Innovation Files has moved! For ITIF's quick takes, quips, and commentary on the latest in tech policy, go to

Archive for June, 2011

Innovation through Coordination: DOE Should Create a BatteryShot Initiative


Earlier this year the Department of Energy (DOE) started the SunShot Initiative – an inter-organizational effort to speed up efforts to make solar energy cheaper than fossil fuels.  The initiative harmonizes and refocuses the work and funds of numerous labs and programs working on solar technology.

DOE should adopt a similar model of organization – innovation through coordination – for energy storage technology programs and call it BatteryShot.  It should aim to boost energy storage innovation by efficiently leveraging DOE’s numerous storage research programs towards a series of high-impact goals, but without additional Congressional authority or appropriations.

The need for additional support for energy storage innovation, even in a time of budget austerity, is clear.  Cheap, high-performance energy storage is one of the most important clean energy breakthroughs needed to rapidly deploy low-carbon technologies.  Electric vehicle batteries are expensive and limited to an average of 40 miles per charge.  And utility-scale energy storage is similarly expensive, unreliable, geographically limited (pumped-hydro), or energy capacity limited.  To say the least, energy storage innovation could be the key to boosting electric vehicle adoption and making solar and wind a baseload power option.

Read the rest

The Advanced Manufacturing Partnership: A Step Toward a Federal Manufacturing Strategy?

(Cross-posted from The Avenue at

Last week President Obama announced the creation of an Advanced Manufacturing Partnership intended to create good manufacturing jobs and improve U.S. competitiveness. The Partnership, supported by more than $500 million in existing federal funds, is a government-industry-university initiative oriented toward high tech innovation in manufacturing.  Specific plans include creating the next generation of robots, developing energy-efficient manufacturing processes, speeding up the development and production of advanced materials, and improving domestic manufacturing capability in technologies crucial to national security (such as advanced composites and small, high-powered batteries). Chaired by Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris and MIT president Susan Hockfield, the Partnership will initially include a dozen large manufacturers and half a dozen major universities.

Although the devil is always in the details (including the details of future budget deals between the President and Congress), this is welcome news. The Partnership embraces technological innovation as key to the future of manufacturing in this country. It includes both product and process innovation. It is really about innovation, the application of knowledge to create new products and production methods, not just invention or education, which the administration previously

Read the rest

Parsing Google’s Energy Innovation Report

This morning, Google made a splash with a new report that makes some big claims about the potential impacts of energy innovation. The report starts with “aggressive” assumptions about clean technology cost breakthroughs and domestic policy choices relative to business-as-usual, and models the consequences for jobs, GDP, and emissions using McKinsey’s Low Carbon Economy Tool. They use 13 different scenarios in all, with varying assumptions about energy tech innovation, policy choices, and the price of natural gas and commodities. According to their analysis, the best results come from a mix of radical innovations coupled with a broad package of policies to accelerate adoption and efficiency. Quoting the executive summary:

Our modeling indicates that, when compared to BAU in 2030, aggressive energy innovation alone could have enormous potential to simultaneously:

  • Grow the US economy by over $155 billion in GDP/year ($244 billion with Clean Policy)
  • Create over 1.1 million new net jobs (1.9 million with Clean Policy)
  • Save US consumers over $942/household/year ($995 with Clean Policy)
  • Reduce US oil consumption by over 1.1 billion barrels/year Reduce US total greenhouse gas emissions
  • (GHG) by 13% (21% with Clean Policy)

By 2050, innovation

Read the rest

Think Fast, Eat Fast

Back in the day I took part in a huge exercise in corporate futility when Intuit (makers of Quicken and QuickBooks), which had grown to perhaps seven or eight hundred employees, took two days off to go to the San Jose Convention Center, split into small groups, and try to come up with a bottom-up Mission Statement.

Now, there may be nothing more sterile than a group-generated mission statement.  The group process filters out anything but the most common-denominator, banal business chestnuts: “we are our people”; “we add value by serving our customers”; “we strive for excellence in everything”.  In the case of Intuit, we had had a corporate culture thanks to Scott Cook and others of the founding team that stressed “doing right by the customer”, making the software easier to use than a pencil, and so forth.  This was all lost in the torrent of groupthink and, when the final document emerged some months later, it was, IMHO, useless.

It had a section on Operating Values, which was probably the least useless section in the book.  One of them sticks with me today: “Think Fast Move Fast”.  It

Read the rest

We need to better tell the innovation story

The innovation story is getting lost in the jobs story.  Case in point was the critique by George Mason University economist Russell Roberts on a comment by President Obama on technology and jobs (Obama vs. ATMs–Why Technology Doesn’t Destroy Jobs –  Roberts takes the President to task for suggesting that some technologies replace workers and thereby create short term dislocation.  Roberts discusses at great length the benefits to wealth creation of technology-induced productivity.

I agree with everything he said about the power of productivity (while I disagree with his political potshot at the President).  But, when it came to tying technology to job creation, here is the best Roberts could do:  “Somehow, new jobs get created to replace the old ones.”

If we can’t explain the “somehow”, we will lose the policy debates.

Roberts more detailed explanation given was this: “Fifty years ago, the computer industry was tiny. It was able to expand because we no longer had to have so many workers connecting telephone calls.”  In other words, the computer industry grew because all those unemployed telephone operators (unemployed because of advances in computer technology) could

Read the rest

Lightning in the Cloud: How IT-Based Innovation Will Enable the Smart Grid

Last week the Obama Administration released a report A Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid: Enabling Our Secure Energy Future. The report lays out policy recommendations to extend existing efforts to develop the smart grid as part of a long-term strategy for job growth, innovation and consumer benefits. The framework also highlights the diverse nature of stakeholders, both private and public, who will be integral components in creating the smart grid. Like most of the critical infrastructure in our country, no one company, trade association, utility, or government agency will implement the smart grid: it will take collaboration among all stakeholders.

With this challenge in mind, I will be moderating a panel event today in Washington, DC on “The Role of the Cloud in the Smart Grid” sponsored by Microsoft and the Digital Energy Solutions Campaign (DESC). The event will explore energy information rights and the responsibilities of consumers, utilities, and the IT industry, with a special focus on consumer rights and privacy.

Connecting multiple stakeholders will be an important part of building the next-generation energy grid. Information is a critical part of the smart grid, just

Read the rest

Do Track Me… But With a Little Bit of Style!

I read an article in the Washington Post today by Michael Rosenwald which took up a theme I blogged about earlier: at least half the problem with online advertisers is that when they track you they do such a crummy job of actually sending relevant ads and offers your way.

Imagine if you knew as much about me as “they” do: what sites I visit, what I do when I go there, what I buy online.  Don’t you think you could come up with some decent ideas about what to pitch to me?

Rosenwald tried to completely open up his preferences by going directly to ad network sites and checking and unchecking preferences: flowers, but not cars, gadgets but not cars.  Please, Lord, anything but cars!

His results?

There were, however, signs of relevancy. In my day-to-day surfing, I noticed a striking increase in the number of gadget and computer ads. I noticed flower ads. I noticed about a 20 percent decline in car ads. Did I also still see ads for beauty products? Yes. Did I also see ads for Goldman Sachs? Yes. Did those ads annoy me?

Read the rest

Strategies to Reduce Barriers to the Free Flow of Information Online

We live in a global economy and society built on our investments in computer and network technology. Our connectedness—our ability to work and communicate easily with those outside of our borders–is the foundation of our digital economy. Policymakers are increasingly recognizing that the free flow of information online is important both for promoting democratic values (see Secretary Clinton’s remarks last year on Internet Freedom) and for promoting commerce (see the Department of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force examination of this issue). Yet barriers, both new and old, impair our connectivity and limit the potential of free trade. Especially from the commercial perspective, restrictions on the flow of information impact innovation, collaboration, trade, investment and economic activity.

Examples of barriers to the free flow of information include local data storage requirements for cloud computing, outdated regulations for voice-over-IP (VoIP) services, inadequate protect of digital copyrights, overlapping and conflicting data privacy regulations, restrictions on content and speech and liability for intermediaries, such as user-generated content sites. While these barriers and their origins have been explored in other contexts, I would like to address some of the potential solutions available to

Read the rest

DOD Puts the Focus on Operational Energy


Over the past several years, it’s become clear that the Department of Defense’s fossil fuel use represents a strategic vulnerability, and that greater efficiency and fuel alternatives are needed. Earlier this week, DOD took a solid step forward by releasing its long-awaited Operational Energy Strategy. The strategy is fairly light on details—those will come with the implementation plan expected later this year—but it hits many of the right notes. DOD has been doing quite a bit in recent years on energy alternatives (see our recent reportfor more), and having an overall operational strategy could give these efforts a level of focus and coordination. Even more importantly, it could accelerate clean technology development.


DOD is the single largest energy consumer on the planet, and “operational energy”— energy used for military operations including training, combat, and battlefield support—accounts for 75 percent of it. The consequences of this consumption are vast, even beyond the standard economic and foreign policy concerns over foreign oil reliance. For one, petroleum price volatility can drain financial resources away from other important military uses like training and vehicle maintenance. And emissions-driven climate change has also become

Read the rest

Technology and Automation Create, Not Destroy, Jobs

During an interview (third minute) with Ann Curry of NBC’s Today program yesterday morning (June 14, 2011), President Obama suggested that technology and automation were in part responsible for the U.S. economy’s sluggish job growth. The President explained that,  “There are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM, you don’t go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate.” But the President’s suggestion that technology leads to job loss is simply not the case. In fact, U.S. productivity gains were higher before the Great Recession than they are now (and productivity gains were higher still in the 1990s when job growth was booming), meaning that technological-based productivity gains are not the culprit behind recent sluggish U.S. job growth. Rather, as ITIF explains it its report Embracing the Self-Service Economy, the vast majority of economic studies show that productivity gains—including through self-service technologies such as ATMs,

Read the rest