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The secretary of energy is on a road trip to promote goal of clean energy by 2050

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The Biden administration is working to get the U.S. to run on clean energy - the whole country. It's a huge goal with a lot of money involved, and it faces huge challenges. This summer, the U.S. Energy Secretary, Jennifer Granholm, took a road trip, in electric vehicles of course, to promote that effort. NPR's Camila Domonoske was there, too, and she takes us along for the ride.

AUTOMATED VOICE: Turn left, then you will arrive in your destination.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: The secretary's route through the Southeast was carefully chosen to travel through states where factories to build solar panels and EVs and batteries are booming. This is key to the administration's case for clean energy.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM: And that's jobs, jobs, jobs. And you are seeing it here.

DOMONOSKE: In addition to jobs, jobs, jobs, she also focused on lowering costs...

GRANHOLM: Sun - hey, it's free, right?

DOMONOSKE: ...And national security. At one point in South Carolina, she jumped on a table to point at a chart.

GRANHOLM: Batteries that have been made in China historically. Watch me fall off and hit my head.

DOMONOSKE: The secretary of energy has a lot of energy. When she wasn't standing on furniture, Granholm's other stops showed just how many things have to happen to remake the energy system - and not just to the grid itself. Companies need to scale up factories. Granholm donned an antistatic lab coat to watch workers assemble electric vehicle chargers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: This is the initial start of the manufacturing process.

DOMONOSKE: Labs need to invent stuff. She ducked inside a noisy dry room to peek at battery research.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: This is one of the techniques that we use to develop those lithium-metal anodes of the future.

GRANHOLM: So you guys are planning on actually taking to scale on the development...

DOMONOSKE: People need to change how they shop. The secretary of energy swung by a Home Depot to talk about new rebates for efficient appliances, pausing to aim an electric leaf blower at the press.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: This - is it lighter?

(SOUNDBITE OF LEAF BLOWER BLOWING)

GRANHOLM: That is great. I love it.

DOMONOSKE: Buildings need to get more efficient. She went to a school where the air conditioning was failing but badly needs upgrades.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: Guess what? Something totally awesome happened to our school.

DOMONOSKE: That something - millions of dollars of federal money.

(CHEERING)

DOMONOSKE: But despite all that celebratory noise, this road trip was not a victory lap. Biden wants the U.S. electric grid to release no carbon dioxide by 2035 and the entire economy to be green by 2050 - matching global climate goals. The government is spending hundreds of billions of dollars. It is a huge push, but there is a long way to the finish line. Take those EV chargers - Granholm asked the manufacturer, ABB - are they high-tech enough to send power back to the grid?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: They are not. These are not.

GRANHOLM: They are not.

DOMONOSKE: Not yet. Those cutting-edge batteries - that company, Albemarle, says they could make EVs go farther eventually.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: There's some big technical challenges in pulling that off.

DOMONOSKE: And Home Depot - how will it handle new government rebates so low-income families can actually afford climate-friendly heat pumps?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: We don't know yet.

DOMONOSKE: Because the government hasn't set the rules yet. And that school that got millions for upgrades...

GRANHOLM: We received a thousand submissions. And of those thousands, honestly, we could only afford to give money to 24.

DOMONOSKE: Twenty-four down, a thousand to go - that's just a sample. Every corner of America will have to make a change, and everything takes time - time the climate doesn't have, as Granholm knows.

GRANHOLM: Ultimately, we have got to move as though our hair is on fire because we are in a crisis.

DOMONOSKE: So not a victory lap - more of a kickoff event or an ad campaign. Potential tagline - a clean-energy America is coming soon if everything goes right. Camila Domonoske, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.