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All posts by Clifton Yin

It’s Global Warming, Not Just American Warming

One of the chief takeaways from the Energy Innovation 2013 conference last week is that “it’s global warming, not just ‘American warming,” as ITIF president Robert Atkinson put it in his opening remarks. “To fight climate change, policymakers need more than existing methods at their disposal and they must target clean technology innovations globally, according to experts,” is how E&E News summarized (subscription article) the event, with the emphasis on “globally.” It is thus unsurprising that economist Noah Smith wrote a thoughtful blog post that reaches the same conclusion.

Smith starts out by highlighting an infographic from the Business Council for Sustainable Energy which notes that U.S. total energy-related carbon emissions are down 13% since 2007, with natural gas increasingly providing baseload power in lieu of coal. “If the U.S. were the world,” Smith observes, “the fight against global warming would be going well.” Of course, “the U.S. is not the world”:

Global warming is global. The only thing that matters for the world is global emissions. And global emissions are still going up, thanks to strong increases in emissions in the developing world, notably China.

Figures released

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Looking Back at the Tenure of Energy Secretary Steven Chu

Steven Chu published an open letter today to Department of Energy (DOE) employees announcing that he will not continue to serve as Secretary under the second Obama administration. The letter is a great overview of the Energy Department’s challenges and accomplishments over the past four years and is very much worth reading in its entirety. Here are some important highlights.

As ITIF has pointed out, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is “a leading force for energy innovation in the country, if not the leading force.” It almost certainly enjoys the most bipartisan support of any Energy Department agency. Yet as Secretary Chu observes, at the start of his term, it was simply another unfunded mandate:

Four years ago, ARPA-E was a vision described in the report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm. I was a member of that committee, but never dreamed that I would be asked to take the concept to reality… What have been the early results? ARPA-E was described by Fred Smith of Fed Ex in his ARPA-E Summit Keynote address that in his opinion, ARPA-E was [the] best government funding program he has ever seen.

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John Kerry: Energy Policy is the Solution to Climate Change

The issue of climate change arose during Senator John Kerry’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of State yesterday and the senator provided several thoughtful comments. Senator John Barrasso initiated the discussion when he expressed concern that action on climate change “could do significant harm to the U.S. economy.” Senator Kerry replied thusly:

The solution to climate change is energy policy. And the opportunities of energy policy so vastly outweigh the downsides that you’re expressing concern about. I will spend a lot of time trying to persuade you and other colleagues of this. You want to do business and do well in America? We’ve got to get into the energy race. Other countries are in it… This is a place for us to recognize what other countries are doing and what our states that are growing are doing, which is there’s an extraordinary amount of opportunity in modernizing America’s energy grid.

First, Senator Kerry is absolutely right that the solution to climate change is energy policy. As Matthew Stepp and Jesse Jenkins detail in their Future of Global Climate Policy series, “To rapidly decarbonize the economy requires greatly accelerating the replacement of

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Critical Materials Institute a Welcome Addition to the Energy Innovation Ecosystem

Dysprosium, a rare earth metal used in magnets for wind turbines and electric vehicles. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Last week, the Department of Energy announced the establishment of a new Energy Innovation Hub at the Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa – the fifth such Hub, following the creation of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research last November. The new Hub will be named the Critical Materials Institute and will “develop solutions to the domestic shortages of rare earth metals and other materials critical for U.S. energy security,” as stated in the Department of Energy (DOE) press release. The Hub-system continues to be a model for concentrating national research efforts, both public and private, and the focus area of the newest addition is a vital one.

As the DOE notes in a helpful infographic, rare earth metals like dysprosium and neodymium are essential to the creation of a wide array of electronics, as well as clean energy technologies like photovoltaic solar film, wind turbines, and electric vehicles. Yet China alone produces close to 95 percent of the world’s supply of rare earth metals, a set of seventeen different chemical

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America Needs a Vibrant Clean Energy Manufacturing Sector

This week, the Brookings Institution released three papers with recommendations to revitalize the domestic manufacturing sector. One proposes the creation of a national network of advanced industries innovation hubs, which would “focus on cross-cutting innovation and technology deployment challenges …by drawing universities, community colleges, state and local governments, and other actors into strong industry-led partnerships.” Another paper calls for an annual, $150 million national “Race to the Shop” competition involving multidisciplinary proposals “to address the manufacturing workforce and skills challenges” of states and regions. Finally, the third paper, authored by ITIF President Robert Atkinson and ITIF Senior Analyst Stephen Ezell, recommends the designation of 20 U.S. “manufacturing universities,” which would receive an annual, federal award of at least $25 million and be obligated to “revamp their engineering programs much more around manufacturing engineering, with particular emphasis on work that is relevant to industry.” The release of the reports helps highlight the need not only for a robust domestic manufacturing sector in general, but a robust clean energy manufacturing sector in particular.

As Atkinson and Ezell note in their book, Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage, “Perhaps no canard

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Innovation Should Be Central to Next Energy Secretary’s Agenda

Now that President Obama has nominated candidates to head the CIA and the Departments of Defense, State, and Treasury in his second term, attention now shifts to his choices for the rest of the Cabinet, including Energy Secretary. A Politico report today suggests that the two leading candidates are former North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan and Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Both are eminently well-qualified for the position, but as noted in a previous blog post, “a clear understanding of the innovation process and an eye towards continuing reforming the DOE” should be of prime importance to the next Energy Secretary.

The Politico article starts by observing that Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s stock has risen as a possible successor to Secretary Chu after being passed over for the top Defense Department job, while according to a former senior DOE official, “the White House ‘has only one name’ for the [Energy] post, and that’s Dorgan.” To be sure, Senator Dorgan has a strong background in energy policy as a former member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and leader of the Energy Project at the Bipartisan

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Assessing the Wind Production Tax Credit

As part of the recent fiscal cliff deal, Congress authorized a one-year extension for the wind production tax credit (PTC) – welcome news for the industry that was largely overshadowed by the other terms of the bargain. But as The Washington Post writer Brad Plumer points out, “even with the tax credit renewal, the wind industry is still likely to slump in 2013…partly because congressional support for wind is extremely erratic — never steady, and always on the verge of expiration.” Seeing as how the tax credit was first authorized in 1992 and has expired and been reauthorized in fits and starts since then, serious assessment of the policy and consideration of possible reform in Congress is thus long overdue.

Over at MIT Technology Review, Kevin Bullis provides a clear-eyed assessment of the wind PTC’s track record in the 20 years since it was first made available, noting that “there haven’t been radical changes to wind turbines in that time.” Why?

The production tax credit hasn’t stimulated radical innovation because it encourages wind project developers to stick to proven technology that’s likely to produce a steady stream of

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Getting SMARTer About Wielding ICT to Cut Emissions

The Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), an information and communication technology (ICT) industry partnership, just released a new report that details how expanded use of ICT could cut global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 16.5% by 2020 and offset $1.9 trillion in gross energy and fuel costs. The report, SMARTer2020, was put together by The Boston Consulting Group and also finds ICT’s GHG abatement potential to be the equivalent to more than seven times the ICT sector’s emissions over the same time period. Clearly, ICT can play an important role in saving energy and mitigating climate change.

A GeSI press release summarizes SMARTer2020’s findings:

The new research study identifies GHG abatement potential from ICT-enabled solutions ranging across six sectors of the economy: power, transportation, manufacturing, consumer and service, agriculture, and buildings. Emission reductions come from virtualization initiatives such as cloud computing and video conferencing, but also through efficiency gains such as optimization of variable-speed motors in manufacturing, smart livestock management to reduce methane emissions, and 32 other ICT-enabled solutions identified in the study. Some ICT-driven solutions such as smart electricity grids reap benefits at the national level, whilst others

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New Energy Innovation Hub a Step Towards BatteryShot

One of the recommendations of the ITIF report Shifting Gears: Transcending Conventional Economic Doctrines to Develop Better Electric Vehicle Batteries is the creation of a “BatteryShot Initiative” to “coordinate government battery RD&D efforts and establish a clear metric for success”. (This follows the initiative of a 2011 Innovation Files blog post). In late November, the Department of Energy (DOE) took a step in that direction and announced the creation of a new Batteries and Energy Storage Hub. The Hub, to be formally known as the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), will be located on the Argonne National Laboratory campus and “will combine the R&D firepower of five DOE national laboratories, five universities, and four private firms in an effort aimed at achieving revolutionary advances in battery performance”, as noted in the press release.

JCESR (pronounced “J-Caesar”) will actually be the 4th Energy Innovation Hub, with Hubs for energy efficient buildings, fuels from sunlight, and nuclear reactor innovation, respectively, all having been established since 2010. JCESR certainly has a strong foundation in Argonne National Laboratory – researchers at the Lab were instrumental in developing the battery

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The Fight Against Chinese Green Mercantilism Continues

Last month, the United States International Trade Commission voted to uphold tariffs on solar panels imported from China. The Commerce Department had imposed the tariffs earlier this year in response to China’s heavy subsidization of domestic solar PV manufacturers. However, while the move is welcome, it is important to recognize that is not a magic fix and the fight against Chinese green mercantilism continues. To be sure, the tariffs are well-justified, as they can simultaneously help level the playing field, discourage China from employing unfair trade practices, and encourage clean energy innovation. But they may be too little, too late. Since the tariffs apply solely to panels made of Chinese-produced solar cells, Chinese companies can avoid them by assembling panels with cells produced elsewhere. ITIF Senior Analyst Matthew Stepp details the result at Forbes:

By shifting its way through loopholes in the tariff ruling, China is rerouting its manufacturing ... Read the rest