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All posts by Megan Nicholson

Energy Innovation Debate Panel

Looking to the Future at Energy Innovation 2013

The purpose of Energy Innovation 2013 – a half-day conference co-hosted by my organization, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, and the Breakthrough Institute – was to discuss the possibility of developing and deploying all of the cheap, high-performing zero-carbon technologies necessary to meet 40 terawatts of projected global demand by mid-century.  Most importantly, the conference spurred debate on how the need for clean energy innovation should influence the climate and energy policy debate.

Over the course of three stellar panel discussions as well as follow-on debate via twitter (check out #EI13), a number of themes emerged that merit further debate amongst advocates, thinkers, and policymakers:

It’s Global Warming, Not American Warming

ITIF President Rob Atkinson set the stage for why energy innovation needs to be a policy priority by presenting a straight-forward logic chain: climate change is real and man-made, it’s about developing clean energy technologies that are cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives to drive down carbon emissions, and it’s globally pervasive. Clean energy technologies need to be affordable to all nations, and particularly emerging economies with growing populations that will consume more energy in the coming

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Breaking Down the Federal Clean Energy Innovation Budget: Deployment Incentives

This is Part 4 of a series of posts analyzing and detailing federal investments in clean energy innovation. Part 1 defined “clean energy innovation.” Part 2 broke down the federal clean energy innovation budget. Part 3 took a look at federal investments in clean energy demonstration projects.

For the last couple of years, the lion’s share of debate on U.S. clean energy policy has focused on encouraging deployment – or large-scale construction and installation – of low-carbon technologies. By significantly deploying clean energy technologies, supporters say, the United States can encourage integration of emerging technologies in an energy market dominated by entrenched fossil fuel interests, spur cost-cutting economies of scale, and get started on lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the process. However, others argue that there is a necessity to designing well-constructed deployment incentives aimed at directly spurring innovation to address climate change.

A Quick Typology of Deployment Policies

Federal clean energy deployment incentives can be made available through grants and other annually appropriated programs. For instance, the State and Tribal Energy Programs at the Department of Energy (DOE) deploy building efficiency and renewable energy technologies within communities. The New

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Breaking Down the Federal Clean Energy Innovation Budget: Demonstration Projects

This is Part 3 of a series of posts analyzing and detailing federal investments in clean energy innovation using the Energy Innovation TrackerPart 1 defined “clean energy innovation” and Part 2 broke down the federal clean energy innovation budget.

Why Government Investment in Demonstration Projects Can Be Controversial

Transforming the U.S. (and global) energy system from fossil fuels to low-carbon technologies requires a healthy, publicly supported innovation ecosystem that invests in and supports research, development, demonstration, and deployment. But as discussed in Part 2 of this series, America’s energy innovation ecosystem is “hollowed out”, particularly because of reduced investment in technology demonstration projects.

At its very basic level, technology demonstration projects exhibit full-scale models of first-of-kind technologies and systems, as opposed to pilot projects (e.g. an ARPA-E project), which aim to simply prove a technical idea. Demonstration projects aim to prove a technology at commercial scale.

Clean energy demonstration projects are an area of extreme policy debate and controversy for two reasons. First, clean energy demonstration projects are often capital-intensive projects that require significant investment and public-private collaboration, typically invoking considerable attention because of large budgets. Second,

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Breaking Down the Federal Clean Energy Innovation Budget

This is Part 2 of a series of posts analyzing and detailing federal investments in clean energy innovation. Part 1, defining clean energy innovation, can be found here.

Clean energy innovation encompasses more than any one policy, whether it is R&D, tax incentives, regulation, or an economy-wide carbon price. Well-designed public investments impact the entire energy innovation ecosystem and fill gaps in next-generation technology development and deployment. Using data from the Energy Innovation Tracker, this post takes a top-line look at the United States’ portfolio of clean energy investments between 2009 and 2012.

The figure below details federal investments in energy innovation since FY2009, which are divided into ‘technology development’ and ‘technology deployment’ categories. In this case, technology development captures all investments in basic science, research and development, demonstration; technology deployment investments facilitate the installation and procurement of clean energy technologies in commercial markets, along with supporting investments in siting and permitting and training and education.


During the past four years, the balance between development and deployment has evolved dramatically, driven in part by increased procurement of emerging and commercial off-the-shelf energy technologies by the Department of Defense,

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Scale-Up of Military Biofuels Could Generate Significant Economic Activity

The Department of Defense's role in energy innovation and the development of clean energy technologies from basic science through procurement and commercialization has come to the front of policy discussion. This conversation is particularly centered around DOD’s interests in using drop-in biofuels to reduce the department’s significant, costly, and sometimes dangerous reliance on petroleum-based fuels. According to the Energy Innovation Tracker, DOD investment in basic science, R&D, and procurement of advanced biofuels peaked in FY2010 at $155 million (including ARRA investment) and has fallen to $37 million in FY2012. Ninety-two percent of FY2012 biofuel investment was for research and development. A November 2012 report prepared by Environmental Entrepreneurs titled, The Economic Benefits of Military Biofuels, finds that meeting DOD’s biofuel utilization targets will generate significant economic activity — between $9.6 and $19.8 billion — and create between 14,000 and 17,000 new jobs by 2020. The report calculates the economic impact of DOD’s scale-up of biofuel usage by starting with the commitments ... Read the rest

Third Debate: Basic Research Not Enough to Spur Energy Innovation

Last night marked the third and final presidential debate of the 2012 election, and was the first time since 1984 that climate change went unmentioned by the presidential candidates in any of the debates. (“Obviously there are only so many [topics] you can get to,” debate moderator Bob Schieffer noted afterwards. “I had questions about climate change to talk about.”) The election has generally been devoid of serious discussion of climate change and energy innovation, and candidates and moderators alike avoided both the issues in the first and second presidential debates of this cycle as well. Beyond recalling the same rhetoric about energy security used in the last two debates, however, this discussion did highlight the candidates’ positions on federally-funded basic research.

The president observed that “if we’re not making investments in education and basic research, which is not something that the private sector is doing at a sufficient pace right now and has never done, then we will lose the [lead] in things like clean energy technology.” He was right to make the link between smart government investment and technology development, but wrong to focus on basic research.

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Second Debate: Another Night Sans Energy Innovation and Climate Change

Last night, President Obama and Governor Romney met for the second of three presidential debates that included a strong focus on energy and the economy. The problem is that the two biggest issues driving both topics – spurring clean energy innovation and addressing climate change – were no-shows. Instead, the debate was focused on how the candidates can significantly lower gasoline prices (they can’t) and who supports coal, natural gas, and oil more.

Without sounding like embittered policy wonks, this is troubling. A policy debate on energy and the economy that ignores innovation and climate change just isn’t a serious or rational debate.

This is best summed up by the debate moderator, Candy Crowley, who noted on CNN that she refrained from calling on one participant who had prepared a question on climate change: “Climate change, I had that question. All you climate change people. We just – you know, again, we knew that the economy was still the main thing, so you knew you kind of wanted to go with the economy.” Except climate change and the economy are not mutually exclusive! In fact, addressing climate change

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Army and Solar Panels

Putting Numbers to DOD’s Clean Energy Innovation Endeavors

In March 2011, ITIF released Lean, Mean and Clean: Energy Innovation and the Department of Defense, a report detailing the ways in which DOD’s accredited and successful innovation ecosystem could be applied to the development of breakthroughs in clean energy technology. To expound further on these conclusions, ITIF – in conjunction with the Energy Innovation Tracker (EIT), a free and publicly accessible data source for federal investments in energy innovation – released a supplementary report: Lean, Mean and Clean II: Assessing DOD Investments in Clean Energy Innovation, which explores in detail the character of DOD’s investments in energy innovation by innovation stage, military branch, and technology. The report concludes that while all DOD investments are mission-oriented and are focused primarily on equipping and protecting the armed forces, commercial spillovers are plausible for advanced technologies with diverse applications.

According to the report, DOD has upped its energy innovation investments at a rate of about ten percent per year on average since FY2009, growing its total energy innovation budget to nearly $1.5 billion for FY2012. Using EIT’s data collection methodology, the report analysis is based on project-level investment documented in

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First Debate: No Clear Winner on Energy Innovation (Or Any Talk of Innovation At All)

During last night’s Presidential debate on the economy, President Obama and Governor Romney managed to touch on clean energy innovation policy – albeit only within vague talking points. In fact, the word “innovation” was only mentioned twice, and only in the context of the American people being innovative. In other words, in a debate on the economy, neither candidate for President of the United States mentioned the primary driver of economic growth, job creation, or the critical way America will make clean energy cheap and viable everywhere. As I’m sure many analysts have said today, we’re not surprised.

But even in clean energy’s brief moment in the spotlight, an important clean energy policy – government investment – was discussed. The president touted investments in clean energy – “ We’ve got to look at the energy sources of the future, like wind and solar and biofuels, and make those investments.” Governor Romney countered to criticize the President’s investments in clean energy policies through the Stimulus, “But don’t forget, you put $90 billion…into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1. I mean, I had a friend who said

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Sequestration Threatens Future of Energy Innovation and GDP Growth

Congress has yet to come up with a plan for handling the threatening consequences of sequestration, or the blunt, automatic across-the-board budget cuts enacted by law by the Budget Control Act of 2011, a consequence of Congress’s failure to agree on a bipartisan deficit reduction plan.  As a result, the first installment of cuts goes into effect January 1st of 2013 and according to the Energy Innovation Tracker will have significant impacts on clean energy innovation that will severely handicap America’s already underfunded clean energy innovation ecosystem.

Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the sequester calls for the reduction of the federal debt by $2.4 trillion over a ten year period; $1.2 trillion of the savings are slated to come from discretionary spending, which funds the federal government’s education, science, technology and research programs, among others.  A report recently released by ITIF, Eroding our Foundation: Sequestration, R&D, Innovation and U.S. Economic Growth, verifies concerns over the future of U.S. competitiveness if Congress fails to come up with a viable debt reduction alternative. The report concludes that because R&D is a critical input to economic growth, reduction

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