New Paper Examines Federal Government Role in Stimulating Energy Innovation

December 11, 2012
by Doug Gavel

How best can federal government help guide effective research and development in the innovative energy sector? That is the question behind a new research paper authored by Harvard Kennedy School adjunct lecturer Laura Diaz Anadon which compares the strategies deployed by federal institutions in the China, the UK and the US to stimulate the development of alternative energy sources in each country.

"Over the past 10 years, the need to accelerate innovation in energy technologies has once again become an important goal for many governments throughout the world. As in the 1970s, this new period of support for energy RD&D and deployment coincides with increasing oil prices," Anadon writes. "But unlike in the 1970s, there is no single objective, namely energy security, dominating the discourse supporting the design of new energy RD&D institutions. Instead, there are many explicit objectives, or 'missions,' ranging from increasing energy security by reducing oil and other imports, to mitigating climate change and local pollution, to promoting economic competitiveness in the growing market of energy technology."

Anadon says that the multiple missions and the lack of consistency on the goals often complicate the execution and stability of a comprehensive and consistent national energy policy. In addition, the UK, China, and the US have approached the challenge in different ways in recent years.

"The three case studies of missions-oriented energy RD&D policies in the United Kingdom, the United States, and China reveal significant differences in several of the design elements of energy RD&D institutions, including the extent of coordination between government institutions and policies, the nature of private sector involvement, and the missions and type of innovation of the individual institutions. Another striking difference is the United States reliance on historical cases to design and justify the creation of some of its new institutions," she concludes.

"The approaches of the three countries for accelerating energy innovation have been shaped by their previous system of public support for innovation, the ability of their governments to change these institutions, the state of their natural resource endowments, the role of the private sector in their political process, and their pace of economic development."

"Missions-oriented RD&D Institutions in Energy Between 2000 and 2010: A Comparative Analysis of China, the United Kingdom, and the United States" is published in the December 2012 edition of Research Policy.

Laura Diaz Anadon is the director of the Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group and associate director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She is also an adjunct lecturer in public policy. Anadon investigates the patterns and processes of technology innovation, and especially the role of government policy in the development and deployment of advanced and cleaner energy technologies.

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Photograph of Laura Diaz Anadon

Laura Diaz Anadon, adjunct lecturer in public policy

"The approaches of the three countries for accelerating energy innovation have been shaped by their previous system of public support for innovation, the ability of their governments to change these institutions, the state of their natural resource endowments, the role of the private sector in their political process, and their pace of economic development," she writes.