Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thermoelectrics: Promise and Barriers of a Potential Breakthrough

By David Cohen-Tanugi | Originally published at Americans for Energy Leadership

The term 'energy efficiency' usually brings to mind better-insulated homes and smart power meters. But emerging thermoelectric technology could give energy efficiency a whole new meaning by tackling the huge energy waste that happens before the watts even reach our homes. Yet, to reach market, thermoelectics will have to overcome a number of technological and policy related barriers.

The Promise

Thermoelectric devices, which enable the conversion of heat into electricity, are still at an early stage in the energy innovation chain, but the principle behind how they work can help to highlight a crucial aspect of energy waste across the world that is often ignored in the policy realm.

You may have heard that homes in developed countries waste 25-35 percent of their energy due to insulation problems and inefficient devices. But the lion's share of energy waste actually comes at the early stages when the electric power is generated in power plants and carried across transmission lines.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Belfer Center: Governments of Emerging Economies Out-Investing US in Energy Research

By Sara Mansur, originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute

The governments of six developing countries may now be investing more in energy research than the governments of twenty-one of the world's most developed economies, according to a new report by the Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

The report takes a close look at the federal energy innovation policies of Brazil, Russia, India, Mexico, China and South Africa - we'll call them the 'Big Six' developing nations here.

The Belfer Center researchers conclude that in 2008 the governments of the Big Six nations invested about $13.8 billion (measured in PPP) in energy research, development, demonstration, and deployment activities (RDD&D). This inches ahead of the roughly $12.7 billion in combined energy technology investments made by the governments of the 21 IEA member countries, each of which is also a member of the OECD bloc of developed nations.

In deconstructing this figure, however, $11.8 billion of the $13.8 billion in RDD&D funds deployed by the Big Six developing nations are investments by the Chinese government. Further, 90% of this total investment originated from state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

A similarity across energy innovation policies in the Big Six countries is that governmental investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency technology support mostly deployment activities, while national investments in nuclear energy, fossil fuels, and transmission, distribution and storage are mostly targeted towards R&D.

Despite this commonality, the researchers find that the structures of individual energy innovation systems differ substantially. In China and Russia, academies are largely responsible for allocating R&D funds to national labs and universities, while SOEs execute deployment projects. In Brazil, Mexico, and India, the opposite holds, with SOEs most heavily involved in coordinating R&D activities and governments chiefly responsible for deployment projects. In South Africa, in turn, the government is solely responsible for funding the RD&D that is conducted by universities and private industry.

As the study notes, the Big Six are increasingly significant players in the global energy domain, comprising 44% of the world's population, 32% of global energy consumption and 35% of the world's energy production. In 2010, China became the single largest energy consumer in the world, while by 2030 China and India alone are expected to comprise 30% of global primary energy demand.

Despite their rising importance in the international energy sphere, there has been little data available to date on national energy innovation investments made by developing countries. This report takes an important first step in measuring these policies and highlighting areas for cooperation between countries, albeit with difficulties noted by the researchers in gathering comprehensive data on innovation spending across countries and establishing a standardized categorization method amidst varying definitions of RDD&D across data sources.

The findings of this research bode well not only for the Big Six countries but for the global clean energy sector as a whole, as the participation of these developing countries is crucial to catalyzing a global clean energy transformation. At the same time, however, growing clean tech prowess in these big developing economies continues the globalization of technological leadership, putting greater competitive pressure on America's traditional 'comparative advantage' in innovation.

Ultimately, the Belfer Center report underscores the emerging global consensus around the importance of investing in energy innovation, and the need for the United States to step up its own clean energy investments or risk losing competitiveness to other emerging economies.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Governments Have Reached a Deal -- Now It's Our Turn

After two weeks of negotiations in Cancun, governments of the world have reached a global climate deal. More than 190 nations made collective decisions on adaptation, forestry, technology transfer, climate finance, and other issues. And although the "Cancun Agreements" fall far short of what is needed, they provide a road forward. Governments have reached a deal.

Now, it is our turn.

Announcing "Climate Deal Day," a day for businesses and individuals to make deals that fight climate change and improve our lives. Mark your calendar: on January 26th, six weeks after COP16, we will make deals with the goal of eventually reducing pollution by one gigaton of carbon dioxide. (This goal is audacious and probably won't be reached on the first Climate Deal Day, but we prefer to think big.)

The idea for Climate Deal Day was born during COP16, where Hub Culture, the organization I work with, spent the two weeks speaking with business leaders, learning about the opportunities to solve climate change. We spoke to Sir Richard Branson, who is investing a hundred million dollars into new energy sources, hoping to make a profit. We met with members of the Carbon War Room, who explained that there are gigatons of carbon savings that can be achieved at a profit if the right barriers are broken down. We met the leader of the energy and environment team at Phillips Lighting, who told us that his company was pressuring governments around the world to phase out incandescent light bulbs, thus forcing his company to innovate. And we spoke with Lord Nicholas Stern, who explained that we are on the cusp of a new industrial revolution.

What we saw is that many of the solutions to climate change are deals: win-win collaborations between people and organizations. From an even bigger standpoint, solving climate change is an enormous deal -- investing in new technology will pay off several-fold by creating a new economy and avoiding climate change.

All are encouraged to join this event, which is being coordinated by the social network Hub Culture and Christensen Global Strategies. All we ask is that you or your company do a climate deal by January 26th. The deal can be with another person, with an organization, or with yourself. The only rule is that it has to be both good for the planet and good for our standard of living.

Events held in Davos, London, and New Orleans during the World Economic Forum -- all hosted by Hub Culture -- will announce deals reached by businesses. These deals will be posted on the website, where we will also document deals reached by individuals. To share your commitments and agreements, send an email to cdd@hubculture.com or fill out our webform here. (Note that the website is still under construction -- a full update will take place on January 1).

To give you an idea of what we are talking about, the following climate deals were announced during COP16: Muhtar Kent, The Coca-Cola Company's CEO, revealed that the consumer goods forum would achieve no net deforestation by 2020 and begin to phase out HFCs from refrigeration by 2015, reducing pollution and increasing efficiency; The Carbon War Room announced the first ever universal energy index for the shipping industry, allowing companies to more easily choose more efficient boats; and OPIC announced that it will provide at least $300 million in financing for new private equity investment funds that could ultimately invest more than $1 billion in renewable resources projects in emerging markets.

For individuals, deals could include performing an energy retrofit of your house, an action that almost always saves money. It could involve buying a more fuel-efficient car or eating food that is both better for you and lighter on the environment. Be creative -- send us your ideas.

Climate Deal Day is a statement of hope: a belief that we can collaborate and improve our lives as we solve one of the greatest challenges of this century.

What is your deal?

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Importance of Extending the 1603 Treasury Grant Program

Written by Lon Huber with contributions from Alex Christensen

Anyone working in renewable energy will tell you that when it comes to getting a project off the ground, financing is key. Treasury Grant 1603, found in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, was designed to address the front loaded costs to entrepreneurs of installing renewable energy. Otherwise known as the Treasury cash grant, this program has been a lifeline for an industry that has had to depend on a complicated tax code and the likes of Lehmann Brothers and AIG for financing. At midnight on December 31st of this year, the 1603 Treasury Grant Program is set to expire, and unless Congress renews it, the young renewable energy industries will be forced compete in a tax system designed to the advantage of fossil fuels.

Without Treasury Grant 1603 the clean energy industry would not be enjoying the success it is today. To effectively compete against a fossil fuel industry that is heavily subsidized by the federal government, the renewable energy industry has needed federal help to level the playing field.

Unfortunately, the lack of a strong national energy policy has required the renewable energy industry to become cost effective through tax credits. The problem with trying to stimulate an emerging industry with tax credits is that it fails to eliminate two central problems facing small businesses, large up front costs and lower initial profits meaning lower initial tax credits. Many new clean energy businesses did not have enough income to fully utilize these tax credits, forcing them to turn to large financial institutions like Lehmann Brothers for assistance in realizing the advantages of such credits. After the financial meltdown and the resulting lack of finance, it became next to impossible to take advantage of the tax credits in the same way.

The Treasury cash grant program provided a lifeline by transitioning the unfavorable tax credits to upfront payments not tied to a particular company's income. This was huge help to renewable energy developers and did not cost taxpayers any additional money – since it merely shifted the tax credit to an upfront subsidy.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A Better Voice for Environmentalism: Sir Richard Branson (VIDEO)

Cross posted on Hub Culture.

During the World Climate Summit, a conference for businesses leaders during COP16 in Cancún, Sir Richard Branson sat down with me for a four-minute interview.

Branson is one of the world's ultimate success stories. Born with unbounded charisma, he founded his first company at the age of 16 in 1966, selling records out of the back of his car. He grew the business into Virgin Records, a leader in the industry, and then launched Virgin Airlines in 1984 and Virgin Mobil in 1999. He is also famous for his world record attempts: an attempted round-the-world balloon ride, a fastest sail across the Atlantic, and a fastest air-balloon journey across that same ocean. In his autobiography, he wrote "My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them... from the perspective of wanting to live life to the full, I felt that I had to attempt it." Today he is worth four billion dollars.

About seven years ago, Al Gore showed up uninvited at Sir Richard's doorstep. Gore knocked and asked Branson if he could show him a climate presentation. Two hours later, Branson, the world's 212th richest man and chairman of the Virgin Group, was convinced that he should use his wealth and talents to fight climate change.

Branson is clearly committed to solving the challenges of global warming. He has made significant pledges to reduce emissions from his airlines and he has invested all of the profits from Virgin Airlines into fighting climate change, including $100 million into an algae biofuel company. He has offered the "Virgin Earth Challenge Prize," a $25 million prize for anyone who discovers how to take carbon out of the atmosphere. He has founded the Carbon War Room, an organization that is working with businesses to find innovative ways to reduce emissions, and he also helped found the Gigaton Awards. During the interview, Branson struggled to remember everything that he was doing to fight climate change.

Perhaps the swagger and ambition of Branson should be adopted by more environmentalists. Too often solving climate change is framed as sacrifice, as "cutting pollution," implying a lower quality of life. Branson's message is the opposite -- he is one of the world's most successful individuals, and his ventures speak to ambition and economic growth. His brand is that of risk-taking followed by limitless success. We could use more of that inspiration in our fight against climate change.

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The Gigaton Awards: A Race to the Top

Cross posted on Hub Culture.

What if solving climate change were a race to the top?

What if companies were in competition to win the next industrial revolution, with the winners being those who most reduced their greenhouse gas pollution?

That is the idea behind the Gigaton Awards, which were conceived by Sunil Paul and implemented by the Carbon War Room and the Gigaton Throwdown, both projects of Sir Richard Branson. The idea is to award companies that have reduced carbon emissions by the greatest amount. The scale of this challenge is immense, as a "gigaton" of carbon is a billion metric tons: human activity currently adds more than 30 gigatons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere per year through the burning of fossil fuels.

I interviewed Sunil Paul to learn more about the Gigaton Awards. Here is what he had to say:

I attended the awards ceremony, a gala with chicken with asparagus and carrots soaked in red sauce, accompanied by a bottomless glass of wine. The event was hosted by Andrew Winston, the author of Green to Gold, and speakers included Jose Maria Figueres, the former president of Costa Rica, and Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire Chairman of the Virgin group.

Companies were nominated based not only on the total amount by which they reduced their pollution, but also on how much they reduced their emissions relative to their revenue. All the companies that were nominated were, as Sunil said, large corporations. That makes sense, as only large corporations have emissions that are large enough to make a big reduction in emissions. Because it would be unfair for a renewable energy company to compete with a telephone company, for example, several categories were established.

Most of the winners were companies that had aggressively pursued energy efficiency, which makes sense because there are so many opportunities in energy efficiency. But as Sunil said in his interview, this is just the first year, and he hopes that the competition will get tougher as we develop more and more ways to cut our pollution.

Categories and Winners are...

Consumer Discretionary
Winner: Nike for an aggressive energy savings program aimed at reducing its global greenhouse gas emissions.
Runners up: Toyota Motor, Panasonic, Walt Disney Company, Sony Corporation

Consumer Staples
Winner: Reckitt Benckiser Group for demonstrating its leadership in mitigating risk from climate change and sustainable practices.
Runners up: The Coca-Cola Company, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Kimberly Clark, General Mills, Reckitt Benckiser Group

Winner: Suzlon
for its achievement in managing its emissions and overall sustainability milestones.
Runners up: Vestas, GE Wind, Goldwind, Gamesa, Siemens Wind

Winner: 3M
for its leadership in improving energy efficiency and sustainable practices.
Runners up: MTR Corporation, Alstom, Boeing, Raytheon

Winner: Vodafone Group
for its new business which provides carbon reducing connections.
Runners up: American Tower, Verizon Communications

Winner: GDF Suez
for its demonstrated leadership by emitting among the lowest CO2 per KWh produced in Europe.
Runners up: Chubu Electric Power (Japan), Snam Rete Gas (Italy), Kansai Electric Power (Japan), Électricité de France (France)

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PISA Confirms: U.S. Education in Need of Moonshot

By Daniel Goldfarb at Americans for Energy Leadership

In conjunction with today's "Innovation for Education: A Digital Town Hall" hosted by ITIF, PBS, and the Aspen Institute, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released findings for 2009's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The results are hardly shocking to anyone who has followed the decline of American STEM education or competitiveness policy. Compared to the 65 countries in the study the United States ranks 14th in reading, 17th in science and a below-average 25th in math. The best educated students - those in Korea, Finland, Shanghai-China, and Hong Kon-China - by age 15 are a year ahead of their American counterparts in math and science.

The report's results come at a time of heightened attention to America's competitive posture. Recently Secretary of Energy Chu and President Obama have warned of a "Sputnik moment", a parallel which was again invoked by Secretary of Education Duncan. Just as Sputnik symbolized the U.S.S.R.'s lead in the space race, the Administration is looking to frame China's economic and education triumphs as calls to action. During the town hall, Secretary Duncan framed the results as such a challenge to America, "We have to see this as a wake-up call," that, "maintaining [the] status quo is effectively losing ground.”

America's STEM education woes could provide an ideal topic for bi-partisan efforts to improve America's competitiveness. In the past education has been a subject of cooperation between the two parties, as was the case with No Child Left Behind, and it seems that both sides are willing to recognize the urgency of PISA's findings. Chester E. Finn Jr., who served in President Ronald Reagan’s Department of Education and has visited schools all across China, said of PISA's result,"'Wow, I’m kind of stunned, I’m thinking Sputnik. I’ve seen how relentless the Chinese are at accomplishing goals, and if they can do this in Shanghai in 2009, they can do it in 10 cities in 2019, and in 50 cities by 2029.'"

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Monday, December 06, 2010

Energy Innovation 2010: Rethinking Energy Innovation

Leading think tanks sponsor day-long conference rethinking energy innovation in the United States: getting to scale, making clean energy cheap, securing American leadership.

After two years of often-tumultuous debate in Congress, the national debate over energy and climate change policy has now been altered: cap and trade policy efforts have run aground in Congress, perhaps fatally, and Republicans are ascendant, reshaping the national political landscape. Meanwhile, with economic recovery the top priority for the public and policymakers alike, America’s clean tech competitors are surging ahead, raising the stakes for energy policy.

Against this backdrop, support is growing on both right and left for new national investments in energy innovation that can help address some of the most urgent imperatives of our time – renewing the economy, improving energy security and public health, and overcoming key environmental challenges.

A growing chorus of voices thus counsels a renewed national commitment to develop breakthrough energy technologies – and to the reform of America’s energy innovation system itself.

In recent months, energy experts have advised policymakers to: take a page from the nation’s long history of successful military research and procurement; build on the success of agricultural research stations and the National Institutes of Health by establishing new innovation institutes and clusters nationwide; promote the right mix of both competition and collaboration to spur innovation and productive knowledge spillover; reform energy subsidies to reward innovation; and restructure business taxes to promote investment in the building blocks of an innovation economy.

On December 15th, a group of America’s leading policy think tanks will host a day-long conference in Washington D.C. to rethink energy innovation.

Energy Innovation 2010, held at the National Press Club, will bring together leading experts from government, think tanks, academia, and business to ask hard questions about how energy innovation efforts can be brought to scale, how the innovation system must be restructured and reformed, and how to renew the kind of active partnerships between the public and private sectors that were responsible for so much of America’s prior technological innovation and economic strength.

The free, day-long conference is sponsored by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and the Breakthrough Institute, with the American Enterprise Institute, Third Way, Clean Air Task Force, Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, Securing America’s Future Energy, and the Brookings Institution. The conference organizers are pleased to welcome TheEnergyCollective.com and Yale Environment 360 as media sponsors for the event.

Registration for Energy Innovation 2010 is free, but required in advance as space is limited, so register now.

Head here to find more information, see the full conference agenda and register today.

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Shorting America's Clean Energy Future

Originally Published at the Breakthrough Institute

Four months ago, we warned that while the stimulus bill had created considerable momentum in the domestic clean energy sector by funding clean energy research, manufacturing, and markets, a looming clean tech funding cliff threatened to send clean energy markets into a deep freeze as stimulus funds expired with no new investments in line to replace them.

Now it looks like that funding cliff is in sight, and Wall Street is threatening to push us over it. As Bloomberg News reports, hedge funds have increased their short selling of U.S. renewable energy stocks--essentially betting on their decline--to an annual high. The investment decisions follow widespread skepticism that the federal government will continue to invest in nascent clean energy industries.

As Daniel Goldfarb of Americans for Energy Leadership writes, in the short term, the move could advantage international competitors in the clean tech space:

In an increasingly globalized world such a flight of capital from U.S. clean energy companies will mean a distinct advantage for American competitors who are moving rapidly to corner the market. By failing to commit to these crucial industries we risk wasting the money already invested in making our clean energy companies competitive.

The impending funding cliff also imperils the thousands of domestic jobs tied to clean energy projects and manufacturing supply chains. If they disappear, there's no guarantee they'll return as other nations forge ahead with concerted efforts to build competitive clean energy industries and supply the growing global market.

Ultimately, the news from Wall Street exemplifies the precarious nature of a clean energy industry that still requires major public subsidies to survive, particularly in a time of budgetary constraint. Over the long-term, the only way to catalyze a global clean energy revolution and reclaim American leadership in the global clean tech industry is a national commitment to an energy technology innovation strategy that can make clean energy cheap.

Just this week the President's top science advisors called for such a strategy. Congress should listen before it's too late.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

China Builds on Lead in 4th Quarter

By Daniel Goldfarb
Originally Published at Americans for Energy Leadership

Just days after Secretary Chu's declaration that America is facing a "Sputnik moment", more proof continues to surface of China's widening lead in the clean energy race. Ernst and Young's quarterly "country attractiveness" index has confirmed that not only is China still the most attractive destination for clean tech investment, as we reported it became for the first time last quarter, its lead is growing.

The warnings of Secretary Chu and the recommendations of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) take on new urgency in light of the report's findings,"A new world is emerging in the clean energy sector with China now the clear leader in the global renewables market". At the same time the LA Times is reporting that clean tech investment in the U.S. fell 45% in the fourth quarter.

It is increasingly becoming clear that what is at stake is jobs. Ernst and Young recognize an increasing disparity in the job creation in those countries that are "in the fast lane" and those that are "hesitant". The focus in China and other emerging countries on their clean energy industries is already bearing fruit, "One striking feature of the post-credit-crunch world is the difference between the pedestrian pace of recovery in the West and the rapid turnaround in the new BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China)".

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Clean Energy Financing: First Steps Towards Post-Partisan Effort

Originally published at Americans for Energy Leadership.

Energy reform is headed quickly towards a hyper-partisan stalemate. As the Republican party takes control of the U.S. House, some advocates of a progressive energy agenda are calling for Congressional Democrats to regroup and “conduct guerrilla warfare” against the status quo. A consortium of climate scientists has recently rallied together to “to challenge disinformation and misinformation deployed in the policy wars over global warming.” All signs point to an intensifying battle between “climate hawks” and “climate zombies,” but little progress will be made if advocates continue to reinforce this hyper-partisan environment. Despite rampant cynicism, opportunities for bipartisanship exist, and the greatest potential for aisle-crossing probably lies in financing mechanisms for clean technology innovation.

Public funding and financing for technology-focused clean energy projects present unique political opportunities that other government efforts lack. Unlike pollution regulations and top-down industrial mandates, financing for business has long enjoyed broad support from both ends of the political spectrum. Various policy tools aimed at ramping up federal dollar flow towards clean energy projects include feed-in tariffs, loan guarantees, credit enhancement, direct grants and tax credits. Many of these policies carry the potential for bipartisan support in Congress.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) installed probably the greatest federal support for clean technology investment in history. However, as stimulus projects expire, clean technology innovation is approaching a funding cliff that will need to be replenished if Congress is serious about decarbonization. Hypothetical broad-based subsidies and renewable electricity standards will be insufficient in targeting the specific projects required for technological innovation. Vestigial targeting elements of the 2009 stimulus bill have received support from both sides of the aisle. Sec. 1603 of ARRA, for instance, has provided grants for specific clean energy projects in lieu of tax credits. Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) recently co-sponsored a bill (S. 3935) that would extend the tax code calibrations established by the stimulus act. The grants established by this legislation are diverse, but not broad; instead of blanketing industry with blank-check subsidies, they target projects in storage, solar, wind, fuel cell, and other clean energy technologies.

New programs based on tax credits and incentives could also attract Republican co-signers. Sander Levins, the Chairman of House Ways and Means, introduced alternative legislation to cap-and-trade that includes roughly $6.5 billion in tax credits for manufacturing of clean technologies, in addition to extending credits for other alternative fuels. Like S. 3935, Levin’s Domestic Manufacturing and Energy Jobs Act of 2010 would include extensions of stimulus programs, in this case Sec. 48C, another tax credit provision of ARRA. As Daniel J. Weiss reported recently, “the 48C programs is also included in S. 2857, co-sponsored by Bingaman, Hatch, Lugar, and Debbie Stabenow”--two Democrats and two Republicans. Unlike past efforts by Democrats such as health care, in which they crafted legislation and then courted Republicans, programs like S. 3935 and S. 2857 can trace bipartisan support to their original authorship.

These initiatives are certainly smaller-scale than the original and subsequent drafts of the American Power Act, this summer’s climate/energy effort spearheaded by Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman. Despite its “tri-partisan” coalition of authors, APA was a stark demonstration of the political intractability of cap-and-trade. Even with a high-profile Republican working on the bill for six months and concessions by Democrats on nuclear and clean coal technology, conservatives in the Senate dropped the bill before picking it up. Instead of pursuing an agenda built around cap-and-trade with ornaments for conservatives, advocates must encourage their lawmakers to draft innovation-focused legislation from the ground up, with across-the-board political support for various traditionally conservative and progressive financing mechanisms.

Americans for Energy Leadership has already publicized an op-ed in Politico by Senators Stabenow (D-MI), Hagan (D-NH), and Udall (D-CO) calling for a new strategy on energy reform. Citing a report by Third Way, they note that “energy innovation is not a partisan issue--it’s an American imperative.” The path to a decarbonized economy cannot find success if either party adopts energy reform as a partisan agenda, used to re-elect their own members and wedge the ranks of the opposing party. Economic growth, energy security and the protection of our soliders are not partisan issues--they are core American goals.

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U.S. Must Triple Investment in Energy Technology: President's Science Advisors

Originally Published at the Breakthrough Institute

he United States should more than triple federal investments in the development of cutting edge new energy technologies to accelerate the transition to a low carbon energy system, according to President Obama's top science and technology advisors.

Joining an increasingly broad and consistent set of voices, from academia, policy organizations, business leaders and researchers, the President's science and technology advisors forcefully argue that accelerated energy innovation is critical to the nation's future prosperity for economic competitiveness, environmental, and national security reasons alike.

The report, "Accelerating the Pace of Change in Energy Technologies Through an Integrated Federal Energy Policy," was written by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and released Monday.

The PCAST report recommends a series of measures to strengthen the federal energy innovation system, including: a major increase in federal funding for energy research, development, demonstration, and deployment; a strategic energy plan to assess and evaluate energy innovation policy and priorities every four years; and new programs to train and inspire the next generation of energy scientists and engineers to tackle the nation's energy and climate challenges.

Funding should be increased to $16 billion annually, according to the report, with the majority--75 percent--of funds dedicated to research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) projects early in the technology life cycle.

In order to avoid adding to the federal deficit, PCAST recommends using new revenue sources to fund roughly $10 billion of the new investments while limiting negative impacts on consumers. The report notes that a gas tax increase of just two pennies per gallon of motor fuel sold would raise $4 billion annually for key investments in energy innovation, while a one-tenth of one cent per kilowatt hour surcharge on all electricity sales would raise an equivalent amount.

Beyond additional funding, PCAST also calls for better coordination of federal energy innovation strategies, recommending that the Obama Administration establish a Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), akin to the current Quadrennial Defense Review, to provide a multi-year roadmap for federal energy policy and energy technology objectives. A thorough review of federal energy subsidies is also advised, although the report does not delve into great specificity about which programs should be cut and which strengthened.

To train a new generation of scientists and engineers, PCAST recommends that the Department of Energy fund training grant programs and curriculum at universities around the country, aimed at undergraduates, graduates students, and post-docs. They also envision a new multidisciplinary social science research program geared towards understanding the energy innovation ecosystem and how new technologies succeed in the market place.

The Growing Energy Technology Consensus

The report is a high-profile endorsement of a technology-led clean energy innovation strategy, and adds to the momentum that has gathered over the past two years for major federal investment in energy R&D. Last year, 34 Nobel Prize recipients called on the President to commit $15 billion annually for energy R&D. This summer, private business leaders like Bill Gates and Norman Augustine, along with other members of the American Energy Innovation Council, advocated a similar scale of investment.

And most recently, the Breakthrough Institute, Brookings Institution, and the American Enterprise Institute released "Post-Partisan Power," a $25 billion a year, technology-led innovation strategy to secure America's clean energy future. That report called for reforming energy subsidies to drive innovation, ramping up investment in energy and science education, and paying for additional investment in energy research and procurement through small but broad revenue streams like electricity surcharges or fees on imported oil--all very consonant with PCAST's recommendations.

Speaking at the National Press Club on Monday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu spoke in stark terms about the imperative to invest in energy innovation, warning of a "Sputnik moment" as China threatens to eclipse the United States in clean energy technology:

"Innovation is the key to prosperity and progress...you're making an expenditure because, in the long run, it's the future economic health of the country. That's not 20 years in the future; we're talking one, two, three years. We've got to make these investments."

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cancun: Wax, Feathers, and Climate Change

By David Livingston

While it looks increasingly likely that the same dynamics which undid the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit are again present in Cancun, it is far too early to eulogize international approaches to climate change mitigation. One area that the developed and developing world share an interest in sorting out in more explicit terms is the debate over the global intellectual property (IP) rights framework as it applies to energy technologies.

Given the urgent imperative to reduce carbon emissions, the diffusion of ideas, components, and processes across the globe is a modern day “Icarus” whose trajectory must be delicately plotted. Protect IP rights too stringently, and the promise of a widespread clean-tech revolution is stymied by the torpid pace of technology diffusion. Yet maintain too loose of a regime and we risk melting away the financial incentive to innovate in the heat of our haste. In avoiding both the sun and sea, the world community should expand the role of actors that stand apart from, or at least above, the contentious politics of bilateral trade disagreements.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself: The U.S. Needs a Comprehensive Long Term National Energy Plan

A Response to the Coalition for Green Capital

By Matthew Stepp

In a previous post, I critiqued the Coalition for Green Capital/Center for American Progress comprehensive energy proposal titled Cutting the Cost of Clean Energy. I made two key arguments. First, the U.S. does not have all the clean technology it needs and simply creating a market for already mature technology through deployment and financing measures is not a long term solution to making clean energy cheap enough for widespread adoption. Second, any comprehensive, national energy plan must include policy support at all stages of innovation, not just deployment, if we are to benefit from affordable, unsubsidized clean technologies. The Coalition for Green Capital (CGC) has responded.

The bulk of their response is a misrepresentation of my argument. CGC writes that I am presenting a false choice between supporting the development of breakthrough technologies and deploying already existing technologies. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Instead, I explicitly argue that any comprehensive national energy policy must support the entire spectrum of innovation including basic science, RD&D, scale up, education, infrastructure, manufacturing, and deployment.

To a degree, CGC agrees with my analysis. They recognize the critical role breakthrough clean technologies play in a clean energy economy. And I applaud them for supporting Senator Bingaman’s Clean Energy Deployment Administration proposal that would provide a dedicated source of financing for high risk clean energy projects. But ultimately their argument that breakthrough energy innovation is fully supported by existing or proposed institutions and that the only gap in support is for the deployment of existing technologies is not supported by the evidence.

The main goal of a national energy plan should be to actually cut the real cost of clean energy, not its price through prolonged public subsidies.

As it stands, the CGC plan doesn’t do this. The mature technologies that CGC wants to deploy aren’t affordable without government support. So on one hand, artificially reducing the cost of these mature technologies through deployment measures like low cost financing is good policy because it keeps supply chains intact for future technology innovations, but on the other hand it is strictly a short term fix. Deploying mature technologies will not spur breakthrough innovation in the long term, but instead result in incremental change. If the opposite were true why aren’t Duracell and Energizer pioneering the next generation of advanced battery storage technologies?

Long term, innovation will be the driver of real clean energy cost reductions. But while the U.S. does have some institutions in place to do this additional policy support is needed to ensure that early stage developments will emerge. The wide gap in what the U.S. currently invests in energy innovation and what is needed is the most prominent example. Most recently, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recommended that the U.S. invest an additional $16 billion a year on advanced technology research, development, demonstration, and deployment. Recognizing a lack of support for innovation, PCAST recommended that 75% of those funds be directed to research, development, and demonstration.

Given the significant need for greater funding of clean energy innovation, it’s confusing that the CGC plan is branded as a “comprehensive” proposal for making clean energy cheap when in fact it leaves out (or assumes that they are already in place) the very innovation policies that will make clean energy cost less than coal and oil.

Even their main example of a technology that will benefit from a deployment-only approach – nuclear energy - raises this disparity. The U.S. nuclear manufacturing industry moved to foreign countries because of the moratorium on new nuclear power plant construction in the 1970’s, effectively drying up the domestic consumer base for large scale nuclear technology. But broadly citing nuclear energy’s decline because of the moratorium doesn’t tell the whole story or drawing an important lesson.

Let’s recognize that nuclear power plants were pushed to the market by significant federal R&D support and the government acting as an early adopter of the technology (e.g. procurement policy for submarines). Nuclear energy is actually an example public support for breakthrough energy technology (which nuclear was in the 1950’s) and is a model for how the U.S. should advance and deploy next generation clean energy.

An example of this more effective innovation strategy can be seen in the development of new small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), which the federal government is playing a similarly critical role. For instance, Babcock & Wilcox’s mPower SMR demonstration and scale up project is being supported by the federally-funded Tennessee Valley Authority. The NuScale SMR was a spinoff of a Department of Energy funded partnership with the University of Oregon. The GE-Hitachi Hyperion SMR prototype will be developed and tested at the DOE funded Savannah River Site. In fact, many if not all next generation SMR designs are being supported through government innovation support. It can be argued that the customer base for these cheaper, more easily manufactured and customizable nuclear plants will be much larger than their big box brethren.

To conclude how I finished the first post - the CGC/CAP plan is a good start, but just one part of a much larger energy innovation agenda. It will take a multifaceted approach to make unsubsidized clean energy cheap. If CGC and CAP want to present a real comprehensive energy plan, they would do well to address the other two-thirds of the innovation equation.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Natural Gas: Friend or Foe to Energy Sustainability?

Live Webinar Nov. 30 1 PM ET / 10 AM PT

New sourcing techniques for natural gas have a great potential impact on the makeup of global energy consumption for some time to come. The role that larger natural gas supplies will play in a push by many countries toward more renewable fuel sources may have a significant outcome for efforts to reduce C02 emissions worldwide and combat climate change, and yet natural gas remains little-understood and, in some instances, controversial.

Some see natural gas as a big improvement over more carbon-producing energy sources like coal, while others are concerned about the environmental impact of sourcing methods like "fracking". Will natural gas serve as an aid in the transition to more responsible energy consumption, or will its newfound availability depress energy prices and slow the move to renewable sources like wind and solar energy?

The Energy Collective brings together experts on gas and energy production to provide their perspectives on the opportunities - or challenges - that natural gas may present for a sustainable energy economy:

  • What will be the impact of natural gas supply on financing renewable energy sources?
  • Which new production and transportation strategies for natural gas could make an impact?
  • Are there new opportunities for Carbon Capture and Sequestration with natural gas?
  • Should natural serve as an interim fuel source in a move toward renewables?
Click here to register today for the free webinar, which will feature:

David Hone is Climate Change Advisor for Shell since 2001, as well as a board member and Vice Chairman of the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA). He also works closely with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and has been a lead contributor to many of its recent energy and climate change publications. David has worked as a refinery engineer in Australia, an oil economics and supply specialist and the Netherlands, and finally manager of the global trading and chartering of Shell's crude oil tanker fleet, before taking his current position.

Geoffrey Styles is Managing Director of GSW Strategy Group, LLC, an energy and environmental strategy consulting firm. His industry experience includes 22 years at Texaco Inc., culminating in a senior position on Texaco’s leadership team for strategy development, focused on the global refining, marketing, transportation and alternative energy businesses, and global issues such as climate change. Previously he held senior positions in alliance management, planning, supply & distribution, and risk management. His "Energy Outlook" blog has been quoted frequently by the Wall Street Journal and was named one of the “Top 50 Eco Blogs” by the Times of London.

Marc Gunther is a veteran journalist, speaker, writer and consultant whose focus is business and sustainability. Marc is a contributing editor at FORTUNE magazine, a senior writer at Greenbiz.com, a lead blogger at The Energy Collective. He's also a husband and father, a lover of the outdoors and a marathon runner. Marc is the author or co-author of four books, including Faith and Fortune: How Compassionate Capitalism is Transforming American Business. He's a graduate of Yale who lives in Bethesda, MD.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

UC Davis study suggests lots of work ahead to bring renewables to market

By Alex Trembath. Originally published at Energetics.

A recent study from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at U.C. Davis builds a pricing model that relies on resource availability and market capitalization to determine that global supplies of oil are likely to run dry roughly 100 years before renewable technologies are capable of replacing them. The paper, from authors Nataliya Malyshkina and Deb Niemeier and published in Environmental Science and Technology, uses IEA estimates of petroleum estimates and cumulative financial data for major oil and alternative energy companies, including market capitalization, share number, share price, and net income per share. Unlike typical technological projections based on learning curves or Hotelling predictions, the study develops its own method for determining the path forward for resource availability based on three market-expectation-based steps:
  1. Identify traded securities, whose future cash flows strongly depend on the appearance of a new technology of interest (e.g., a viable replacement of crude oil, or a technology for reducing CO₂ emissions).
  2. Specify a model for pricing these securities.
  3. Collect historical and current market data on the securities (e.g., share price, number of shares outstanding, dividends paid, etc.).
The model they created gives the value T ≈ 131, where T is the time horizon "until the appearance or adoption of new technologies related to important sustainability problems." With a base year of 2009, this predicts 2140 as the year we can economically expect renewables to become suitable replacements for traditional fossil energy. Malyshkina and Niemeier also rely on IEA estimates of peak oil, which suggest that the rate of global oil production will begin to decline in some distinct time between 2010 and 2030. Put it all together, and we get a world tapped out of oil a full century before replacement technologies can meet expected demand.

Specific observations on the market for clean technology are similarly stark. For instance, the paper makes the point that even the most successful clean tech companies fall short in their own market to fossil fuel giants with relatively minor budgets for renewables.
In a recent article analyzing when renewable energy companies might occupy significant market share, it was pointed out that Exxon Mobil's current market capitalization was 28 times that of First Solar and 26 times that of Vesta Wind Systems, both among the largest renewable companies. Even for major corporations like General Electric, with a large stake in wind power, stock prices are driven by other parts of the company.
All in all, the Davis paper combines econometric, financial, geophysical and policy-oriented data to create a compelling, if alarming, model for resource replacement. Their work confirms the narrative offered by a new report called "Post-Partisan Power", which makes the claim that "America will make little sustained progress in transforming the U.S. energy economy or fully capturing the economic opportunities in new clean energy export markets until alternatives to conventional fossil fuels become cheaper." These two reports, in addition to a growing consensus following the demise of cap-and-trade this summer, at least implicitly identify the large price gap between renewable technologies and fossil fuel resources as the single largest obstacle to a fully decarbonized economy.

The pricing model and theory proposed by Malyshkina and Niemeier employs the concept of path dependency--where we have been matters for where we are going. After over a century of development on our modern carbon infrastructure, the momentum of the global economy will not shift course towards more sustainable technology easily. However, the difficulty is not a reason not to pursue smart and aggressive policy, according to the authors.
If policy interventions such as new major investments in the alternative-energy sector are made, then we would expect that the alternative-energy companies market capitalization would increase, with the net effect that the estimated value of T would decrease.
The next step, of course, is identifying those policy interventions and employing them effectively.

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Creating a Clean Energy Century

Originally published at the Breakthrough Institute

America can recapture the lead in the global clean energy race if it commits itself to a major public-private effort to spur clean energy innovation.

That's the message of a new report released today by Democratic think tank Third Way. The report, "Creating a Clean Energy Century," is the first in a series of reports from Third Way's new project on energy innovation, co-chaired by U.S. Senators Mark Udall (D-CO), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

The report begins with clear-cut premises. Clean energy is still too expensive and unreliable relative to fossil fuels. Other countries are moving toward clean energy more quickly than the United States. Countries that are able to make clean energy cheaper than fossil fuels will gain the greatest economic benefits, by capturing more of the rapidly growing domestic and global markets for clean energy.

That the United States is falling far behind other countries in developing and producing clean energy technologies should be familiar to readers of this blog. That was the conclusion of our major 2009 report, "Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant," co-authored with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. We argued that for the United States to catch up, the government needed to prioritize major public investments in clean energy R&D, manufacturing, and deployment, along with education, infrastructure and facilitating the development of new clean energy clusters.

The Third Way report contains similar recommendations, including creating early markets for innovative clean energy technologies, providing incentives and investments to spur domestic clean energy manufacturing, educating a new generation of scientists and engineers, and investing $15 billion per year in clean energy R&D. They also recommend that the government create a new National Institutes of Energy (an idea developed with Breakthrough one year ago) with a singular mission of developing affordable commercial clean energy technologies.

The three Senators chairing the project took to the pages of Politico today to describe why investment in clean energy innovation cannot wait:

As we work to cut our deficit and promote fiscal responsibility, investment in research and development still remains a key function of the federal government. When the economy recovers and support for innovation expands, we will be able to build on our initial successes.

But we have to start today to have any hope of catching up to China, Germany and other clean energy powerhouses. Despite Washington's recent political shifts, maintaining our global economic edge should remain a bipartisan priority.

"Energy innovation is not a partisan issue - it's an American imperative," they continue, "The choice is clear: We will either be stamping 'Made in the USA' on wind turbines, solar panels, advanced batteries and nuclear components. Or unloading them from foreign container ships."

The Third Way report and article by Senators Udall, Kagan, and Stabenow add a set of important voices to the gathering consensus for a technology and innovation-led strategy for clean energy progress and economic renewal, which includes scholars at Breakthrough, Brookings, and the American Enterprise Institute, along with top business leaders like Bill Gates and Norman Augustine.

A 'Technology-First' consensus for energy reform is clearly growing on left and right. For more, don't miss "Energy Innovation 2010," a major day-long conference on December 15th, hosted by the Breakthrough Institute and six other leading think tanks from diverse points on the political spectrum. The event is free but registration is required. For more information and to register today, head here.

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Can Federal Investment Reduce the Budget Deficit?

By Teryn Norris at Americans for Energy Leadership

David Leonhardt -- one of the country's leading economic reporters at the New York Times -- has a new article, "One Way to Trim Deficit: Cultivate Growth," which calls for increased federal investment in science, technology, and education as one of "the best ways to promote growth" and a primary strategy to reduce the budget deficit. He reports:
"If the economy grew one half of a percentage point faster than forecast each year over the next two decades — no easy feat, to be fair — the country would have to do roughly 40 to 50 percent less deficit-cutting than it now appears...

Even more important than the next couple of years is the second part of a pro-growth strategy: the long term. A good deficit plan doesn’t simply make across-the-board cuts for years on end. It cuts funding for programs that do not spur economic growth and increases funding for those relatively few that do...

Beyond tax reform, both [proposed] deficit plans mention the importance of making investments that will lead to future growth. In particular, the Bowles-Simpson plan calls for a gradual 15-cents-a-gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax to pay for highways, mass transit and other projects. The plans also urge the government to prioritize education and science.

These are clearly among the best ways to promote growth. The United States created the world’s most prosperous economy last century in large measure because it was the world’s most educated country. It no longer is. Federal science dollars, meanwhile, led to the creation of the intercontinental railroad, the airline industry, the microchip, the personal computer, the Internet and numerous medical breakthroughs. Yet science funding is scheduled to decline as stimulus money runs out."

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Scientists: Innovation Needed on Energy Storage, Grid

New innovations in energy storage, transmission, and the integration of variable electricity sources are necessary to enable renewable energy sources to contribute significantly to the U.S. energy supply, according to a new report from the American Physical Society.

Establishing national policies to spur the deployment and adoption of renewable electricity sources, such as wind and solar power, are important, but the scientists warn that research and innovation must also proceed in parallel on better energy storage technologies, new strategies for integrating the varying and intermittent output of these energy sources, and improved technologies for the long-distance transmission of renewable electricity.

According to APS:

[W]ithout the focus on storage devices, it will be difficult to meet proposed renewable electricity standards, the report asserts. Wind and solar energy are variable by nature: The sun doesn't always shine, and the wind doesn't always blow. The amount of electricity a consumer has available to complete household chores could change in a matter of seconds, hours or days—placing great importance on the need for robust storage methods.

Another challenge facing the grid involves the long-distance transmission of renewable electricity from places that receive a lot of wind and sun to those that do not. "We need to move faster to have storage ready to accommodate, for example, 20 percent of renewable electricity on the grid by 2020," said George Crabtree, co-chairman of the POPA study panel and a senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory. "And, by devoting the necessary resources to the problem, I am confident that we can solve it."

The report addresses variability and transmission issues by urging the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to increase research on materials to develop energy storage devices and by encouraging the DOE to focus on long-distance superconducting direct current cables to bring renewable electricity to load centers, lessening the chance that power will be disrupted. The report also calls for examining renewable electricity in light of a unified grid instead of one that is fragmented and improving the accuracy of weather forecasts to allow for better integration of renewable electricity on the grid.
The report, titled "Integrating Renewable Electricity on the Grid," was released this week by the American Physical Society's Panel on Public Affairs. For more the the report's recommendations, see here.

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The Energy Independence Trust: Where’s the Innovation Beef?

By Matthew Stepp and Matthew Hourihan

The Coalition for Green Capital (CGC) and the Center for American Progress (CAP) have thrown their cap into the policy maelstrom left in the wake of failed cap and trade by offering their Cutting the Cost of Clean Energy 1.0 Plan.

The plan focuses on infrastructure, regulation, and deployment financing. It would create an Energy Innovation Trust that can borrow funds from the Treasury to offer low- cost financing for clean energy development projects, smart grid development, and energy efficiency projects for homes and businesses. Complementary tax breaks would further incentivize energy efficiency retrofits and investment in clean energy facilities and manufacturing.

There are definitely some things to like here. The plan has the right message of “making clean energy cheap,” and it also addresses the critical gap in government support for clean tech deployment. But despite its being advertised as such, it is not a comprehensive” approach to dealing with energy because any comprehensive and effective clean energy plan would put the majority of its efforts in supporting clean energy innovation, not deployment.

The plan wrongly assumes that the U.S. has all the clean technology it needs, and that innovative energy technologies already have adequate support. As we have argued previously, these assumptions are more myth than fact. But they are at the heart of the CGC/CAP plan.

A narrow, short term focus on deployment and energy efficiency loses sight of the fact that clean energy technology is not ready for widespread adoption. In fact, current clean energy technologies have only been deployed on a small scale because of extensive government subsidies and because they’re incapable of standing on their own in the marketplace. Extending subsidies of those technologies will not magically drive down its unsubsidized price in every technological case.

The real key to creating unsubsidized, affordable clean energy is innovation to create the next generation of technology: e.g., cost-competitive metal-air batteries that can run a car for 250 miles per charge at the same or lower purchase price as a gasoline-engine car; new solar panels with higher energy conversion rates enabled by new nanotechnology manufacturing processes; and radical carbon capture systems.

The CGC/CAP plan assumes that its plan will create a clean energy market and these innovations will follow. But history has shown that market demand rarely induces radical innovations of the kind we need. An expanded market may inspire a marginal increase in private sector investment in existing technologies, and would likely spur further deployment of these technologies, thereby resulting in declining costs where possible. However, an expanded market would not yield the radical technological advances we need.

The needed support for these radical technological advances is nowhere to be seen in the CGC/CAP plan. It is simply wrong to assume early stage clean energy innovation is already supported. Beginning in 2011, there will be sudden drop in support for clean technology R&D and basic science as the Stimulus money dries up. Requested 2011 budgets for clean energy projects don’t make up the loss in funding and austerity measures in the new Congress could easily widen this gap. And assuming the 2011 budget is passed as it, the U.S. would be spending about $4.5 billion on clean energy innovation – a fraction of the $15-30 billion recommended by the expert policy thinkers and business leaders. So, U.S. policy action addressing this gaping hole of support is the key policy question of any new energy policy.

To be clear, a real comprehensive energy plan must address the entire spectrum of technological innovation – basic science, R&D, scale up, education, deployment, infrastructure, and manufacturing. The U.S. desperately needs a cohesive national energy plan. Only innovating towards a new generation of technologies will make clean energy cheap, reduce fossil fuel consumption, and spur an industry that will create jobs. The CGC/CAP plan is a good start, but just one part of a much larger energy innovation agenda.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How Energy Reform Can Break the Partisan Stalemate

Energy & Environment Expert Blog

By Teryn Norris
November 16, 2010

In the aftermath of the mid-term elections, it’s unlikely that Washington can overcome the crippling gridlock in Congress. Yet one critical opportunity for bipartisan compromise stands out among the rest: energy policy.

Addressing the country the day after elections, President Obama signaled a clear opening by pressing the reset button on cap and trade and calling for a new agenda. “I don’t think there’s anybody in America who thinks that we’ve got an energy policy that works the way it needs to, that thinks that we shouldn’t be working on energy independence,” he declared. “And that gives opportunities for Democrats and Republicans to come together and think about… how do we move forward on that agenda.”

Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) quickly agreed. “I think energy is an area where there is potential for a bipartisan accomplishment of some consequence,” Senator McConnell told the Wall Street Journal. “There are a variety of other things there could be pretty broad agreement on… Nobody thinks it is a bad idea to reduce carbon emissions, the question is how do you do it.”

President Obama and Senator McConnell both cited electric vehicles and nuclear power as areas for compromise, and indeed these are both important areas to support. But electric vehicles and nuclear power are only two pieces of a much larger puzzle, and without a larger framework, Congress risks taking a small-bore approach and missing a larger opportunity to achieve energy independence.

So what’s the fresh new idea that Democrats and Republicans alike can embrace? A growing number of experts have endorsed one approach, summed up on Sunday in a prominent piece by the Washington Post editorial board:

“Where can President Obama and ascendant House Republicans find compromise? … The American Energy Innovation Council, a group of business leaders that includes Bill Gates, hopes that the parties might yet be able to agree on a more ambitious and cohesive policy. It recommends a $16 billion annual investment in clean energy innovation, including research and support for getting new technologies to market. An ideologically diverse group of think tankers from the Breakthrough Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution agrees and argues that Congress should supplement that investment with subsidies that lower the price of new energy sources.”

The Brookings/AEI/Breakthrough report, “Post-Partisan Power,” was released just before the election and has since received a wide variety of endorsements. The heart of the plan is to overhaul the U.S. energy innovation system with strategic federal investments in clean energy, on the scale of $25 billion annually, to drive down the cost of low-carbon energy technologies for deployment in the U.S. and abroad. It would also support energy science and engineering education, similar to the National Energy Education Act my colleague and I proposed with Breakthrough Institute back in 2008.

Of course, even with such fertile ground for compromise on a critical national issue, the current anti-investment and deficit-centric mentality in Washington doesn’t add up to hopeful prospects for the next Congress, as the Post editorial recognized. Not that there's any shortage of smart revenue streams for such strategic federal investments, which eventually would easily pay for themselves. But as Andrew Revkin noted at New York Times Dot Earth, “This election almost guarantees an end to the brief stimulus-driven period of increased investment in advancing energy technologies that could supplant finite fossil fuels.”

In the near-term, then, the measure of success for this new energy innovation agenda should not be whether it can immediately advance in lame-duck session or the next Congress -- although advancing specific pieces is an urgent cause. Rather, the measure of near-term success should be whether this approach can continue building support among thought leaders, advocates, reporters, and a group of committed policymakers. As one prominent economist once wrote, "That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable."

But in the absence of growing momentum behind this approach, it is hard to see how any large and cohesive clean energy agenda can develop in the aftermath of cap and trade for the foreseeable future. There is simply no clear or viable alternative. In the meantime, the United States will continue falling behind in a major strategic growth sector, shipping hundreds of billions of dollars overseas annually to pay for foreign oil, and damaging the conditions for a livable global climate system. Given the enormous stakes, the leaders capable of breaking the energy stalemate will no doubt be counted among the great legislators of the early 21st century – if only they will step up and seize this opportunity.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Avoiding a Climate Science War

By Daniel Goldfarb
Originally published at Americans for Energy Leadership

Everybody loves a good fight, and Andrew Revkin reports that scientists are gearing up for an upcoming slugfest over the validity of climate science in his post “Scientists Join Forces in a Hostile Climate.” On the other side, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is maneuvering to become Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, saying of the position, "Within the Energy and Commerce committee we are ground-zero in the effort to reestablish conservative principles in the Congress and by extension in the country." So how can we avoid an unproductive back and forth between climate scientists and climate zombies? One idea is to shift the debate from what causes climate change to a discussion of more specific concerns and solutions, starting with how our current energy posture hampers national security.

National security provides the perfect arena in which to discuss energy policy. Unlike politicians, members of the military don't point fingers, they find solutions. Our politicians could learn from the Department of Defense's solution oriented approach to problems, and move past who is causing global warming to how we can best address it. Meg Bostrom of the Washington Post recommends such a solution oriented approach for the upcoming Congress in her piece "A Climate Plan for Climate-Change Deniers":
"There is good reason to think that those who are worried about climate change would make greater progress - especially among Republicans, who profess increasing skepticism about warming - if they focused less on arguing the scientific reality and more on building support for specific solutions that all sides can agree on."
Pitting 700 climate scientists against a well entrenched cohort of climate change denying scientists and politicians, as the American Geophysical Union plans to do, will only further polarize opinions around stale arguments. By narrowing the focus of climate and energy discussions, and changing the casts who advocate for each side, we can potentially find new areas of agreement and not just continue to explore old divisions. Our politicians should start with subjects on which most Americans agree, such as protecting American troops.

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Educating the Energy Generation: Workforce Needs in Renewable, Nuclear Power Sectors

By Jesse Jenkins, originally at the Breakthrough Institute

Today, the race for dominance in clean energy technology sectors pits the United States against the greatest international competition for a key emerging technology field than in any era since the Cold War race to lead in aerospace, computing, communications, and IT fields.

Remaining competitive in the fast-growing, 21st century clean energy sectors will demand the same world-class talent and highly-trained workforce that helped the United States lead the world in the high-tech sectors of the 20th century.

As we wrote in "Post-Partisan Power," a road map for a limited and direct national energy innovation strategy recently released by Breakthrough Institute and scholars at the Brookings Institution and American Enterprise Institute:

The United States cannot hope to rise to this global challenge or confront pressing energy innovation imperatives without a new national investment to train and inspire the next generation of intrepid American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. Today, the United States ranks just 29th out of 109 countries in the percentage of 24-year-olds with a math or science degree.47 Only 15 percent of undergraduate degrees in the United States are earned in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields compared with 64 percent in Japan and 52 percent in China. Even South Korea -- a nation with a population one-sixth the size of the United States -- graduates more engineers annually.

The situation is particularly dire in energy technology, with roughly half of the U.S. energy industry workforce expected to retire over the next decade. Meanwhile, demand for workers in the renewable electricity industry is expected to more than triple from 127,000 in 2006 to more than 400,000 in 2018. The anticipated, large-scale ramp-up of the U.S. nuclear power industry would similarly require the industry to hire tens of thousands of new nuclear engineers and related positions annually. Yet today, from elementary school through post-doctorate programs, students and educators lack the resources to develop new curricula and educational programs, receive key training, or expand research opportunities to meet this national challenge.
A recent blog post from nuclear engineer Rod Adams at theEnergyCollective.com points us to some new figures that can help fill in the details for the workforce needs of the nuclear power sector.
Over the next five years, 38 percent of the current nuclear industry work force employed at the nation's 104 operating plant will be eligible for retirement, leaving a shortfall of more than 25,000 skilled workers. In addition, each new nuclear plant will create up to 2,400 temporary and highly-paid positions over the five-year construction period and 400-to-800 new permanent careers.
The workforce training and competitiveness challenges are clear. But the United States has overcome such challenges in the past.

After the Soviet launch of Sputnik, the United States swiftly enacted the National Defense Education Act of 1958, leveling national investments totaling $7.2 billion over four years (in today's dollars), to support K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, establish university programs in computer science, aerospace, and other new fields across the nation, and train the generation of innovators and entrepreneurs that led the IT Revolution.

In "Post-Partisan Power," we propose a comparatively modest, yet equally critical national commitment of roughly $500 million annually for energy education to support K-12 curriculum and teacher training, energy education scholarships, post- doctoral fellowships, and graduate research grants. This proposal builds on an earlier call from the Breakthrough Institute for a National Energy Education Act.

You can find more detailed recommendations for energy education and workforce training investments in the full "Post-Partisan Power" report available here (pdf).

See also:

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Electric Boogaloo

By Kristina Vonn Hoffmann, ACE Educator in Los Angeles, CA

How dancefloors can power our future...

Maybe you like to do the Macarena. Oh wait, you’re too old for that? Ok, so maybe it’s pirouettes and leaps. Hmm…. ballet not your style? Then maybe you like the fast movements and live drums of West African dance like me!

Whatever your tastes may be, whether you know how to juke, breakdance, or just like to shuffle your feet, there’s energy in the way you move.

It’s something that we at ACE talk about in our assembly. If you’ve seen it, you probably know the part: when we’ve jumped in our time machines and blasted off 40 years into the future. You’re watching a tribute video depicting your generation’s greatest accomplishments, starting “way back in high school when it was far from certain what the future would be.”

The video cuts to a picture of Tiësto, the superstar Dutch DJ known to fans across the world for his groundbreaking electronic beats. The crowd’s moving, the floor’s jumping, and… what’s this!? They’re creating electricity!

Piezoelectricity, to be exact. The root piezo comes from the Greek word for ‘pressure.’ The movement of feet on a dance floor made of the right crystallized materials can help offset a club’s energy needs significantly.

European nightclubs like these know that when the imbedded crystals are pressurized, they produce an electrical current that can be used to power anything from the lightshow inside the club, to simply offsetting their general electricity needs.

Piezoelectric crystals – matter such as quartz, topaz, and even salt – contain equal amounts of positive and negative charges, so generally they are considered neutral. Yet, when this symmetry is thrown off by pressure, a charge is released. This voltage can power dance floors, and might eventually power subway stations and other public areas with lots of foot traffic.

Humans are full of energy. I mean, we know this just by having watched our younger siblings and cousins running sprints and throwing tantrums growing up, right? (Not that we would ever do such a thing).

So why not take all that free energy and harness it? Well, at the moment, piezoelectricity is still a bit costly… but who knows. In a couple of decades, even Dancing With the Stars could be a self-powered show!

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