February 17, 2017
Capitol Update

In this issue:


As part of its energy oversight series of hearings, the House Science Committee held a hearing on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) loan guarantee programs. Titled, “Risky Business: The DOE Loan Guarantee Program,” the hearing focused on oversight of the DOE’s loan guarantee programs, with the aim of examining the market impact and risks associated with federal direct loans and loan guarantees for energy innovation.

The DOE’s loan programs began in 2005 with the creation of loans for a broad category of clean energy technologies, including nuclear and carbon capture and sequestration technology. An additional loan program was created in 2007 to bolster the U.S. auto industry, focusing on loans for a range of advanced vehicle manufacturing technologies. The DOE Loan Program Office (LPO) still has more than $40 billion in remaining loan and loan guarantee authority to finance innovative clean energy projects and advanced technology vehicles manufacturing.

While DOE has now made an overall profit on its loan programs, high-profile failures like Solyndra, Abound Solar, Fisker and Beacon Power have caused Republicans in particular to criticize the government’s efforts to promote clean energy technology innovations. Witnesses at the hearing included representatives from the conservative Heritage Foundation and CATO Institute, as well as former DOE official Dan Reicher.

According to witness testimony, the DOE loan program has lost some $810 million and generated $1.8 billion in profits for the government, leaving the program as an overall asset for taxpayers. At the same time, the program supported a number of major energy innovation projects that could not attract capital from the private sector, including the Lake Charles Methanol carbon capture and sequestration project, the Vogtle nuclear power project in Georgia, as well as other projects in electricity infrastructure and elective vehicle manufacturing.

The full hearing DOE Loan Program hearing is available at: https://science.house.gov/legislation/hearings/joint-energy-subcommittee-and-oversight-subcommittee-hearing-risky-business-doe


The White House recently issued an energy policy statement emphasizing that the new Administration is “committed to energy policies that lower costs and maximize the use of American resources from untapped shale, oil and natural gas reserves on federal lands…as well as working toward clean coal technology to revive our coal industry.” The statement is focused on fossil fuel technologies, and makes no mention of the Administration’s plans for clean and renewable energy technologies, such as solar, wind, and nuclear power.

The plan cites regulations under the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan as harmful and unnecessary, but also notes the need to protect America’s air and water resources.

The plan does not include any specific policy commitments beyond touting expansion of the oil, gas, and coal industries. The full statement can be reviewed at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/america-first-energy


The first results from NASA’s ‘Year in Space’ brothers are in. Astronaut Scott Kelly departed the Earth in March 2015 for a yearlong stay at the International Space Station and returned in 2016 after 340 consecutive days in space. Meanwhile, his twin brother Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut, stayed on earth. The study data said that there was a noticeable difference in gene expression signatures between the two brothers with the strongest change in Scott. Gene expression is how information from a gene is copied and used to support cell functions with the number of copies or the rate of copying alterable by environmental changes in diet or sleep.

Other results showed that DNA methylation decreased in Scott and increased in earthbound Mark. On a broad level, methylation can influence bodily processes such as neural development, aging and carcinogenesis. However, it returned to pre-flight status shortly after Scott returned from the space station. Scott’s telomeres also grew to be longer than his brother’s, which was surprising.

Additional information can be found at: http://www.nature.com/news/astronaut-twin-study-hints-at-stress-of-space-travel-1.21380


Governments at all levels can benefit from using internet technology in the public sector by providing early warnings to citizens based on data received from sensors detecting an earthquake to controlling flooding through the use of sensors along a river to track the stream levels that lead to flooding.

The IoT can be defined as a set of physical objects embedded with sensors or actuators and connected to a network. To see this area grow, there is a need for strategic leadership on how to use IoT; a better understanding of the data generated by IoT; more funding to modernize IT infrastructure to enable IoT projects; procurement policies that make it easier for governments to quickly and easily adopt the technology; and a better understanding of how to protect privacy and ensure security, interoperability and return on investment. One goal is to find or develop a next-generation flood sensor that would take advantage of advances in hardware and consumer sensor technologies, yet still be rugged enough to last in harsh outdoor conditions. 

To learn more about this topic, please visit: http://www.govtech.com/network/Practical-Uses-of-the-Internet-of-Things-in-Government-Are-Everywhere.html


An 80megawatt hours (MWh) facility that can now power 2,500 households or charge 1,000 Tesla vehicles a day was switched on by Southern California Edison (SCE) in Ontario, CA. Using commercial-grade Tesla Powerpack 2 lithium-ion battery units, the electricity generated by photovoltaic solar and wind farms can be stored as a supplemental power source during peak hours of the day.

The plant also acts as a buffer power source while more common gas-fired "peaker" plants, which take a long time to start, can be fired up to supplement the grid.

This new facility was spurred on by the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) order that SCE, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) solicit more utility-scale energy storage solutions that could be operational by Dec. 31, 2016.

Read more here: http://www.computerworld.com/article/3161755/sustainable-it/the-worlds-largest-battery-storage-substation-is-now-live.html


Kay Firth-Butterfield, a leading expert on the law and ethics of artificial intelligence (AI), and David Bray, CIO of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), gave a talk recently on AI and public policy implications. Butterfield cited McKinsey &Co. research where AI is a contributing factor to the transformation of society. The transformation is happening ten times faster, and at three hundred times the scale, or roughly three thousand times faster than the impact of the industrial revolution, and people need to start thinking now about how to look at AI.

For instance, focusing on responsible design is important, so that creators of AI take responsibility and start working with AI producers and users from the start. Good design is necessary, but humans can find unforeseen ways to misuse even a good design for nefarious purposes such as terrorists using GPS and social media in their activities. As AI begins to become more ubiquitous, we need to recognize that some people may want to live off the grid and not be part of AI, while others will want to go all in to let machines make decisions and share data. Giving humans the ability to indicate their preferences in interacting with AI is recommended, and having transparency in knowing how the machine made the decision is important.

There will also be a need to pair humans with AIs for the next 20 years, so that humans can bring the deeper understanding to the process that a machine won’t have. Special attention should be made to ensure that as the society transforms through AI that people who lose their jobs are taught the skills needed to bridge the gap. When the industrial revolution took place, a great deal of people over a long period were affected and since the AI revolution is likely to be even faster, we need to prepare to support these people quickly.

The full text of the talk can be found at: https://www.cxotalk.com/episode/ai-legal-ethical-policy-challenges

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