would see more attempt to get independents by having unconventional positions. The rebel McCain seems to have lost all his rebellious positions and the uniter Obama doesn't appear to be offering any new approaches that could redraw political lines.

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