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 Matthew Stepp

Climate Hawks Should Aggressively Support the America COMPETES Act

Making Innovation Part of Climate Hawks Policy Pitch

In a previous article I argued that climate policy advocates should make energy innovation part of their policy elevator pitch. A good opportunity to start is now available through the debate on reforming and re-authorizing the America COMPETES Act.

Within the climate advocacy community there are those that argue for aggressive clean energy innovation policy (such as myself) and those that argue for aggressive deployment of existing clean energy technologies (such as Center for American Progress’s Joe Romm and 350.org’s Bill McKibben). Each provides different policy emphasis and nuance. Today, deployment policies receive higher priority, reflected in it dominating the narrative among advocates as well as dominating the portfolio of U.S. public investments in clean energy. As a result, conflict occurs over what policy changes should be made.

As Grist’s Dave Roberts argues (correctly to a degree), both “camps” agree on a lot and everyone should aggressively work for clean energy to be a national priority to “lift all boats,”—both innovation and deployment of today’s technologies alike. How then should this consensus be reflected in our pitches to policymakers?

In my

Read the rest

DOE Proposes Expanding High Impact Energy Innovation Incubator Program

Buried in the President’s FY2014 budget proposal is an interesting reform that could impact energy innovation without relying on Congress for any new – and hard to come by – federal investments. The idea is to create eight new research incubator programs at the Department of Energy that forge collaborations with early-stage start-ups to bring promising new ideas closer to commercial scale. In particular, the incubators would focus on promising technology pathways DOE is not currently investing in.

The incubator programs would be housed within each of the energy technology offices (except for geothermal) and leverage a small share of existing research budgets. The figure below provides the proposed budgets for the new incubators. (Note, the DOE is also continuing its existing solar incubator program.)

IncubatorChart

Each incubator is expressly aimed at emerging areas of research and technology development not “supported in any meaningful” way by existing DOE projects.

For example, the Vehicle Technologies Program wants to focus on advanced power electronics and electric motor ideas. The Advanced Manufacturing Program wants to invest in “revolutionary” technology pathways that cut energy-use in production, but also make U.S. manufacturers more competitive. And the

Read the rest

Thomas Friedman’s Evolving Support for an Innovation Carbon Tax

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is nothing but consistent: he wants a carbon tax and he wants it bad. Since 2005, he’s mentioned “carbon tax” 41 times in his column. Yet, while his support for a carbon tax hasn’t waned, the characteristics of his preferred carbon tax policy have.

As ITIF argues in Inducing Innovation: What a Carbon Price Can and Can’t Do, pricing carbon by itself does little to support clean energy and carbon reductions. It can be a useful tool for nudging near-competitive low-carbon technologies into the market and spurring modest carbon cuts, but it’s at best a complementary climate policy. That changes if we use a carbon tax as a revenue-raiser to support additional policies aimed at making clean energy cost and performance competitive with fossil fuels. In other words, tying a carbon tax to aggressive energy innovation policy can get us better climate mitigation “bang” for our climate policy “buck.” It’s why I proposed an “Innovation Carbon Price” that ties 20 percent of carbon tax revenue to public energy innovation investments and 80 percent to strengthening corporate tax incentives for training, research,

Read the rest

IEA Report Cover

Finding a New Direction in Climate Change Policy

It’s clear that the world is losing the race against global climate change. The International Energy Agency put numbers to this fact in a new report, Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2013, which finds that, “the amount of CO2 emitted for each unit of energy supplied has fallen by less than one percent since 1990.” In other words, for all of the global growth in renewable energy in the last decade, the world continues to rely on fossil fuels to the detriment of more global warming. Of course, this has to change and change fast.

This past weekend, I participated in a day-long symposium at Villanova University aimed at discussing what kind of changes need to be made. The conference hook was brought on by Rutgers Law Professor Howard Latin who provided the keynote address based on a book he published late last year titled Climate Change Policy Failures that argues conventional climate policy approaches fought for during the last twenty years such as cap-and-trade, international negotiations, and emission regulations won’t successfully produce deep carbon reductions. Latin contends that these “incremental” policy approaches simply kick the emission reduction can

Read the rest

European Carbon Market: Good Branding, Poor Substance

By Roger Pielke Jr, a Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado. Originally published at the Lowy Institute for International Policy Interpreter Blog

Last week, in a surprise to many, the European parliament defeated a proposal to postpone the auctioning of emissions permits, a move that would have propped up prices in the bloc’s carbon market, known as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme or ETS. The market reaction was quick and brutal, with the price of carbon allowances falling by more than 30%. The political reaction was similar — the Wall Street Journal wrote that the vote was the ‘equivalent of the pope renouncing celibacy‘.

Such proclamations are not limited to those opposed to action on climate. In London, a carbon industry insider explained that ‘We have reached the stage where the EU ETS has ceased to be an effective environmental policy.’ However, the fact that the ETS has fallen short of expectations has much more to do with unrealistic expectations than it does with a surprising decision by the European parliament. After all, the price of EU emissions allowances was €4.50 before the

Read the rest

Budget jar

President Obama’s Budget Promotes Innovation but More Work Needs to be Done

Innovation is one of America’s most prized assets. If our country is going to successfully compete on the global stage over the course of the next several decades, we must develop the new technologies, businesses and industries that will allow us to keep pace. President Obama’s just-released budget for 2014 contains several key components that further this goal.

ITIF applauds the President’s $1 billion request to create a series of manufacturing innovation institutes that will help propel advanced manufacturing and rejuvenate a sector of our economy that has been hit especially hard over the past decade. The National Network for Manufacturing Innovation will create 15 advanced manufacturing centers across the country that will spur research, development and deployment of next generation technologies, products and processes. As ITIF has shown, improving manufacturing innovation is central to enhancing American competitiveness and furthering economic development and business creation.

On energy innovation, the President’s budget request continues to push for greater public investment in the development of new clean energy technologies. The budget proposes boosting clean energy research to nearly $5 billion, a 15 percent increase compared to the FY2013 Continuing Resolution (CR)

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.

Dr. Cheryl Martin, Deputy Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E).

Dr. Cheryl Martin, Deputy Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E).

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

Read the rest

Talking Energy Innovation with ARPA-E’s Cheryl Martin, Part 2: Linking Research to Market

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

Talking Energy Innovation with ARPA-E’s Cheryl Martin, Part 1: ARPA-E’s Lessons Learned

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.

Dr. Cheryl Martin, Deputy Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E).

Dr. Cheryl Martin, Deputy Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E).

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

Read the rest

Making Energy Innovation Part of Advocates Climate Policy Elevator Pitch

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
Read the rest