Researchers draft blueprint to boost energy innovation

November 22, 2011

The U.S. government could save the economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year by 2050 by spending a few billion dollars more a year to spur innovations in energy technology, according to a new report by researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Achieving major cuts in in the process will also require policies that put a substantial price on carbon or set standards, the researchers find.

The report is the result of a three-year project to develop a set of actionable recommendations to achieve "a revolution in technology innovation."

The project, part of the Innovation Policy (ETIP) research group in the Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, included the first survey ever conducted of the full spectrum of U.S. businesses involved in energy innovation, identifying the key drivers of private-sector investments in energy innovation.

The researchers also surveyed more than 100 experts working with an array of energy technologies to get their recommendations for energy R&D funding and their projections of cost and performance under different R&D scenarios. They then used the experts' input to conduct extensive economic modeling on the impact of federal R&D investments and other policies (such as a clean energy standard) on economic, environmental, and security goals.

The research team identified industries that would most benefit from increased innovation investment. The report recommends the largest percentage increases for research and development in four fields: energy storage, bio-energy, efficient buildings, and solar photovoltaics.

The report, titled "Transforming U.S. Energy Innovation," recommends doubling government funding for energy research, development and demonstration efforts to about $10 billion per year. The modeling results suggest that spending above that level might deliver decreasing marginal returns.

The modeling done for the report projected that investing more money in energy innovation without also setting a substantial carbon price or stringent clean would not bring big reductions in greenhouse gas emissions -- largely because without such policies, companies would not have enough incentive to deploy new energy technologies in place of carbon-emitting fossil fuels.

The researchers also propose ways for the government to strengthen its energy innovation institutions, particularly the national laboratories, so that the United States can get the most bang for its buck in its investments in energy innovation. The report concludes that the national laboratories suffer from fast-shifting funding and lack incentives for entrepreneurship.

The researchers also find that the performance of public-private partnerships and international partnerships on energy innovation would benefit from gathering information about the performance of previous projects.

Explore further: China joins U.S. FutureGen project

Provided by: Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs


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1 / 5 (2) Nov 22, 2011
1 / 5 (1) Nov 22, 2011

It's understandable for someone to be cautious about how taxpayer dollars are used.

On the other hand, this is a no-brainer. Without significant investment of this type, not only will we never leave the oil economy era (the easy way), but we will be paying much more for every watt we get. In addition, we're going to have a tough time meeting new energy demand in coming decades and can use every good idea we can find.

Don't confused politics with good science and infrastructure investment.
not rated yet Nov 22, 2011

is a wonderful example of the success of Chinese government support for Research and Development.
1 / 5 (1) Nov 23, 2011

Is a wonderful example of the success of no minimum wage laws in China and the Department of NO Energy bureaucrat theoreticians trying act like venture capitalists.
not rated yet Nov 23, 2011
Best would be put the full cost in oil, coal and let the market take over. Of course repubs don't really want a free market as they love corporate welfare for big energy, their paymasters.
not rated yet Nov 27, 2011
Best would be put the full cost in oil, coal and let the market take over. Of course repubs don't really want a free market as they love corporate welfare for big energy, their paymasters.

It's not entirely clear what you mean by this. Assuming that anyone thought this was a good idea, how would you go about "putting the full cost in oil, coal"??? Was that a suggestion that the government use tax money to buy coal and oil? I somehow doubt that was your meaning.

As for the free market, American-based oil/coal/gas suppliers already exist in a free-market situation, with some exceptions. For example, OPEC is the world's most famous cartel. While there is some opportunity to buy oil off of their closed market, it's highly unlikely one could do so for long and meet one's customer demand.

This would not be a factor that could be changed by either "repubs" as you call them, or Democrats, or any
American for that matter. Might want to call the Saudis about that.
0.7 / 5 (51) Nov 27, 2011
He was referring to oil subsidies Nerdyguy. You're either playing dumb or aren't aware of them. In the first case you are dishonest, in the second case you have no idea what you are talking about. Take your pick.
not rated yet Nov 27, 2011
Big science is something like the Big Pharma business. The more money we will give the scientists, the more they will ignore the cold fusion and the really effective energetic solutions as a whole.
not rated yet Nov 27, 2011
But it's still pretty business for all private companies involved. Just watch the proposition full of ads here... All these people are waiting for their jobs....


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