Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Obama and McCain on Energy Prizes (and Apollo)

OBAMA'S 'DIFFERENT VISION' FOR U.S. ENERGY - MSNBC - Here's the prize excerpt from the article:

... He said McCain’s offer of a $300 million reward for the developer of a better car battery was too small-scale, suggesting it was another example of Washington’s failed approach to the issue.

“After all those years in Washington, John McCain still doesn’t get it,” he said. “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 that a $300 million prize is the way to go. 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, not just in the private sector but also in the public sector.”

The X PRIZE Foundation has a statement on McCain's proposal.

NASA Watch links to a funny video from on Obama's response to McCain's proposal. SpaceShipOne is part of the fun.

Curmudgeon's Corner has a few things to say about Barack Obama, Prize Competitions, and Technological Innovation.

To be fair, Curmudgeon's Corner is a consistently conservative poster, but I certainly wouldn't characterize the XPF or NASA Watch as being biased in that direction.

Now here's my opinion. I think Obama's statement, to the extent that it belittles prizes in general compared to big government cost-plus/research grant programs rather than McCain's specific prize proposal (which may not be ideal in current form) is rather strange considering this part of his energy policy:

“Deploy Cellulosic Ethanol: Obama will invest federal resources, including tax incentives, cash prizes and government contracts into developing the most promising technologies with the goal of getting the first two billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol into the system by 2013. ”

Instead of trivializing the potential of prizes, I think he should have presented a better set of prize proposals to complement and strengthen his Apollo-like energy program. There is certainly still the opportunity for him to do that, as McCain's proposal is not flawless, comprehensive enough, or a perfect subject for a prize competition, as Climate Progress notes. As it is, he's missed this opportunity, and it seems Obama is looking to the 60's space program or the 70's energy program, and letting McCain be the candidate of change and innovation.