Clean Energy Innovation insights from Matthew Stepp and Megan Nicholson
MIT physics professor Dr. Ernest Moniz has yet to receive Senate confirmation to serve as the nation’s next Energy Secretary, let alone begin his tenure. This hasn’t stopped speculation about what a Moniz-led Department of Energy (DOE) might look like. National Journal quotes one Brookings Institution scholar as saying “I think it will be a very different agency than it was in the first term. Ernie knows climate change, but also unconventional oil and gas and coal and nuclear. He will push the president towards a more balanced policy.” But if Dr. Moniz’ comments during his confirmation hearing yesterday are any indication of what would come from a department under his leadership, clean energy innovation has a good chance of remaining a top priority for the DOE.
Although the hearing covered a host of topics, ranging from cybersecurity to nuclear waste cleanup, the importance of public investment in research and development emerged as a topic of discussion at several points. Moniz’ opening statement actually started with a strong defense of a continued DOE role in research: “More than a hundred Nobel Prizes have resulted from DOE-associated research. DOE operates an … Read the rest
Last week, the Australian government announced the merger of two cabinet-level departments, the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. Unfortunately, moving the stand-alone department on climate change has raised concerns that Australia is taking the climate change challenge less seriously. But the merger is actually a welcome sign of growing international recognition that innovation policy and climate change mitigation are inescapably linked and it should further mitigation efforts, not hinder them.
On the one hand, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard describes the creation of the new Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education as “inevitable, natural, logical.” On the other hand, the leader of the Australian Greens, an opposition party, criticizes the move as a “retreat on addressing global warming.” But the Gillard government has already demonstrated a firm commitment to combating climate change with the recent creation of entities like the Climate Commission, an independent source of information about the science of climate change, and the Climate Change Authority, which provides expert advice to the Australian government on climate change mitigation … Read the rest
Talking Energy Innovation with ARPA-E’s Cheryl Martin, Part 3: Linking States to Federal Energy Research
I recently sat down with Dr. Cheryl Martin, the Deputy Director of ARPA-E, the federal government’s premier program for investing in high-risk, high-reward energy research and development. The interview covered a lot of ground and touched on different aspects of America’s energy innovation ecosystem, so it’s being published as a multi-part series, lightly edited, and broken up into cohesive topics.
In part 1 of the interview, Dr. Martin took a deep-dive into the lessons ARPA-E has learned in its few short years of existence. In part 2, we covered ARPA-E’s efforts to link research and emerging technologies to the marketplace. In particular, Dr. Martin discussed the independent path ARPA-E is traveling by building relationships with potential end-users of emerging energy technologies, like companies, the Department of Defense, and utilities such as Duke Energy.
But one potential partner often not discussed at length in national energy policy discussions is states. States are in many ways more active in the clean energy space than the federal government, in particular on technology deployment policies. Over 20 states have created clean energy trust funds supported by dedicated revenue streams like public benefit charges. … Read the rest
I recently sat down with Dr. Cheryl Martin, the Deputy Director of ARPA-E, the federal government’s premier program for investing in high-risk, high-reward energy research and development. The interview covered a lot of ground and touched on different aspects of America’s energy innovation ecosystem, so it’s being published as a multi-part series, lightly edited, and broken up into cohesive topics. In part 1 of the interview, Dr. Martin took a deep-dive into the lessons ARPA-E has learned in its few short years of existence.
In part 2, we cover a pervasive issue in innovation policy: linking research and emerging technologies to market. In particular, a major concern of ARPA-E is that doesn’t have a dedicated end-user that’s going to procure emerging technologies, like DARPA has at the Department of Defense (DOD). DARPA is ARPA-E’s kindred spirit and many opine that until it gains a large-scale early adopter, its impact won’t reach that of its defense brethren because it won’t be able to bridge the technology “valleys-of-death” that plague many new innovations from reaching commercial scale.
Of course, ARPA-E’s agency home — the Department of Energy — doesn’t procure energy technologies … Read the rest
Dr. Cheryl Martin is the Deputy Director of ARPA-E, the federal government’s premier program for investing in high-risk, high-reward energy research and development. She’s the heir apparent to Arun Majumdar, the first Director of ARPA-E who departed last year after helping spin-up the program and bring it to national prominence.
She assumes leadership less than four years into ARPA-E’s existence at an inflection point for the program as well as U.S. climate and energy policy. On one hand, government investments in energy innovation are declining and gridlock makes crafting a new comprehensive national energy policy a pipedream. On the other hand, ARPA-E recently hosted its fourth widely attended Energy Innovation Summit, a number of early investments are starting to show signs of success, and its bipartisan support continues to grow. It’s one of the few bright spots in an increasingly contentious energy policy debate.
I recently sat down with Dr. Martin and talked extensively about her unique take on ARPA-E, its potential legacies, and the evolving U.S. energy innovation ecosystem. The interview covered a lot of ground so it will be published as a multi-part series, lightly edited, and … Read the rest
This year’s budget process has been complicated by a number of factors: confusion surrounding the sequestration cuts, the absence of the President’s FY2014 budget proposal, an expiring Continuing Resolution (CR), and Congress reviewing budget proposals for FY2014 and appropriations bills for FY2013 at the same time. While the FY2014 budget is yet to be decided, last week the House approved the Senate’s version of the Full-Year Consolidated and Further Continuing Resolution Act of 2013, which funds the federal government for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year. Since the current Continuing Resolution is set to expire on March 27, the bill, which now heads to President Obama’s desk to be signed into public law, avoids a government shutdown by a matter of days.
As shown in the figure, the new CR is not very different from the old CR in terms of investments in energy innovation. The previous CR was based on FY2012 funding levels, and the new CR lowers investments in energy R&D by less than one percent from FY2012 levels.
The table below shows the recent appropriations legislative history in relationship to FY2012 funding levels. The new … Read the rest
Today, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced funding opportunities for two new programs, each with $20 million, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. The first, Reducing Emissions Using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy (REMOTE), is focused on developing improved biological technologies to convert natural gas to liquids for transportation fuels, while the second, Modern Electro/Thermochemical Advancements for Light-Metal Systems (METALS), is geared towards improving the manufacturing and recycling of light metals for use in vehicles. (No one can fault the agency’s efforts to create clever acronyms). The move signals emerging government recognition of the importance of transportation decarbonization and the need for a range of innovative transportation technologies to facilitate that endeavor.
Cutting transportation sector emissions is critical to mitigating climate change. The ITIF report Shifting Gears notes that more than 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to cars and light trucks. Furthermore, the report observes, the number of those vehicles on the road globally is estimated to grow more than 47 percent from 750 million in 2010 to 1.1 billion in 2039.
Fittingly, the federal government … Read the rest
Yesterday, Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) introduced the Fixing America’s Inequality with Revenues (FAIR) Act, which would allow coastal states to collect a portion of the revenues of offshore energy production. Specifically, it provides royalty revenues from offshore oil and gas development to coastal states. States would automatically receive 27.5 percent of royalty revenues, but be eligible for an additional 10 percent provided they “establish funds to support projects relating to clean energy or conservation.” Today, coastal states outside of the Gulf of Mexico don’t receive any royalty revenue at all. While it is unclear what exactly these funds would entail, the emergence of the FAIR Act and President Obama’s recent Energy Security Trust Fund proposal reflects growing interest in linking energy production to energy innovation.
The FAIR Act is motivated in large part by a desire to financially empower coastal states and is only the latest attempt to expand state revenue sharing from offshore fossil fuel development. In 2006, The New Orleans Times-Picayune noted that a bill by Senator Landrieu “gave Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas 37.5 percent of proceeds from fuel production in the Gulf, … Read the rest
Innovation vs. Deployment
One of the continuing debates among climate and energy analysts and advocates is whether public policy should emphasize innovation or deployment. A hardy round of wonky discussion brought to light the nuances of each point of view, but it still leaves one lingering issue: how do we make energy innovation part of advocates’ climate policy pitch?
There are two levels to the debate between innovation analysts and deployment advocates. The most significant debate is over policy nuance and is what has been in the blogging spotlight recently. The debate logic chain typically plays out broadly this way:
- Mitigating climate change requires cutting global carbon emissions to near zero, which requires no less than a transformation of the global energy system from fossil fuels to clean energy. For its part, the United States has set a goal of 80 percent carbon reductions by 2050 and a midterm goal of 17 percent reductions by 2020.
- Innovation analysts argue today’s technology isn’t enough to get us to 80 percent global (or US) carbon reductions. Cheaper and better technologies are needed to fully address climate change, which requires looking at the
Last Friday, President Obama reiterated his support for the creation of an Energy Security Trust Fund during a speech at the Argonne National Laboratory, something he first proposed in his 2013 State of the Union address. Specifically, according to a fact sheet released by the White House, the fund would provide $2 billion over ten years for research on cleaner transportation alternatives such as advanced biofuels and advanced batteries for electric vehicles, derived from royalty revenues from federal oil and gas development. The Energy Collective’s Jesse Jenkins and Brookings Institution senior fellow Mark Muro have already provided thoughtful commentary on the proposal (here and here, respectively), but here are a few important takeaways.
Tying next-generation transportation energy R&D to a dedicated revenue source is a welcome step towards consistently funding energy R&D overall. Federal energy research and development is severely underfunded. For years, energy policy experts and stakeholders have advocated for an annual federal energy R&D budget of $15 billion or more. Yet according to the Energy Innovation Tracker, federal funding for energy R&D totaled just $3.6 billion in fiscal year 2012. In comparison, the Defense … Read the rest