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American Innovation + Smart Policy = Big Savings

Climate change is happening. The American people are experiencing the hottest years on record and the most severe floods, wildfires and droughts in modern history. My home state of California is currently facing an unprecedented drought that is threatening the prosperity of everyone from urban and rural communities, to farmers, fishermen and sportsmen, to large and small businesses.

We also know that humans are the primary cause of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently concluded with 95 percent to 100 percent certainty that humans are the principal cause of climate change. These findings of the world’s most highly regarded scientists could not be more certain.

Steps to halt and reverse the effects of climate change are well overdue, and the federal government has a unique ability to embrace innovation, particularly in the development and implementation of clean energy and energy-efficient technology.

In 2005, I had to explain to some of my colleagues what a data center was. Today, most people realize that data centers are a critical part of our national infrastructure and are found in nearly every sector of our economy, with the world now generating more data in two days than was generated in all of human history prior to 2003.

What is still not fully clear today is that data centers can be extremely energy inefficient. Experts estimate that most data centers could slash their energy use by 80 percent to 90 percent by implementing existing technologies and best practices. While several Silicon Valley companies have taken the lead in developing efficient, sustainable data centers, we can do more in the government and private sectors. Federal data centers account for 10 percent of all U.S. data center energy use, which translated to an estimated $600 million in energy costs in 2010.

Earlier this month, the House passed rare bipartisan energy efficiency legislation that saves money and energy for taxpayers and consumers. One provision of this bill is my bipartisan legislation authored with Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, to make the federal government’s data centers more energy efficient. The bill would save $1.64 billion in taxpayer dollars over the next 15 years, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

By requiring federal agencies to utilize the best technologies and energy management strategies, our legislation can reduce the federal government’s energy use, save taxpayer dollars and set the standard for the private sector.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, is another example of how the federal government can spur innovative clean energy technologies with investment. ARPA-E was created when House Democrats championed the Innovation Agenda in 2007 and has generated breakthrough technologies that are moving toward commercialization.

Since the mid-1970s when the federal government similarly began investing in research and development of solar energy, the cost of photovoltaic cells has dropped by 99 percent, to the point where this technology is approaching grid parity across the country.

If we’re going to tackle the climate and energy challenges facing us, we must invest in disruptive energy technologies today that can dramatically change our current course, even if the benefits may be years or decades away.

Energy innovations being researched and developed today can be the key to the clean energy technologies of tomorrow, turning the tide of climate change, creating jobs and catalyzing investment in the United States.

Tom Friedman recently wrote a column in The New York Times in which he argued that Washington needs to embrace the innovative “can-do” attitude of Silicon Valley, rather than the paralyzed “cannot” attitude that is pervasive in Congress today.

I couldn’t agree more.

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo is a Democrat representing California’s Silicon Valley and is ranking member of the House Energy Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

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