Jetta Wong, 35
Director, Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions (OTT)
Hometown: Lansing, MI
How did you get here?
I came to DOE from the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. I joined the Committee when former Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) was helping the panel focus on American competitiveness through science and technology. Before heading to the Hill, I worked for the Clean Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists and for the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, where I was focused on bioenergy solutions to our climate change challenges. But my energy career truly started in Uzbekistan, where I worked as a consultant on an anaerobic digestion project. And in some ways, it goes all the way back to the University of Michigan, where I earned my B.S. in Natural Resources and the Environment.
While serving on the Science Committee was very rewarding my drive for more tangible results of my career is what drew me to the Department of Energy. The numerous releases from DOE that I was getting as a committee staffer about multi-million dollar smart grid awards, high efficiency engines or new breakthroughs in battery technologies demonstrated to me that DOE was the place to be if I wanted to work with the people that were solving today’s energy and climate challenges.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your career?
While Secretary Moniz has been simply incredible to work for, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity he’s given me in standing up our Office of Technology Transitions, Chairman Gordon and my time on the Science Committee probably had the greatest influence on my career. Chairman Gordon recognized the importance of science and technology in strengthening America’s competitiveness, and was committed to supporting and advancing those efforts in a variety of innovative ways. For instance, he did a lot of work on the America COMPETES (Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science) Act, and is known as the “father” of Energy’s ARPA-E program. So while working for him, I not only learned the importance of strengthening America’s efforts in science and technology, but also the importance of using innovative approaches to do so.
Also, while on the Committee I garnered a great appreciation for DOE’s national lab enterprise. Within a few months of joining the Committee I took a trip to California to visit SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). It was kind of like an initiation, if you are going to work for House Science then you need to understand the labs and their facilities like the National Ignition Facility at LLNL (we were actually out there for its opening), the Advanced Light Source at Berkeley Lab, and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource at SLAC.
As someone who came from a climate policy background and had been working on the complicated regulatory structure of the new Renewable Fuel Standard, I was thrilled to meet people working on real solutions to our energy and climate challenges. Passionate and inspiring, these scientists, engineers, and technicians were working on climate modeling, energy efficient buildings, drought resistant crops for biofuels, new materials for solar panels and batteries.
I learned about the amazing energy innovation infrastructure that the Department of Energy has been stewarding including high-performance computers, light sources and other accelerators, and other unique world class user facilities. I also learned that these user facilities are matched with some of the most talented scientists in the world. That trip and the people that I met at those labs are the foundation of my work in science and innovation policy.
We’re following a similar path at OTT; discovering and advancing better ways of creating value and fostering innovation across DOE’s national laboratories.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment during the Obama administration?
My greatest accomplishment during the Obama administration has been – and is! – standing up the Office of Technology Transitions (OTT).
The Department of Energy and its national labs are one of the great untold stories in U.S. innovation. We’re one of the largest supporters of technology transfer in the federal government, responsible for almost 90 percent of the total number of active licenses, as well as the supporter of the most startups of any agency, according to the National Institutes of Standards and Technology’s most recent report federal technology transfer, which was released this past October. But few know about that great work of innovation, or how important it is in winning the fight against climate change and strengthening U.S. economic competitiveness.
This past November, we (DOE) published an update to our 2013 report, Revolution … Now, which highlighted the ongoing transformation in clean energy technologies.
Just to give a couple of highlights, the report noted that, “Between 2008 and 2014, wind power accounted for 31% of all new generation capacity added in the United States,” a ramp-up which has had enormous benefits including reducing annual carbon dioxide emissions by more than 115 metric tons and reducing water consumption by more than 36 billion gallons in 2013, while supporting more than 50,000 U.S. manufacturing, construction, and wind operations jobs.
The story in solar is similar. Revolution … Now circa 2015 showed that “By 2014, the total capacity of large utility-scale solar PV [photovoltaic] reached 9.7 GW with over 99% of these installations occurring after 2008.” That’s come along with a significant cost reduction – as the report said, “The total cost of utility-scale PV systems fell from $5.70/W in 2008 to $2.34/W in 2014—a decrease of 59%.”
Efforts we’ve supported have also led to significant successes in LED lighting and electric vehicles (EVs). The Revolution … Now update pointed out that “From 2012 to 2014, total installations of common home LED bulbs increased six-fold from 13 million to 78 million,” even as LED blubs have experienced a “nearly 90% reduction in cost since 2008.”And in terms of electric vehicles, the report noted that the lower-cost lithium-ion batteries supported by DOE research may have lowered the expected fabrication costs of EV batteries at high volume by 70% since 2008. That helps explain why, “Americans bought nearly 120,000 electric vehicles (EVs) in 2014, more than double the number purchased in 2012.”
DOE’s scientists and labs have had incredible impacts in many other areas too. For instance, scientists at DOE’s national labs were behind the development of the DVD, and they were also the first to install a web server in the U.S., kick-starting the development of the Internet. The intensely bright X-ray light sources at DOE’s national labs have proven crucial in the development of a drug against malignant melanoma and have revealed insights into scourges like Ebola, Alzheimer’s hepatitis and even the common cold. DOE-supported researchers have created new materials such as super-tough glasses and super-strong steels. Their innovations in accelerator science and technology have led to tools that have redefined cancer therapy, brought safe water to millions, and improved airport security.
I was recently out at Pacific Northwest National Lab, and learned about a technology they developed with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency – an improved set of operational settings for radiation portal monitors at U.S. ports of entry. Those improved settings have reduced alarm rates due to tile or granite that contain non-threatening, naturally occurring isotopes, which significantly frees up officers to focus on other high-priority enforcement duties saving tax payers more than $10 million annually.
OTT was set up to further increase Energy’s efforts in that area. We came into existence in February of 2015, and were given the mission of expanding the commercial impact of DOE’s portfolio of research, development, demonstration, and deployment activities over the short, medium and long term. That’s a pretty large mission for a fairly small staff, especially since our duties also include running DOE’s Technology Commercialization Fund and its Clean Energy Investment Center, but it’s also a really exciting opportunity.
Can you describe your time working for the Obama administration in 10 words?
Exciting and challenging and busy and best of all, meaningful.
Complete the sentence: “When I’m not working, I’m ..."
...skiing in the winter and biking, hiking, and gardening in the summer.