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

clean energy

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

Congress Passes Full-Year FY2013 Continuing Resolution

This year’s budget process has been complicated by a number of factors: confusion surrounding the sequestration cuts, the absence of the President’s FY2014 budget proposal, an expiring Continuing Resolution (CR), and Congress reviewing budget proposals for FY2014 and appropriations bills for FY2013 at the same time. While the FY2014 budget is yet to be decided, last week the House approved the Senate’s version of the Full-Year Consolidated and Further Continuing Resolution Act of 2013, which funds the federal government for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year. Since the current Continuing Resolution is set to expire on March 27, the bill, which now heads to President Obama’s desk to be signed into public law, avoids a government shutdown by a matter of days.

As shown in the figure, the new CR is not very different from the old CR in terms of investments in energy innovation. The previous CR was based on FY2012 funding levels, and the new CR lowers investments in energy R&D by less than one percent from FY2012 levels.

CR(2) graph

The table below shows the recent appropriations legislative history in relationship to FY2012 funding levels. The new

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

On Moving Towards Innovative Solutions to Deploying Clean Energy Technologies

Solar energy entrepreneur Jigar Shah took to the site Greentech Media to criticize U.S. energy policy leaders for failing to champion deploying today’s clean energy technologies. Shah’s focus on ways to better deploy competitive clean energy underscores the critical need to re-frame the clean energy debate in terms of innovation and have a healthy discussion on building better policy solutions for deployment that drive innovation and support the growing clean energy industry.

Assessing the Character of U.S. Energy Policy

According to ITIF’s Energy Innovation Tracker, the United States invested $68.3 billion in clean energy innovation (in addition to $35.6 billion in loan guarantees) since 2009, 67 percent of which went towards clean energy deployment policies. This included deploying existing technologies through Stimulus policies like the loan guarantee program, energy efficiency grants, advanced manufacturing, and almost single-handedly saving the solar and wind industry through the 1603 cash grant program at the height of the recession. Even in FY2012, which is absent Stimulus funding, 63 percent of the $14 billion in clean energy innovation investment went to deployment projects and programs.

In other words, deployment has represented a significant focus

Read the rest

President’s Call for Addressing Climate Change Lacks Vision and Scope

President Obama aggressively called for addressing climate change in his fifth State of the Union address, but ultimately came up short of outlining a clear and compelling vision with the necessary policy scope to address the significant technological challenges impacting clean energy.

Here are my five top take-aways:

1) Demanded Action to Address Climate Change

It is indicative of the sad state of the U.S. climate debate when a mere mention of support for addressing climate change elicits celebration. Nonetheless, the President deserves credit for calling on Congress to take action against climate change and using about 10 percent of his speech to discuss what he would like to see.

“But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods – all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states

Read the rest

Breaking Down the Federal Clean Energy Innovation Budget: Manufacturing Investments

This is the 5th and final post in a series 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.  Part 4 took a deeper dive into clean energy deployment policies.

In the first post of this series, I called attention to the eminent need for supporting a well-developed and funded clean energy manufacturing sector as part of a robust innovation ecosystem. The feedback loops between manufacturing and research is explicitly linked. Even with all the R&D, demonstration, and deployment of clean energy, the United States could lose its competitive advantage over production resulting in the industry (and future innovation) to move overseas without strong policy support for advanced manufacturing. But like many other parts of America’s energy innovation budget, support for advanced manufacturing is rapidly declining.

The figure below shows that investment in clean energy manufacturing has fallen from nearly $9 billion to only $700 million between FY2009 and FY2012, or a 92 percent decrease. Direct spending in FY2009 and FY2010

Read the rest

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

Read the rest

President Obama Emerges as Born-Again Climate Hawk…Now What?

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations…The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.”- President Barack Obama, 2013 Inaugural Speech

For climate change and clean energy advocates, these words are a cause for celebration no matter how brief. After two years of policy inaction, the President dedicated 13 lines – more words than any other issue – on the need to address climate change. On January 21, 2013, the President emerged as a born again climate hawk.

Moving forward, the President has a number of policy paths to choose from, many of which potentially offer the same fate as 2010’s climate change push when cap-and-trade was the policy du jour.

In particular, advocates less inclined to pitch another battle similar to the cap-and-trade debate are most interested in implementing climate policy through regulatory actions. This typically means utilizing existing EPA Clean Air Act authority to regulate carbon emissions from electricity generation plants. More specifically, the EPA could expand

Read the rest

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,

Read the rest