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clean energy

Government Shutdown Damages U.S. Energy Innovation

The federal government has officially shutdown as of midnight, October 1st, 2013 due to Congress’s failure to pass a budget. The 2013 fiscal year ends on September 30th and the government required a new budget to continue operations. The government has been operating on a Continuing Resolution – a CR, or an extension of the previous years budget, since 2012.

While coverage of the shutdown will focus on the political circus that is fueling it and the thousands furloughed from their jobs, it is also important to note that it is directly impacting America’s overall energy innovation capacity. In the short-term, many of the nation’s premier energy innovation institutions will scale-down or shutdown completely, while a few will continue to operate using carryover funds. That means the longer the shutdown drags on, the less research America will produce, and the fewer next-gen energy technologies and fundamental scientific discoveries. In other words, a prolonged shutdown threatens overall U.S. international competitiveness and progress towards a low-carbon advanced energy system.

Specifically, the following energy-related institutions and programs are being directly impacted by the government shutdown:

Impacts on Existing Fossil Fuel

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Construction at Vogtle Nuclear Plant

Nuclear Energy Innovation Big and Small Important to Climate Change

In the last week, two news stories really captured the potential future for nuclear energy. The New York Times Matthew Wald reported from Georgia, where construction crews are slowly building the first two new nuclear reactors in thirty years. And National Geographic’s Will Ferguson reported from Tennessee that engineers and scientists are taking core samples and mapping regional geology as part of the early planning stages of building the first small modular nuclear reactor in the world. Both projects face unique challenges, yet they both represent the beginning of two potential nuclear paths for reducing climate-warming carbon emissions in the United States (and potentially the world).

Big-Box Nuclear Energy Innovation in Georgia

The nuclear generators we are all familiar with is physically recognized by large, curved cooling towers and billowing white steam, and pragmatically recognized as a significant source of carbon-free electricity. Big-box nuclear reactors across the United States provide about 19 percent of all electricity.

But for thirty years, the nuclear energy industry has remained stagnant. Due to a mix of factors including more stringent regulation, rising construction costs, falling fossil fuel prices, and the Three Mile Island meltdown,

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What Interior’s Lease Auction Says about Offshore Wind Innovation

The Department of Interior (DOI) announced this week the first-ever competitive offshore wind auction. Many policymakers and advocates are hailing it as a milestone moment: the auction offers leases for almost 165,000 acres of ocean off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, which if fully-developed, could power one million homes using clean wind power. While these short-term impacts are important, they’re still small compared to the overall clean energy needs of the United States (and the world). DOI’s auction is a much more important long-term step in support of offshore wind innovation.

Without a doubt, the opportunity is ripe for offshore wind technologies to generate low-carbon electricity. Seventy-eight percent of U.S. electricity demand comes from 28 coastal and Great Lake states, which geographically correspond well to high-speed offshore wind patterns. Many of these states pay higher average electricity costs than the rest of the country, providing an opening for low-cost, low-carbon energy alternatives (price data found here, page 7). But offshore wind has a big problem: it’s not cost-competitive with other sources of electricity.

The federal government, partnered with coastal states, recognizes this challenge and is implementing a 

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Making Sense of Government Energy Innovation Policy through Lawn Care

I recently asked a few colleagues over lunch the kind of wonky question that would only be allowed within the borders of the District of Columbia: Aside from more government investment – which is desperately needed – what are the big issues with America’s energy innovation ecosystem?

There’s no simple answer to that question, so we talked about a range of important ideas such as supporting advanced manufacturing, creating technology incubators, and reforming the DOE National Labs system. But what struck me was my colleagues’ insistence that what’s also needed is educating policymakers and advocates on how the energy innovation ecosystem fits together.

During the last five years, the U.S. federal government has added new institutions to spur innovation at different points along the technology development cycle, such as ARPA-E, the Energy Innovation Hubs, and Energy Frontier Research Centers. Analysts like myself argue more is needed. In response, policymakers fear duplication, extra bureaucracy, and inefficiencies often because these requests lack a clear case for how the policy pieces complement rather than repeat or compete with each other. This misunderstanding fuels – along with many other factors – a lack of

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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

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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

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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,

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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

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Obama’s Budget Boosts Support for Energy Innovation

President Obama released his long-awaited FY2014 budget request and while it’s unlikely the budget will be taken up by Congress in its entirety, it remains an important document. Namely, the proposal is significant because it steadfastly argues that America can continue to support next-generation industries like clean energy. In fact, the President’s proposal budgets for a number of high-profile, high-impact programs, including those aimed at growing the domestic clean energy manufacturing sector, reduce transportation fuel use, and calls on Congress to fund a new Energy Innovation Hub to transform the electricity grid.

Across the board, the FY2014 request boosts key energy innovation offices at DOE by about 15 percent compared to the FY2013 Continuing Resolution and seven percent higher than the President’s FY2013 request. The lion’s share of budget gains are aimed at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which would see a budget increase of 54 percent from FY2013 CR levels, and at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E),  which would see a budget increase of 46 percent.

Expanding Research Capabilities in Advanced Energy Manufacturing

The largest budget increase target at EERE – 22 percent to

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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

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