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

All posts by

Draft House Appropriations Bill Continues Efforts to Gut Energy Innovation, Leaves Fossil Energy Intact

It’s not a surprise – it never really was – but the just-released House FY2012 Energy and Water Appropriations bill predictably seeks hefty cuts to the nation’s innovative capacity in clean energy, in a continuation of efforts by opponentsof public-private innovation and clean energy alike.

 

The Administration has rightly been gearing up a major push to accelerate cleantech innovation and strategy, in part by seeking necessary and appropriate boosts to federal investment in the Recovery Act and FY21012 budget request. The Energy and Water bill seeks to roll much of that back and then some, not only denying these boosts in investment but setting budgetary levels back to pre-2010 levels.

 

Department-wide, the bill would pile on top of cuts already made to innovation investments earlier this yearby trimming $6 billion from the Administration’s request, which would leave departmental funding nearly $2 billion below FY 2010 levels. The kicker—and the real problem—is that according to the Committee’s math, most of this cutting comes out of clean energy’s hide. Compared with the current year’s budget, more than half of the proposed cuts come from clean energy innovation programs

Read the rest

Innovation in Clean Energy and IT: The Same or Different?

At a Seattle climate event a couple weeks back, Bill Gates reiterated his long-standing argument for increased government support for clean energy innovation and R&D (transcript and video). Key quote:

In my view, you need a portfolio of investments, but the thing I think that’s the most underinvested in is basic R&D. That’s something that only the government, really, is going to do. Once you get further downstream, there are a lot of opportunities [for companies] … That upstream part is part of what makes me optimistic, even though we seem to have a political road-jam, at least temporarily, on some of the issues like carbon pricing. The innovation piece really is so important, and I do see good things happening, but the federal government should more than double what it’s spending on that piece.

This is a point he’s been making on his own and as a part of the elite American Energy Innovation Council, and it’s one we largely agree with: you’ve got to invest in innovation to make cleantech work. If you only worry about pushing the existing menu of clean technologies out the

Read the rest

Public-Private Clean Energy Innovation at Work: The Massachusetts Wind Technology Testing Center

Windturbine_610x341

Many clean energy advocates focus primarily on “deployment, deployment, deployment.” Yet a recent development in Massachusetts provides a reminder that there’s much more to clean energy technology commercialization than flat subsidies for production. Last week, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), a state agency dedicated to clean energy industry development, officially opened the Wind Technology Testing Center(WTTC) in Boston Harbor. The WTTC, which will work with manufacturers to test large turbine blades to facilitate commercialization, is a joint project of the state of Massachusetts, the Department of Energy, and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), and received major funding through the Recovery Act.

 

The center is capable of testing turbine blades up to 90 meters, which makes it the first such testing facility in the U.S. and the largest in the world. Previously, according to the Department of Energy, blades larger than 50 meters could only be tested in Europe. Some additional details from MassCEC (also see the Governor’s Office Flickr feed, as well as the New England Clean Energy Council’s photos, of the impressive facility):

When completed the WTTC will provide three

Read the rest

Greenpeace’s Misdiagnosis

A couple weeks back, Greenpeace released a report that draws attention to energy consumption patterns and choices in the IT industry. From the executive summary:

A quick glance at the letter grades on our Cloud Energy Report Card (found on page 7 of this report) indicates that many IT brands at the vanguard of this 21st century technological shift are perpetuating our addiction to dirty energy technologies of the last two centuries. We analyzed the data centre investments of 10 top global cloud companies and our findings show a trend across the industry towards extolling the external effects of IT products and services, while failing to take seriously the need to power this widespread aggregation of the world’s information with clean, renewable electricity.

While the report has drawn criticism, it actually does have some kind things to say about the IT sector’s energy efficiency efforts, and rightly so (the Digital Energy Solutions Campaign is a great resource for more on these efforts). But the real thrust of the report is to criticize the industry’s energy choices, while also calling for more “transparency.” On this issue, the report loses some

Read the rest

Esty and Porter’s Call for a Carbon Tax Misses Badly

In yesterday’s New York Times, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection chief Daniel Esty and Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter issued a call for an “emissions charge” (i.e. a carbon tax) to address the nation’s oil dependence and climate risks, joining a long line of others who continue to do the same. Specifically:

The best way to drive energy innovation would be an emissions charge of $5 per ton of greenhouse gases beginning in 2012, rising to $100 per ton by 2032. The low initial charge, starting next year, would make the short-term burden on consumers and businesses almost negligible…. Our proposal would apply to all greenhouse gas emissions, so that everybody, and every fossil-fuel-dependent form of energy, would be included…Yes, these costs would be passed on to consumers, but this is what motivates changes in behavior and technological investments.

It’s the neoclassical view that’s reverberated throughout the debate for years: get the prices right, get government out of the way, and let the market do its thing. Andrew Revkin has a point when he refers to the piece’s “retro feel.”

Of course, being retro is the least of … Read the rest

ARPA-E’s (Semi) New Lease on Life

Arpae_logo

It wasn’t that long ago that the federal Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) was on the verge of fiscal death. The agency was created in 2007 but didn’t receive a budget until 2009 with $400 million from the Recovery Act. By the beginning of this year, the FY2011 budget battle dragged along and the original funding was running thin. Various proposals were issued first to slash the agency’s budget by $250 million, and then to de-fund the innovative agency entirely.

But those bullets were dodged, and last week’s budget deal provided the agency with $180 million for the rest of FY2011—a reduced amount, to be sure, but better than the alternatives. Yesterday, during a call to announce how ARPA-E would leverage the new funding, Secretary Chu called the agreement a “big victory,” and described the stakes for more severe cuts in blunt terms:

Any new projects would have to have been put on ice. The program would not have been funded.”

Per yesterday’s announcement, $130 million of the new funding will be used for five new game-changing technology programs, all of which demonstrate the agency’s

Read the rest

DOE Gearing Up For Quadrennial Technology Review

One of the big gaps in federal energy innovation policy has been the lack of overarching vision or strategy to define how to get where we need to go. When the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released its major report last fall on accelerating energy technology (PDF), they made the establishment of such a strategy their highest recommendation. The proposal was modeled in part after the Quadrennial Defense Review. Per the Council:

The President should establish a Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) process that will provide a multiyear roadmap that lays out an integrated view of short-, intermediate-, and long-term energy objectives; outlines legislative proposals to Congress; puts forward anticipated Executive actions coordinated across multiple agencies; and identifies resource requirements for the development and implementation of energy technologies.

In PCAST’s vision, this review would begin with DOE, but ultimately come to encompass the entire array of federal energy policy work, inside and outside DOE, by the middle of the decade.

In the months since, the Department of Energy has taken up this recommendation and begun to move forward on what is now being called the … Read the rest

Three Energy Assumptions the FY2012 Budget Resolution Gets Wrong

The House Budget Committee’s proposed FY2012 budget resolution, released today by Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, has already inspired substantial debate and reaction. The Committee is in a tough position—trying to balance the nation’s long-term fiscal stability in the face of huge deficits, interest-driven politics, and a divided Congress—but on the clean energy front, we’re hoping they’ll do better. Otherwise, the current proposal is essentially the same short-sighted approach to policy that has ruled the day for 40 years. That is something we can longer afford. The resolution proposes sharp reductions targeted directly at clean energy technology investment while expanding tens of billions of dollars in oil and gas subsidies and incentives, all of which would do nothing but set the nation back on clean energy competitiveness, gut innovative capacity, and further lock in old, dirty energy industries.

There’s responsible investment and fiscal management, and then there’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The trick is to know the difference, and make the kinds of cuts we have to make without also cutting those pieces that are germane to long-term growth, competitiveness, and innovation. This proposal doesn’t make … Read the rest

Induced Innovation and Carbon Pricing

Smokestacks

In climate policy debates, it’s a matter of faith among some in the environmental and economics communities that “price is king.” No less an authority than Alan Blinder has referred to carbon prices as a “miracle cure,” key to inducing massive investment and, thus, radical innovation in the private sector.

But will it? No. As we argue in a new report, most analysts who see the carbon price as a be-all, end-all climate and energy solution are dramatically overstating the ability of market signals to draw forth major innovations. You can’t fully solve the climate problem without a clean energy portfolio approach that includes radical new technologies, yet you don’t get radical new technologies from a simple price on carbon (especially one that would be constrained by the political system).

At the heart of the matter is the old technology-push versus demand-pull debate. From the technology-push perspective, the way to drive innovation and technological change is through focused (or not-so-focused) development efforts. The policy toolbox from this perspective includes investment and incentives for basic, applied, and translational research, competitive institutional structures, and strategy, with the … Read the rest

A Roadmap for America’s Energy Future? Hardly

For the second time in eight months, a coalition led by California Rep. Devin Nunes has proposed their Roadmap for America’s Energy Future (H.R. 909). The plan, introduced in the House last week, is advertised as a set of “comprehensive and forward thinking initiatives designed to address both the short and long-term energy needs of the United States.” Nunes and company deserve some credit for trying to straddle the market-and-drilling approach on the right with the green-deployment-now approach on the left; but, calling it a comprehensive energy policy solution? Far from it: the plan would do little more than drive fossil fuel development with some marginal progress on nuclear and renewables, while generally ignoring the need to drive innovation in the energy sector.

First, the key components: the bill would open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the outer continental shelf (OCS) to drilling for oil & gas, codifying the aggressive five-year leasing program (PDF) proposed, quite literally, during the Bush Administration’s waning hours. It would also restore Bush Administration plans to open roughly 2 million acres of western lands in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming to … Read the rest