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Energy

Assessing the Wind Production Tax Credit

As part of the recent fiscal cliff deal, Congress authorized a one-year extension for the wind production tax credit (PTC) – welcome news for the industry that was largely overshadowed by the other terms of the bargain. But as The Washington Post writer Brad Plumer points out, “even with the tax credit renewal, the wind industry is still likely to slump in 2013…partly because congressional support for wind is extremely erratic — never steady, and always on the verge of expiration.” Seeing as how the tax credit was first authorized in 1992 and has expired and been reauthorized in fits and starts since then, serious assessment of the policy and consideration of possible reform in Congress is thus long overdue.

Over at MIT Technology Review, Kevin Bullis provides a clear-eyed assessment of the wind PTC’s track record in the 20 years since it was first made available, noting that “there haven’t been radical changes to wind turbines in that time.” Why?

The production tax credit hasn’t stimulated radical innovation because it encourages wind project developers to stick to proven technology that’s likely to produce a steady stream of

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Putting Some Emphasis on Electric Vehicle Charging Technology

Improving energy storage technology is widely recognized as essential to the viability of battery electric vehicles (BEVs), therefore a core technology for dramatically reducing transportation greenhouse gas emissions. But the impact of charging technology on developing a better battery is often overlooked. Senior Editor for MIT Technology Review Kevin Bullis put this in perspective, noting that “fast-charging still takes far longer than it does to fill up a tank of gas.”

The ITIF report Shifting Gears: Transcending Conventional Economic Doctrines to Develop Better Electric Vehicle Batteries summarizes the conventional state of BEV charging technology:

While Level 1 charging is available for all BEV vehicles, it can take up to 20 hours to fully recharge a vehicle. Level 2, meanwhile, charges in around 8 hours, making it ideal for overnight charging… Level 3 charging can almost fully replenish a BEV’s battery in half an hour, but the high-voltage process can shorten its lifespan due to its low density.

Unfortunately, even the relatively fast – by BEV standards – half an hour-level 3 charging offers a poor alternative to gas cars, which can be refueled in less than five minutes, at

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Energy Innovation: The Proper Definition and Why it’s So Crucial

Originally posted at Consumer Energy Report.

Innovation is Central to Making Clean Energy Cheap

The United States and the world face an urgent imperative to transform its energy system by developing and deploying low or zero-carbon technologies on a dramatic scale. And while developed regions like the United States and Europe might be willing to change their consumption patterns  and businesses to incorporate clean energy (though not significantly), developing nations can’t afford to pay the necessary premium for this access. And they shouldn’t have to, as they try to gain access to energy of any kind. As such, the only way the entire global energy system can transition to clean energy is if its cost is lower and its performance is equal to or greater than cheap fossil fuels like natural gas, coal, and oil.

Unfortunately, today’s clean energy technologies like wind, solar, electric vehicles, smart grids, and energy storage are more expensive and oftentimes performance-limited compared to their fossil competitors. Solar and wind power are intermittent without energy storage and still require significant advances in energy conversion efficiency. Electric vehicles are up to double the cost of comparable

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Countering David Frum: Super-Charging Energy Innovation through Public Investment

Originally posted at Forbes.com.

Earlier this month, The Daily Beast columnist David Frum took the opportunity of a book review of Michael Grunwald’s The New New Dealto deride the idea of direct public investment in energy innovation: “The single largest chunk of federal stimulus spending – the almost $90 billion in direct federal investment in new energy technology – seems to have gone up into the ether leaving little behind,” Frum writes.  Unfortunately, Frum’s comments are just the latest misguided take on energy innovation policy and the role of public investments in spurring next-generation technology development.

Micro-scaled solar cells developed through public investments at Sandia National Lab. Photo citation: Department of Energy.

Change tends to come slowly to the energy industry, which is both capital and time-intensive and only three years have passed since the Stimulus. Nevertheless, Stimulus funds have clearly made a tangible, positive impact in that short time. As Grunwald wrote inTIME in August 2012, the Stimulus “revived the wind industry and the rest of the clean-tech sector from a near death experience.” “The Stimulus,” he continues, “has financed the world’s largest wind farm, a

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Wyden and Murkowski: The Great Senate Hope for Energy Innovation Policy in 2013

Originally posted at Forbes.com.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin recently proclaimed in reference to possible energy policy in 2013, “I have never been more optimistic than I am right now with Ron Wyden and Lisa Murkowski.” That’s a bold statement in an energy policy debate known more for its political pitfalls like Solyndra and a Senate known more for mind-numbing gridlock and inaction. But it’s Wyden and Murkowski’s keen sense to move beyond the energy policy stagnation of years past that is fueling cautious optimism for future progress.. Here are some key areas of potential agreement and policy action to keep an eye on as the calendar flips to a new year:

Refreshing America’s Energy Agenda

In many ways, Senator Manchin is correct to be optimistic. Atop his new perch as Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Wyden (D-WA) and Committee Ranking Member Murkowski (R-AK) are in the driver’s seat for molding energy policy in the new year. The United States last officially refreshed its energy policy in 2007 with the Energy and Security Act. Since then clean energy has taken a small, but growing

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Getting SMARTer About Wielding ICT to Cut Emissions

The Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), an information and communication technology (ICT) industry partnership, just released a new report that details how expanded use of ICT could cut global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 16.5% by 2020 and offset $1.9 trillion in gross energy and fuel costs. The report, SMARTer2020, was put together by The Boston Consulting Group and also finds ICT’s GHG abatement potential to be the equivalent to more than seven times the ICT sector’s emissions over the same time period. Clearly, ICT can play an important role in saving energy and mitigating climate change.

A GeSI press release summarizes SMARTer2020’s findings:

The new research study identifies GHG abatement potential from ICT-enabled solutions ranging across six sectors of the economy: power, transportation, manufacturing, consumer and service, agriculture, and buildings. Emission reductions come from virtualization initiatives such as cloud computing and video conferencing, but also through efficiency gains such as optimization of variable-speed motors in manufacturing, smart livestock management to reduce methane emissions, and 32 other ICT-enabled solutions identified in the study. Some ICT-driven solutions such as smart electricity grids reap benefits at the national level, whilst others

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New Energy Innovation Hub a Step Towards BatteryShot

One of the recommendations of the ITIF report Shifting Gears: Transcending Conventional Economic Doctrines to Develop Better Electric Vehicle Batteries is the creation of a “BatteryShot Initiative” to “coordinate government battery RD&D efforts and establish a clear metric for success”. (This follows the initiative of a 2011 Innovation Files blog post). In late November, the Department of Energy (DOE) took a step in that direction and announced the creation of a new Batteries and Energy Storage Hub. The Hub, to be formally known as the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), will be located on the Argonne National Laboratory campus and “will combine the R&D firepower of five DOE national laboratories, five universities, and four private firms in an effort aimed at achieving revolutionary advances in battery performance”, as noted in the press release.

JCESR (pronounced “J-Caesar”) will actually be the 4th Energy Innovation Hub, with Hubs for energy efficient buildings, fuels from sunlight, and nuclear reactor innovation, respectively, all having been established since 2010. JCESR certainly has a strong foundation in Argonne National Laboratory – researchers at the Lab were instrumental in developing the battery

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Re-shaping the Department of Energy in Obama’s Second Term: Picking a New Energy Secretary

Originally posted at Forbes. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu is widely expected to leave the administration and there has already been widespread speculation about his possible replacement. The Washington PostNational JournalPoliticoGreentech Media, and E&E have all compiled lists of possible contenders. Nevertheless, while the focus has been on candidates with political stature who are generally supportive of clean energy, as I wrote earlier this week a clear understanding of the innovation process and an eye towards continuing reforming the DOE should be the primary prerequisites. Aggressively building off of the reforms made early in the President’s first term – ARPA-E, the Innovation Hubs, and Energy Frontier Research Centers to name a few – are desperately needed to make the DOE a “well-oiled engine for clean energy innovation.” With that in mind and assuming Secretary Chu doesn’t stay on for a second term, here are ITIF’s recommendations for the top job at the Department of Energy: ... Read the rest

The Fight Against Chinese Green Mercantilism Continues

Last month, the United States International Trade Commission voted to uphold tariffs on solar panels imported from China. The Commerce Department had imposed the tariffs earlier this year in response to China’s heavy subsidization of domestic solar PV manufacturers. However, while the move is welcome, it is important to recognize that is not a magic fix and the fight against Chinese green mercantilism continues. To be sure, the tariffs are well-justified, as they can simultaneously help level the playing field, discourage China from employing unfair trade practices, and encourage clean energy innovation. But they may be too little, too late. Since the tariffs apply solely to panels made of Chinese-produced solar cells, Chinese companies can avoid them by assembling panels with cells produced elsewhere. ITIF Senior Analyst Matthew Stepp details the result at Forbes:

By shifting its way through loopholes in the tariff ruling, China is rerouting its manufacturing ... Read the rest

Reshaping the Department of Energy in Obama’s Second Term: Institutional Reform Goals

Originally posted at Forbes.

As my colleague Clifton Yin and I have written recently, U.S. clean energy innovation policy is at an inflection point. The decisions made in the coming months and years will shape America’s ability to address its climate and energy challenges as well as its international competitiveness in the clean tech industry. As such, advocates are rightly focused on creating new clean energy policies through Congressional action (see the debate on a carbon tax). Yet in the melee of federal sausage making, only minor attention has been paid to reforming the Department of Energy (DOE) as a potentially significant way of boosting support for clean energy.

Reforming DOE has been the source of continued, wonky debate since its creation in 1977. DOE last saw institutional change four years ago when current Secretary of Energy Steven Chu implemented a number of new programs like ARPA-E, the Innovation Hubs, and Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs), aimed re-invigorating DOEs investments in clean energy. DOE also undertook its first Quadrennial Technology Review (QTR) to comprehensively assess the state of energy technologies. And the Department continues to implement the

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