On Energy Watch in Washington

August 1, 2002
Garman:searching                         for alternatives at the DOE

Garman: searching for alternatives at the DOE


While a number of Duke alumni are working in the trenches to promote energy efficiency, David Garman '79 is orchestrating the battle from the nation's capital. Last May, Garman was nominated by President George W. Bush as assistant secretary in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in the U.S. Department of Energy. Garman oversees the work of about 570 federal employees, several thousand contractors, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, and six regional offices.

"It is by far the best job in DOE," Garman says. "We are working on the technologies of the future that will eventually free us from imported petroleum and the environmental consequences of ever-increasing conventional energy use."

In the area of transportation, Garman's office is promoting research and development of hybrid electric vehicles, fuel cells, hydrogen, and biofuels among others. "Personally, I drive a Toyota Prius, a hybrid electric that gets roughly fifty miles to the gallon," he says. "That's not a car that appeals to a lot of people, but we're working with our automotive partners to get hybrid technologies in vehicles that people most want to buy. By 2003, we expect hybrid technology to be offered in sport utility vehicles like the Ford Escape and Dodge Durango."

In the residential field, Garman's office has overseen the development of several of the technologies that Arnie Katz's Advanced Energy Corporation and others incorporate into their homes. These include low-e glass windows, which reflect sunlight in summer and retain heat in winter, and a host of energy-efficient appliances. But what Garman says excites him most in the residential market are programs that will allow people to choose the type of electricity they purchase.

"Right now, several utilities offer their customers the option to buy 'green power' -that is, electricity produced by renewable sources such as biomass and wind," says Garman. "It costs a little more to produce electricity through renewable sources, so you pay a little more for it, but you have the satisfaction of promoting an environmentally responsible source of production."

Garman also likes the Puget Sound Electric Company's program that shows consumers in real time how much the electricity they are consuming costs to produce, and allows them to change their consumption patterns to take advantage of the cheapest production times.

"During periods of low demand, utilities will run their most-efficient plants, producing electricity at perhaps five cents per kilowatt hour. But at times of peak demand, they have to use their least-efficient plants, which may produce energy at two or three times that cost. Most electric bills charge customers an average price for electricity consumed. Programs like Puget Sound's charge you the actual cost and give you the option of adjusting your consumption accordingly."

The terrorist attacks of September 11 have placed a new sense of urgency on his efforts. "There's little doubt that our reliance on imported petroleum-currently 56 percent of our total consumption-has complicated our response to the terrorist threat," he says. "And there's no doubt that some of the dollars we've paid for that oil have gone into the terrorists' pockets. Transportation is the big consumer of oil in this country, so that's where we need to concentrate. And that's why I'm so excited about the alternatives to the gasoline engine-hybrid vehicles in the short term and fuel cells in the long term."

Garman's vision of America's energy future "is a world where many of our homes will generate their own power from renewable resources; where businesses will be housed in 'net zero energy' buildings that produce as much energy as they consume; where our factories become energy parks that not only use, but also make energy; and where our cars and trucks will be powered with fuel cells fueled by hydrogen, and their only emissions will be water vapor."