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Looking Back at the Tenure of Energy Secretary Steven Chu

Steven Chu published an open letter today to Department of Energy (DOE) employees announcing that he will not continue to serve as Secretary under the second Obama administration. The letter is a great overview of the Energy Department’s challenges and accomplishments over the past four years and is very much worth reading in its entirety. Here are some important highlights.

As ITIF has pointed out, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is “a leading force for energy innovation in the country, if not the leading force.” It almost certainly enjoys the most bipartisan support of any Energy Department agency. Yet as Secretary Chu observes, at the start of his term, it was simply another unfunded mandate:

Four years ago, ARPA-E was a vision described in the report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm. I was a member of that committee, but never dreamed that I would be asked to take the concept to reality… What have been the early results? ARPA-E was described by Fred Smith of Fed Ex in his ARPA-E Summit Keynote address that in his opinion, ARPA-E was [the] best government funding program he has ever seen.

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Energy Innovation 2013 Conference Crowd

Recap: Energy Innovation 2013

Over 300 people, including representatives from business, government, academia and numerous advocacy groups, attended ITIF’s third annual Energy Innovation Conference on January 29. The event, which is quickly becoming one of the nation’s leading energy policy conferences, featured experts in solar, wind, nuclear power and energy storage discussing the government policies and technological innovations that are needed to lower cost, improve performance and expand use. In addition, a keynote address by Michael Schellenberger argued that government policies should focus on innovation and R&D investment as opposed to regulations and subsidies, and used the natural gas revolution as an example of the success of this strategy. The conference concluded with a spirited debate between Ted Nordhaus and Fred Krupp regarding the future course of global climate policy.

Here’s a list of all the essential links that recap the conference:

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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

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John Kerry: Energy Policy is the Solution to Climate Change

The issue of climate change arose during Senator John Kerry’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of State yesterday and the senator provided several thoughtful comments. Senator John Barrasso initiated the discussion when he expressed concern that action on climate change “could do significant harm to the U.S. economy.” Senator Kerry replied thusly:

The solution to climate change is energy policy. And the opportunities of energy policy so vastly outweigh the downsides that you’re expressing concern about. I will spend a lot of time trying to persuade you and other colleagues of this. You want to do business and do well in America? We’ve got to get into the energy race. Other countries are in it… This is a place for us to recognize what other countries are doing and what our states that are growing are doing, which is there’s an extraordinary amount of opportunity in modernizing America’s energy grid.

First, Senator Kerry is absolutely right that the solution to climate change is energy policy. As Matthew Stepp and Jesse Jenkins detail in their Future of Global Climate Policy series, “To rapidly decarbonize the economy requires greatly accelerating the replacement of

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Critical Materials Institute a Welcome Addition to the Energy Innovation Ecosystem

Dysprosium, a rare earth metal used in magnets for wind turbines and electric vehicles. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Last week, the Department of Energy announced the establishment of a new Energy Innovation Hub at the Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa – the fifth such Hub, following the creation of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research last November. The new Hub will be named the Critical Materials Institute and will “develop solutions to the domestic shortages of rare earth metals and other materials critical for U.S. energy security,” as stated in the Department of Energy (DOE) press release. The Hub-system continues to be a model for concentrating national research efforts, both public and private, and the focus area of the newest addition is a vital one.

As the DOE notes in a helpful infographic, rare earth metals like dysprosium and neodymium are essential to the creation of a wide array of electronics, as well as clean energy technologies like photovoltaic solar film, wind turbines, and electric vehicles. Yet China alone produces close to 95 percent of the world’s supply of rare earth metals, a set of seventeen different chemical

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America Needs a Vibrant Clean Energy Manufacturing Sector

This week, the Brookings Institution released three papers with recommendations to revitalize the domestic manufacturing sector. One proposes the creation of a national network of advanced industries innovation hubs, which would “focus on cross-cutting innovation and technology deployment challenges …by drawing universities, community colleges, state and local governments, and other actors into strong industry-led partnerships.” Another paper calls for an annual, $150 million national “Race to the Shop” competition involving multidisciplinary proposals “to address the manufacturing workforce and skills challenges” of states and regions. Finally, the third paper, authored by ITIF President Robert Atkinson and ITIF Senior Analyst Stephen Ezell, recommends the designation of 20 U.S. “manufacturing universities,” which would receive an annual, federal award of at least $25 million and be obligated to “revamp their engineering programs much more around manufacturing engineering, with particular emphasis on work that is relevant to industry.” The release of the reports helps highlight the need not only for a robust domestic manufacturing sector in general, but a robust clean energy manufacturing sector in particular.

As Atkinson and Ezell note in their book, Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage, “Perhaps no canard

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The Quiet Clean Energy Innovation Revolution at the Department of Energy

America’s clean energy policy has gone through significant changes in the last four years: game-changing public investments in clean energy innovation, funding for ARPA-E, and the creation of collaborative science and research hubs to name a few. Nonetheless, policymakers and clean energy experts all agree that it isn’t enough to address the United States’ staggering energy and climate issues.  More aggressive policy support is required. But the federal clean energy policy debate is in such disarray that a full scale advocacy campaign is needed to simply extend one existing clean energy tax credit (the PTC) for one year. It doesn’t inspire much confidence that implementing bigger and better clean energy policy is possible anytime soon.

Yet absent new national policy, significant reforms continue under the radar. Since 2009, clean energy leaders at the Department of Energy (DOE) have undertaken the difficult task of reforming it from within, the goal being to more effectively spur the development of advanced clean energy technologies.  As President Obama’s second term starts, the reform torch is being passed to new DOE leaders driven to continue reshaping the agency.

Most recently, forward-looking

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Innovation Should Be Central to Next Energy Secretary’s Agenda

Now that President Obama has nominated candidates to head the CIA and the Departments of Defense, State, and Treasury in his second term, attention now shifts to his choices for the rest of the Cabinet, including Energy Secretary. A Politico report today suggests that the two leading candidates are former North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan and Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Both are eminently well-qualified for the position, but as noted in a previous blog post, “a clear understanding of the innovation process and an eye towards continuing reforming the DOE” should be of prime importance to the next Energy Secretary.

The Politico article starts by observing that Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s stock has risen as a possible successor to Secretary Chu after being passed over for the top Defense Department job, while according to a former senior DOE official, “the White House ‘has only one name’ for the [Energy] post, and that’s Dorgan.” To be sure, Senator Dorgan has a strong background in energy policy as a former member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and leader of the Energy Project at the Bipartisan

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Clarifying Public Investments in Clean Energy Innovation

This is Part 1 of a series of posts analyzing and detailing federal investments in clean energy innovation.

U.S. energy policy is only as good as its innovation-based goals, framing, and emphasis. This is particularly important for climate change policy, which at its core requires public investments in clean energy innovation to spur the development and deployment of cost and performance competitive low-carbon technologies.

Yet a pervasive problem persists in the clean energy policy debate: innovation policy is often misrepresented as only research, or largely ignored by advocates to support rigid economic doctrines or policy goals that divert attention from addressing climate change (e.g. short-term green job creation).

This type of clean energy policy fundamentalism de-emphasizes the need for cheap, new, clean energy technologies and muddles innovation’s foundational role in U.S. clean energy policy. By extension, this process inhibits America’s abilities to drastically cut carbon emissions as quickly as possible.

Providing clarity on what characterizes clean energy innovation policy is critically important. In an effort to do so, ITIF has developed the Energy Innovation Tracker – a detailed public database of federal investments in energy innovation across energy-related technologies,

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The Past, Present, and New Year of U.S. Clean Energy Policy

When President Barack Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009, clean energy was largely a policymaking afterthought. Federal investment in clean energy research and development (R&D) stood at just over $4 billion a year – less than 40 percent of its peak in the 1970’s. Policy support for clean tech commercialization, demonstration, and deployment was in equally bad shape, plagued by boom-and-bust periods of expiring incentives and on-again, off-again subsidy extensions. “Innovation” was little more than a political buzzword in the energy policy debate. Making matters worse, economic collapse cast doubt on the prospect that existing levels of funding for clean energy would even be maintained, and that the nascent clean energy industry could survive.

It’s an understatement to say a lot has changed in the four years since. As we flip the calendar to 2013, it’s important to take a moment and take stock of where clean energy policy has come in the last four years and what challenges it faces today to inform what needs to be done in the next four years (and beyond).

U.S. Clean Energy Policy Under the First Obama Administration (2009-2012)

There can be

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