01/28/2011 11:59 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How Do We Get to 80 Percent Clean Energy?

There's a part of me that really enjoyed tracking Rep. Paul Ryan's bobbing heading during his "response" to President Obama's State of the Union Address. But Jason Linkins summed up that performance quite accurately: He's "the Best They Got?"

And ironically, it's Meghan McCain -- the daughter of the old "maverick" himself -- who nailed Rep. Michele Bachmann, she of the "response to the response," as "the Poor Man's Sarah Palin." She's so right. I much prefer my hostile wannabe future leaders to have their own reality shows!

Which brings me to the real meat and potatoes of the night -- and of our nation's future. President Obama used his State of the Union address to push clean energy in a big way, asking Congress to help America achieve 80% cleanly sourced electricity by 2035. The challenge, of course, is how we're going to get there.

Remember President Kennedy's famous line about the space race? "We choose to go to the moon in this decade - not because it is easy ... but because it is hard."

We could apply that same standard to President Obama's 80% Challenge. What he's suggesting is a sea change in the way we Americans have used energy for generations. What he's calling for -- though he may not yet realize it -- is a national mobilization that engages every American in every aspect of our energy use: how we get it, how we use it, and how we respect it.

Well, if we could steal another quote from President Kennedy: "All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin." In that lens, Obama was sounding very Kennedy-esque on clean energy.

So how do we begin this work? Is it with more legislation and more rules and regulations? Not necessarily. The President wasn't really outlining legislative prescriptions. He was laying out broad markers that will help create this energy transformation.

Aside from the president's rather liberal definition of "clean," which I'll allow other pundits to deconstruct, three major points in the SOTU stood out to me:

"Clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they're selling."

Yes! Business people of America, we should have a chat. As you and I both know, it's going to take more than political pronouncements to expand the clean energy marketplace. It's going to take community-specific outreach campaigns, showing real Americans how and why renewable energy makes sense for their wallets and as an investment in their homes. And how producing clean energy from solar or wind will pay off a thousand times over, letting them hedge against the uncertainties of resource scarcity and rising traditional energy costs.

"Instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's."

I couldn't agree more. But this goes deeper than its literal meaning. While weaving his investment trope, President Obama talked quite a bit about education and the importance of investing in our children. That investment means engaging with young people now -- today -- and helping an entire generation grow up realizing that clean energy isn't some crazy idea from the '60s. Young people today can be taught that saving energy and relying on clean, renewable energy is just part of life. We can make it part of the fabric of their lives - like recycling, or granite countertops! But we need to engage them now -- and consistently.

"Tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: By 2035, 80 percent of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources."

Wow. That's an incredible goal. And one we're already working towards every day. But what are we doing to get there? In last year's SOTU, Obama's lines were quite similar. "To create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives." Obama said. "That... means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America." We all know how well that turned out. And there's not much else on the table right now.

The only way to connect all these dots is to push a nationwide outreach campaign, based on sound market research, that will further advance clean energy as a consumer product, not a clause in a divisive piece of legislation.

The president can lead on this. We don't need new legislation. We need our Community Organizer in Chief to help us go town to town, community to community and neighbor to neighbor, to make this nationwide transformation a reality.

We can achieve his goals. And we don't need to fight with the Tea Party to do it. We just need to integrate clean energy into our everyday lives, from the Greatest Generation to the echo boomers, to their little brothers and sisters. We're already doing this at SmartPower. But we need the power of the Oval Office to make this happen on a grand scale.

Let us begin!