Wednesday, December 01, 2010

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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