Clean Energy Innovation insights from Matthew Stepp and Megan Nicholson
In March Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) introduced S. 1273, the Fixing America’s Inequities with Revenues (FAIR) Act of 2013.The bill received attention again last week, when it was reexamined during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. The FAIR Act, recommends allocating a set share of 27.5 percent of total federal offshore drilling revenues to coastal states with productive drilling leases up to 200 nautical miles off their coastlines.Under the FAIR Act, states that set up funds for alternative and renewable energy, energy efficiency, or conservation would be eligible to receive an additional 10 percent of revenues, which offers states an opportunity to strengthen investments in innovation.
Unfortunately, the bill as presented is weak – it does not include any measures to directly support clean energy innovation with drilling revenue. ITIF argued in its recent report, Drilling for Clean Energy Innovation, that raising revenue from fossil fuel drilling is a direct and bipartisan way to support clean energy innovation and mitigate climate change. While the FAIR Act provides a unique incentive for states to invest in energy programs, there is little guarantee that … Read the rest
Despite the House of Representative’s recent vote to cut appropriations for the Department of Energy’s breakthrough research agency, ARPA-E, by 74 percent, the agency continues to advance the development of next-generation clean energy technologies. ARPA-E recently announced a $30 million funding opportunity, Full-Spectrum Optimized Conversion and Utilization of Sunlight (FOCUS), aimed at developing new hybrid solar energy systems that include storage, at lower costs and with greater performance.
The FOCUS program is looking for projects that research and develop solar technologies beyond current photovoltaic and concentrated solar power models. Research will specifically confront the persistent and most inhibiting performance weakness of existing solar technologies and a major obstacle for improving solar cost competitiveness: providing consistent energy supply when the sun is not shining.
Like ARPA-E projects in general, these solar projects won’t look like your average commercial panels. Instead of funding incremental improvements in solar cell efficiency, ARPA-E’s investments aim to accelerate transformative changes to the way we think about harnessing and controlling solar energy. The FOCUS program recognizes that to reach cost-competitiveness, new solar technologies must not only improve efficiency, they must do so in a way that provides … Read the rest
A new paper by two Italian economists finds links between information technology (IT) and environmentally-friendly innovation in firms. The paper, Information Technology, Environmental Innovations and Complementary Strategies, uses EU firm-level data to examine whether firms innovating in the IT space were also innovating with regard to their environmental practices. The researchers find a significant correlation between IT and environment-related innovation. They also find some evidence that IT helps drive environmental innovation in several ways.
This result fits well with the ideas put forth in ITIF’s 2008 report Digital Quality of Life, that information technologies are not only helping environmental regulators and activists do their job better, they are also helping businesses do a better job of making their impact more environmentally friendly.… Read the rest
In the last week, two news stories really captured the potential future for nuclear energy. The New York Times Matthew Wald reported from Georgia, where construction crews are slowly building the first two new nuclear reactors in thirty years. And National Geographic’s Will Ferguson reported from Tennessee that engineers and scientists are taking core samples and mapping regional geology as part of the early planning stages of building the first small modular nuclear reactor in the world. Both projects face unique challenges, yet they both represent the beginning of two potential nuclear paths for reducing climate-warming carbon emissions in the United States (and potentially the world).
Big-Box Nuclear Energy Innovation in Georgia
The nuclear generators we are all familiar with is physically recognized by large, curved cooling towers and billowing white steam, and pragmatically recognized as a significant source of carbon-free electricity. Big-box nuclear reactors across the United States provide about 19 percent of all electricity.
But for thirty years, the nuclear energy industry has remained stagnant. Due to a mix of factors including more stringent regulation, rising construction costs, falling fossil fuel prices, and the Three Mile Island meltdown, … Read the rest
The Department of Interior (DOI) announced this week the first-ever competitive offshore wind auction. Many policymakers and advocates are hailing it as a milestone moment: the auction offers leases for almost 165,000 acres of ocean off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, which if fully-developed, could power one million homes using clean wind power. While these short-term impacts are important, they’re still small compared to the overall clean energy needs of the United States (and the world). DOI’s auction is a much more important long-term step in support of offshore wind innovation.
Without a doubt, the opportunity is ripe for offshore wind technologies to generate low-carbon electricity. Seventy-eight percent of U.S. electricity demand comes from 28 coastal and Great Lake states, which geographically correspond well to high-speed offshore wind patterns. Many of these states pay higher average electricity costs than the rest of the country, providing an opening for low-cost, low-carbon energy alternatives (price data found here, page 7). But offshore wind has a big problem: it’s not cost-competitive with other sources of electricity.
The federal government, partnered with coastal states, recognizes this challenge and is implementing a … Read the rest
I recently asked a few colleagues over lunch the kind of wonky question that would only be allowed within the borders of the District of Columbia: Aside from more government investment – which is desperately needed – what are the big issues with America’s energy innovation ecosystem?
There’s no simple answer to that question, so we talked about a range of important ideas such as supporting advanced manufacturing, creating technology incubators, and reforming the DOE National Labs system. But what struck me was my colleagues’ insistence that what’s also needed is educating policymakers and advocates on how the energy innovation ecosystem fits together.
During the last five years, the U.S. federal government has added new institutions to spur innovation at different points along the technology development cycle, such as ARPA-E, the Energy Innovation Hubs, and Energy Frontier Research Centers. Analysts like myself argue more is needed. In response, policymakers fear duplication, extra bureaucracy, and inefficiencies often because these requests lack a clear case for how the policy pieces complement rather than repeat or compete with each other. This misunderstanding fuels – along with many other factors – a lack of … Read the rest
The impacts of budget sequestration are slowly being unveiled to the general public. Furloughs at the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) led to air traffic gridlock and angry travelers. Parks and national tourist sites are cutting back hours. And the Department of Defense (DOD) recently announced furloughs for 680,000 civilian employees. While these short-term impacts are painful, in particular to those losing work hours and income, sequestration is initiating cuts with negative, long-term impacts, which are not yet immediately apparent.
One area of specific concern is the potential $381 million in cuts to energy innovation investments at the DOD – a 25 percent cut compared to FY2012 levels. Since 2009, DOD has invested $5 billion in clean energy research, development, testing, demonstration, and procurement, representing almost 25 percent of U.S. clean energy funding in FY2012. DOD’s focus on clean energy innovation is important for three reasons:
- The DOD has been the source of some of the last century’s most important breakthrough technologies, including the Internet, GPS, and microchips and it could have a similar impact on clean energy technologies like batteries and smart grid;
- The DOD has developed its own cohesive
Making Innovation Part of Climate Hawks Policy Pitch
In a previous article I argued that climate policy advocates should make energy innovation part of their policy elevator pitch. A good opportunity to start is now available through the debate on reforming and re-authorizing the America COMPETES Act.
Within the climate advocacy community there are those that argue for aggressive clean energy innovation policy (such as myself) and those that argue for aggressive deployment of existing clean energy technologies (such as Center for American Progress’s Joe Romm and 350.org’s Bill McKibben). Each provides different policy emphasis and nuance. Today, deployment policies receive higher priority, reflected in it dominating the narrative among advocates as well as dominating the portfolio of U.S. public investments in clean energy. As a result, conflict occurs over what policy changes should be made.
As Grist’s Dave Roberts argues (correctly to a degree), both “camps” agree on a lot and everyone should aggressively work for clean energy to be a national priority to “lift all boats,”—both innovation and deployment of today’s technologies alike. How then should this consensus be reflected in our pitches to policymakers?
In my … Read the rest
Buried in the President’s FY2014 budget proposal is an interesting reform that could impact energy innovation without relying on Congress for any new – and hard to come by – federal investments. The idea is to create eight new research incubator programs at the Department of Energy that forge collaborations with early-stage start-ups to bring promising new ideas closer to commercial scale. In particular, the incubators would focus on promising technology pathways DOE is not currently investing in.
The incubator programs would be housed within each of the energy technology offices (except for geothermal) and leverage a small share of existing research budgets. The figure below provides the proposed budgets for the new incubators. (Note, the DOE is also continuing its existing solar incubator program.)
Each incubator is expressly aimed at emerging areas of research and technology development not “supported in any meaningful” way by existing DOE projects.
For example, the Vehicle Technologies Program wants to focus on advanced power electronics and electric motor ideas. The Advanced Manufacturing Program wants to invest in “revolutionary” technology pathways that cut energy-use in production, but also make U.S. manufacturers more competitive. And the … Read the rest
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is nothing but consistent: he wants a carbon tax and he wants it bad. Since 2005, he’s mentioned “carbon tax” 41 times in his column. Yet, while his support for a carbon tax hasn’t waned, the characteristics of his preferred carbon tax policy have.
As ITIF argues in Inducing Innovation: What a Carbon Price Can and Can’t Do, pricing carbon by itself does little to support clean energy and carbon reductions. It can be a useful tool for nudging near-competitive low-carbon technologies into the market and spurring modest carbon cuts, but it’s at best a complementary climate policy. That changes if we use a carbon tax as a revenue-raiser to support additional policies aimed at making clean energy cost and performance competitive with fossil fuels. In other words, tying a carbon tax to aggressive energy innovation policy can get us better climate mitigation “bang” for our climate policy “buck.” It’s why I proposed an “Innovation Carbon Price” that ties 20 percent of carbon tax revenue to public energy innovation investments and 80 percent to strengthening corporate tax incentives for training, research, … Read the rest