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Obama says there’s an energy revolution underway

August 25, 2015, 2:03 PM UTC
A Nest thermostat is installed in a home in Provo
Photograph by George Frey — Reuters

While President Obama took the opportunity to unveil new federal actions to boost clean energy during a speech at a conference in Las Vegas on Monday, he also used the time to do something a little more inspirational and a little bit geeky.

Obama told the audience—filled with entrepreneurs, politicians and executives, many in the clean energy industry—that there’s “an American energy revolution” underway and that Americans are beginning to take control over their own energy use. This transformation represents the future of energy use in America, according to Obama.

Obama said this transition includes moving from using fossil fuel energy to using clean energy, and from managing energy with analog technologies to managing energy with digital tech. In addition, Obama referenced the introduction of energy storage technologies like batteries that can store energy to be used when needed.

Obama said the energy transformation is similar to if the telegraph evolved into the smartphone “in less than a decade.” “It’s happening that fast,” said Obama. Geeky energy technologies, like smart appliances and energy pricing data, and not oft-discussed energy programs like net metering and Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), peppered his speech.

The language was meant in part to rally the crowd, but also showed how Obama is willing to embrace these types of niche energy technologies that are being developed by tech entrepreneurs and startup companies, many in Silicon Valley. Obama name-checked Valley darlings Nest (owned by Google (GOOG) and Tesla (TSLA) in his talk, and spoke about consumers using software to manage energy consumption, something only a handful of passionate energy nerds seem to truly care about.

US President Barack Obama laughs at the hair nets the members of the press have to wear during a tour of Faffa Food, which produces low-cost and high-protein foods, with the help of Feed the Future in Addis Ababa on July 28, 2015.Photograph by Saul Loeb — AFP/Getty Images
Photograph by Saul Loeb — AFP/Getty Images

The speech also shows how, in his final term in office, Obama is willing to support measures that can help his goal of moving the needle on fighting climate change. Obama recently finalized a highly controversial plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power industry. Fighting climate change, it seems, is one of his final legacies.

Introducing the president, Senator Harry Reid described him as a person who “put the world on the map to fight climate change.” He called Obama’s Clean Power Plan “the most powerful steps by our nation to fight climate change.”

During his Vegas speech, Obama said: “The real revolution going on here is that people are beginning to realize they can take more control over their own energy. What they use, how much, and when.”

That type of energy revolution has been long proclaimed by Valley energy entrepreneurs as reasons for buying a Nest thermostat or a Tesla electric car. Still, it remains to be seen if consumers are buying these things because they are useful for managing energy or because they are cool technologies. Energy control and the idea of the “personalization of energy,” in and of itself, might in reality never break out of this early-adopter tech subset and into the mainstream.

Obama said this energy revolution is facing a fight with fossil fuel companies that are trying to protect the status quo. “That’s a problem,” said Obama. “These companies are standing in the way of the future” and “threatening a new industry that is churning out jobs at a fast pace.”

The solar industry is providing more jobs in the U.S. than Apple (AAPL), Google, Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR) combined. Earlier in the day at the conference investor Nancy Pfund—who’s firm has funded both Tesla and SolarCity—pointed out that the solar industry is providing many middle income jobs in the U.S. that the Internet industry is not.

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