Seeding an Energy Revolution



Faculty Researcher Laura Diaz Anadon, Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy; Matthew Bunn, Associate Professor of Public Policy; Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Peirce Professor of Technology and Public Policy; Harvard Kennedy SchoolPaper Title Transforming U.S. Energy Innovation
Coauthors Gabriel Chan, Research Fellow; Melissa Chan, Research Fellow; Charles Jones, Research Fellow; Ruud Kempner, Research Fellow; Nathaniel Logar, Research Fellow; Harvard Kennedy School

Legislators, government officials, and corporate executives are all struggling to find ways to encourage game-changing innovations in the use of energy. Anguish over $4-a-gallon gasoline raises the political temperature, and budget-tightening makes the competition tougher for scarce government support.

So the timing couldn’t have been better for the results of an ambitious three-year project on how to promote energy innovation, conducted by a team from Harvard Kennedy School’s Energy Technology Innovation Project (etip) in the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

The lead authors, Laura Diaz Anadon, Matthew Bunn, and Venkatesh Narayanamurti, released the final report at a briefing hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington in November. The research was lauded as a “must read” by the Council on Foreign Relations, just one of dozens of positive reviews.

“The United States needs a revolution in energy technology innovation to meet the profound economic, environmental, and national security challenges that energy poses in the 21st century,” the report declares. “If the U.S. government does not act now to improve the conditions for innovation in energy, even in times of budget stringency, it risks losing leadership in one of the key global industries of the future, and the world risks being unable to safely mitigate climate change and to reduce vulnerability to disruptions and conflicts — both domestic and international. Waiting is not an option.”

The full report runs to 338 pages — with another 150 pages of appendices. It was the main product of a project funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to produce and disseminate recommendations to help the U.S. government accelerate the development and deployment of low-carbon energy technologies.

The authors conducted extensive economic modeling and developed and implemented a new methodology for assessing how much research, development, and demonstration (rd&d) investment is needed, and in which technologies. They surveyed more than 100 energy technology experts from industry, academia, and national labs to improve our understanding of the future of emerging energy technologies. The researchers also studied the effectiveness of the government’s national energy research laboratories and offered suggestions for improvement.

The resulting recommendations provide a blueprint for how the private sector and the government can work together to accelerate energy innovation.

“The U.S. government should dramatically expand its investment in energy research, development, and demonstration (rd&d), focused on a broad portfolio of different energy technologies and stages of innovation,” the four-page “policy brief” version explains. “We recommend that current investments in energy rd&d be roughly doubled, to $10 billion per year (including about $5 billion for the seven technology areas considered in detail and the remainder for other areas, including Basic Energy Sciences).”

The projected payback? “Our economic modeling suggests that an investment of a few extra billion per year today could develop technologies that could save the economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year by 2050 in scenarios where there are stringent policies limiting how much carbon can be emitted.”

The research team included current and former research fellows Gabriel Chan, Melissa Chan, Charles Jones, Ruud Kempner, Audrey Lee, and Nathaniel Logar. The writers organized a campaign of seminars and briefings with policymakers and media organizations to make sure the work had maximum impact, and recorded a video to help explain the results.

Diaz Anadon, Bunn, and Narayanamurti met with officials and staff from arpa-e and from the Office of Management and Budget, the Council on Environmental Quality, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House.

They also briefed more than 30 staffers from the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and another 30 or so high-level doe officials.

Then, in January, U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman, D-New Mexico, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and several key staff members traveled to Cambridge for meetings with the authors at the Kennedy School.

Diaz Anadon, the director of the etip project and an adjunct lecturer in public policy at hks, said she hoped the study would have long-term policy impact.

“We hope that our research will help make the case that even in times of budget difficulties, strategic investments in energy research, development, and demonstration are extremely important and should not be sacrificed,” she said.

Diaz Anadon said that the etip group will continue doing research on some of the topics covered by the report, including how to improve decision making in innovation investments, and assessing the suitability of different organizational models and policies to promote different types of energy innovation.

— by Jim Smith

“The United States needs a revolution in energy technology innovation to meet the profound economic, environmental, and national security challenges that energy poses in the 21st century,” the report declares.

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