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DOD Steps Up Innovation in Installation Energy, Recognizes Limits in Biofuels

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It’s worth noting a pair of recent developments on the Defense Department energy front. One is a useful reminder of what DOD can achieve now with the proper support, and a cause for optimism; the other, more pessimistic, illustrates the pressing need for accelerated innovation in the alternative fuels industry more broadly if DOD’s strategic energy needs are to be met.

 

First, the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), which runs the Installation Energy Test Bed Initiative for the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, has announced27 award recipients under its latest funding round. The initiative was originally established in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to serve as an evaluator of emerging energy solutions: the program tests technologies in operating environments, assesses their costs and benefits, and facilitates scale-up of those that are most promising.

 

As we explained in a report earlier this year, DOD sees energy as a strategic vulnerability, and recognizes installation energy efficiency and civilian grid independence as substantial opportunities. This thinking underlies the varied efficiency targets previously mandated by legislation, executive order, and internal

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To Deploy or Not to Deploy?

A recent report by the California Council on Science and Technology has rekindled the debate (see Andrew Revkin, Joe Romm, Dave Roberts) over technological readiness in clean energy, and whether we should be committing resources to innovation or deployment. I’m going to argue here that this deployment question is something of a false choice: the question isn’t whether to deploy or not to deploy, the question is how. It’s really about balance: getting this balance right means we optimize scarce resources to give ourselves the best shot at slowing emissions; getting it wrong means wasting time and money, chasing false solutions while emissions grow.

First things first: the California report asked whether existing technology can achieve the state’s aggressive emissions targets, and the results were straightforward: looking at technical feasibility, and assuming neither political will nor economic cost constrains the effort, California could hypothetically reduce its emissions to 60% below 1990 levels by 2050 – a big number, but short of its mandated target of 80% below 1990 levels. Meeting this more ambitious target requires new technology:

All of the approaches that will reduce emissions from

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Thomas Friedman’s Quasi-Market Fundamentalism

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is a frustrating guy. He has been a stalwart, welcome advocate for clean energy and for the need to deal with climate change. Further, he gets the fact that clean energy represents a major front in the battle for international competitiveness, and has even recognized the need for some big breakthroughs in the past. As he wrote in Hot, Flat and Crowded:

All the advances we have made so far in wind, solar, geothermal, solar thermal, hydrogen, and cellulosic ethanol are incremental, and there has been no breakthrough in any other energy source. Incremental breakthroughs are all we’ve had, but exponential is what we desperately need. That’s why the green revolution is first and foremost an innovation challenge – not a regulation challenge.

So he’s a green evangelist, and he wants clean energy innovation, and that’s good. But he, like many others, also has some persistent misconceptions about how to drive the innovation he wants, or how to make sure it boosts the U.S. economy and jobs while closing the trade deficit. And that’s bad, because it means he – and others who

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Energy Innovation: If You Don’t Occasionally Fail, You’re Doing It Wrong

The high-profile bankruptcy of solar manufacturer Solyndra – the recipient of a $535 million federal loan guarantee from the Department of Energy – is sending shockwaves through the clean energy community, rightly so. Few other companies have been so closely identified with the Administration’s current clean energy push, or been the subject of as much controversy. The failure certainly won’t make the politics of clean energy support any easier, and the timing could hardly be worse.

But the real problem isn’t necessarily Solyndra’s failure in itself. Indeed, counterintuitive though it may seem, we should actually expect some advanced technology companies receiving public support to fail. What do I mean by this? Remember a fundamental truth about innovation: when you’re trying new things, the likelihood of failure is high, and the newer and harder the things you’re trying, the more likely it is that you’re going to fail. Just ask Steve Jobs. And failure rates in the venture capital world can be quite high, after all.

Unfortunately this logic doesn’t lend itself well to the politics of public investment. In general, government is most helpful when it focuses on the … Read the rest

National Journal Experts Blog: Look Beyond the U.S. Market

The following is one of two cross-posted contributions from ITIF to National Journal.

 

Job growth in clean energy is a tricky subject. As Brookings found, green sector employment has increased substantially in recent years, and this trend is to be applauded. But a key economic challenge is to make sure that we aren’t just swapping green jobs for fossil energy jobs, and are actually achieving netjob growth. And an important way to do that is to look beyond the US market.

 

Think of it this way: over the past 40 years, energy expenditures have tended to account for less than 10 percent of GDP, only rising above that threshold in the crisis-riddled 1970s. There is little reason to expect energy consumption to account for an increasing share of the economy; in fact, we want the opposite to happen, through lower energy costs and ever-declining energy intensity. But if we’re using less energy, and paying less for it, then relying on domestic consumption for green job growth will have its limits.

 

So while the domestic market is important, we also need to place major emphasis

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Australia’s New Energy Regime

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Below figures will use Australian dollars unless otherwise noted.

As followers of the international climate and energy scene will know, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard last month unveiled a major climate change package attempting to reduce carbon emissions and spurring clean energy development. The full plan and a summary are here. It’s a lot to chew on, with a lot of moving parts, and though it is not yet law, passage seems assured later this year. Briefly, the centerpiece of the package is a $23 ($25 USD) per ton carbon price on the country’s 500 largest polluters. The price will rise by 2.5% each year, estimated to generate over $27 billion by 2015, after which it will be replaced by a carbon trading scheme. More than half of the tax revenues ($15 billion) will be used to assist consumers with higher energy costs. Most of the remaining revenue will go to adjustment and efficiency assistance for energy-intense industries like metals, minerals and chemicals, and additional assistance packages will specifically target the domestic coal and steel industries.

The plan will also invest $13.2 billion over the next decade in clean … Read the rest

Drilling Revenues: A Funding Stream for Energy Innovation?

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One of the major challenges in structuring a large-scale push to accelerate clean energy innovation is figuring out how to fund it in a time of austerity. The International Energy Agency estimates a global shortfall of tens of billions a year in public clean energy research, development and demonstration (RD&D). Domestically, several leading authorities in industry and government have persuasively argued that the federal clean energy innovation budget – now around $4 billion – needs to be tripled or more to have the best shot at producing the kinds of scalable clean technologies we need to displace fossil fuels. So big investment boosts are clearly needed – yet, as the House budget debate has made painfully clear, there’s little interest in even maintaining RD&D at its current meager levels, let alone increasing it. And carbon pricing, which would be a logical place to look for revenues, is also not in the cards this Congress.

 

In this austere environment, we thus need to be looking for alternative, dedicated revenue streams wherever we can find them – which brings us to drilling revenues. Just last week, Senator Murkowski proposed dedicating

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Sizing the Clean Economy

The following guest post was written by Mark Muro, Senior Fellow and Policy Director of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

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For all the debate, speculation, and controversy that has surrounded the hoped-for growth of the so-called “clean” economy and “green jobs” one thing has been in pretty short supply: facts. Hard to define and measure, the clean economy has remained as elusive as its promise has been alluring.

For all the talk the clean or green economy remains an enigma, in large part due to the continued absence of standard national definitions and data.

Which is why my group at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings last week released a new report assessing the current nature, size, and growth of the “green” or “clean” economy in U.S. regions.

Developed in partnership with Battelle’s Technology Partnership Practice, our report and its underlying database—entitled “Sizing the Clean Economy”–are not perfect accountings. Still, I think you will agree they offer a compelling new national and metropolitan look at a sector of the economy that has remained at once an important aspiration and a frustrating enigma. (You can check out the live … 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

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DOD Puts the Focus on Operational Energy

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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

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