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.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.
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 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.