03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

At the White House, Clean Tech Gets a Push

A room full of clean tech entrepreneurs likely would not have been found in the Bush White House. But on Wednesday, October 28, that's just what you would have seen in a brand-new auditorium (so new that there was no sign for the entrance, and it felt sort of like walking into a warehouse) on the ground floor of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. On the heels of its announcement of a $3.4 billion investment in building a smart grid -- leveraged to achieve $4.7 billion in private investments, totaling over $8 billion -- the Obama administration hosted an "Energy and Climate Stakeholders Meeting." The presenters included White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, and White House Climate Change Policy Director Carol Browner.

The meeting included an extraordinary, hour-long give-and-take with Chu, who admitted that he would rather be riding herd on DOE bureaucrats to try and get more money for programs to spur clean tech when "they have me doing meetings like this." But it was said with a smile. He also told stories about crawling around in his attics -- first in California, when he was a professor, and now in Chevy Chase -- to find the weak spots in his insulation. The lesson? We need far stricter standards in retrofitting homes.

The level of enthusiasm among these administration A-listers was palpable. "We're off and running!" Jarrett announced. Describing the attitude in Congress and the potential passage of carbon reduction legislation in the Senate, Browner said, "I've been in and out of D.C. for twenty years, and there's sort of that tipping point that happens, where everyone who talks starts saying not 'if' but 'when.'"

In describing $151 million in new grants at DOE's elite ARPA-E unit for transformative energy research, Chu said, "We're going to try and hit home runs, not just base hits," citing, with geeky but endearing enthusiasm, a new program for all liquid metal batteries that can provide large-scale energy storage at 1/20th of the prior cost.

The room was rapt -- which is perhaps what you'd expect from a hundred clean tech folks crowded into a spanking-new auditorium with a spanking-new administration. Change, indeed!

This piece is cross-posted at the Progressive Fix.