Archive for the ‘Technology & Innovation Policy’ Category

By Alex Trembath, originally posted at Energetics

“The America COMPETES Act, originally passed in 2007 in response to major challenges to US economic competitiveness spelled out by the National Academies’ seminal report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, is up for re-authorization.”

The COMPETES Act is designed to strengthen R&D funding for “critical science and technology agencies,” and so represents a vital component of any US action on energy policy. The process of decarbonizing the economy and replacing our ubiquitous carbon-fueled energy infrastructure is certainly the most massive and urgent technological challenge of our time, and we will need not just carbon prices and conservation but unprecedented scientific and social breakthroughs to guide our path. The best way to locate and realize those breakthroughs is through public and private activity, research and experimentation.

This whole story reminded me of a quotation from The West Wing, which I labored to dig up for my loyal readers:

“Great achievement has no road map. But the X-ray’s pretty good. So is penicillin. And neither were discovered with any practical objective in mind. When the electron was discovered in 1897, it was useless; and now we have a whole world run on electronics. Hayden and Mozart never studied the classics – they couldn’t. They invented them. “

– Dr. Dalton Milgate, “Dead Irish Writers”

The energy quest requires great achievement, practical objectives and a complete redesign of global infrastructure and economies. Dr. Milbank’s invocation of the electron and his overall motivation in The West Wing is very appropriate for our discussion – his above soliloquy was intended to persuade a US Senator to invest $12 billion in particle physics for one simple purpose: discovery.

The fate of the COMPETES Act (along with RE-ENERGYSE, the climate/energy bills in Congress, and our nation’s long-term effort on energy technology policy) will determine if America is serious about discovery, about competitiveness. If we fail, we will take our place in the new world order as a second-rate nation – once the standard bearer of free enterprise and scientific ambition, but now too economically short-sighted and politically gridlocked to rise to the challenges of our times.

Alex is an environmental economics major at UC Berkeley, and founder of the Energetics Blog.


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Originally published at LeadEnergy

A major report released last week by the National Science Board concludes that U.S. global leadership in science and technology is declining as foreign nations – especially China and other Asian countries – rapidly develop their national innovation systems.

“U.S. dominance has eroded significantly… The data begin to tell a worrisome story,” stated Kei Koizumi, assistant director for federal research and development in President Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The Director of the National Science Foundation, Arden Bement, noted that “China is achieving a dramatic amount of synergy by increasing its investment in science and engineering education, in research, and in infrastructure, which is attracting scientists from all over the world.”

The report, “Science and Engineering Trends 2010,” is published every two years by the National Science Board, a 25-member expert council that advises the National Science Foundation, President, and Congress on science and technology policy, education, and research. Koizumi called it a “State of the Union on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

This “state of the union” for science and technology comes amidst growing concern that Asia is out-competing the U.S. in the burgeoning global clean-tech sector. According to the “Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant” report I recently co-authored with the Breakthrough Institute and Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, China, Japan, and South Korea have already surpassed the U.S. in the production of nearly all clean energy technologies, and these governments are expected to out-invest the U.S. three-to-one in this industry over the next five years. As U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu recently said, “The world is passing us by. We are falling behind in the clean energy race.”

“Asia’s rapid ascent as a major world science and technology (S&T) center—beyond Japan—is driven by developments in China and several other Asian economies,” states the introduction to the report. “Governments [in Asia] have implemented a host of policies to boost S&T capabilities as a means to ensuring their economies’ competitive edge… the United States continues to maintain a position of leadership but has experienced a gradual erosion of its position in many specific areas.” According to Jose-Marie Griffiths, a member of the National Science Board, “While the US is the largest R&D performing nation — representing one-third of total world investment — Asia has narrowed the gap due to the sustained annual increases by China.”


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By Teryn Norris & Devon Swezey

Originally published by The Stanford Review

You know the world is changing when the president’s first trip to Asia is defined by a new U.S. foreign policy dubbed “strategic reassurance” – convincing China that the United States has no intention of containing its growing power or endangering its foreign investments. As the New York Times put it, “When President Obama visits China for the first time on Sunday, he will, in many ways, be assuming the role of profligate spender coming to pay respects to his banker.”

You also know times are changing when China, the world’s greatest polluter, and other Asian nations are poised to dominate the burgeoning global clean-tech industry by out-investing the United States. That’s the conclusion of a large new report we co-authored called “Rising Tigers, Timid Giant (PDF),” released this week by the Breakthrough Institute and Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. The report is the first to thoroughly benchmark clean energy competitiveness in four nations – China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States – and finds the following:

“Asia’s rising ‘clean technology tigers’ – China, Japan, and South Korea – have already passed the United States in the production of virtually all clean energy technologies and over the next five years will out-invest the U.S. three-to-one in these sectors… While some U.S. firms will benefit from the establishment of joint ventures overseas, the jobs, tax revenues, and other benefits of clean tech growth will overwhelmingly accrue to Asian nations… Should the investment gap persist, the U.S. will import the overwhelming majority of clean energy technologies it deploys.”

What do these two changes have in common? They both reflect the accelerating shift of global power from America to Asia, caused in large part by the serious mismanagement of U.S. economic policy.

The Pacific power shift is not a new phenomenon, and the Obama administration is wise to seek stronger ties with the region. The U.S. should applaud Asia’s growth, which is partly an outcome of our own success at promoting economic liberalism and international development. This shift in power is not a zero-sum game, nor should it be: the U.S. and Asia should avoid trade wars at all costs, and we should seize opportunities for partnership on a range of issues, from climate change to nuclear proliferation.

But the growing pace of this power shift should be a cause of major concern for Americans, and it should raise serious questions about our economic policies at the highest level. While the U.S. economy has suffered greatly from a crisis produced by its own financial sector – losing millions of jobs, trillions in economic output, and demanding huge spending packages financed by borrowed money – China has shrugged off the global recession with high levels of growth and self-financed stimulus, all while purchasing billions of Treasury bills to fund a U.S. deficit that has reached historic highs.

Last November, addressing the nation on the evening of his election, President Obama declared that “a new era of American leadership is at hand.” And indeed, his new administration has taken significant steps to remake U.S. foreign policy. But unless the U.S. quickly improves its economic competitiveness, our global leadership will be severely damaged. What is demanded now is a major, coordinated national project to regain our economic competitiveness in strategic sectors while permanently correcting the imbalances that led to the Great Recession.


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Here’s the current climate stalemate: While US and EU negotiators keep pushing for an international treaty based on cutting emissions, developing nations like China and India keep refusing to adopt hard emissions caps. But according to a new report by the Center for Clean Air Policy, those emission caps are too hard to measure and monitor in developing nations, anyway. Instead, the report concludes, developing countries should adopt a new approach to increase efficiency in their most energy-intensive industries by setting measurable clean energy technology targets.

Dan Klein of CCAP, a co-author of the report, explained:

“To be able to say we’re going to improve our emissions intensity by 5 percent, that’s a nice concept. But to be able to actually do that means … you have the ability to measure industrywide what you’re doing now and what you’re doing after.”

On the other hand, “It’s not such a difficult thing to count the number of plants that have a certain technology,” Klein said.


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Two new studies published last month — one by the Office of Tony Blair and the Climate Group, the other by the Global Climate Network and Center for American Progress (CAP) — strongly advocate a climate policy strategy based on direct government investment in energy technology development and deployment.


The studies independently reach conclusions similar to the Breakthrough Institute’s and are yet another indication of “The Emerging Climate Consensus,” which recognizes the limits of carbon pricing and advocates major increases in federal funding to deploy low-carbon energy technologies and drive down their costs through direct public investment in RD&D (research, development, and demonstration), deployment, and supporting infrastructure.

The Tony Blair and Climate Group report, titled “Breaking the Climate Deadlock: Technology for a Low Carbon Future (PDF),” provides a comprehensive sector-based analysis and concludes:

Governments should adopt a strategic top-down approach to ensure that critical technologies arrive on time and provide investment in disruptive options to allow radical transformation in the future… The reality is that carbon pricing does not address many other market failures along the innovation chain.

The study argues that direct public support is crucial to develop and deploy new technologies: “Market failures along the innovation chain require public spending to drive technologies down their cost curve to a point where the carbon price can take over and accelerate their deployment.” Echoing theBreakthrough InstituteInternational Energy Agency, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu (and defying critics like Joseph Romm), the report once again concludes that energy technologies must undergo major developments to meet emission reduction targets:

Although we have the technologies we need through to 2020, new technologies — many available but not yet commercially proven — will be needed to meet the more challenging long-term goals. Therefore, at the same time as we deploy existing solutions, we must invest in future options.

The report suggests that developed nations should double their public investment in RD&D by 2015 and quadruple it by 2020 and identifies key areas to target this investment. The report also cites the Stern Review, which recommends that global public deployment efforts double to $66 billion per year in 2015 and rise to $163 billion by 2025.

The analysis shows that global public and private investment of $48 trillion in RD&D, deployment, and commercialization of low-carbon and efficiency technologies (between 2005-2050) is necessary to sufficiently decarbonize the global economy. This is equivalent to over $1 trillion per year worldwide, and with the U.S. economy representing about 25 percent of the global economy, this could amount to over $250 billion annually in U.S. public and private investment in technology RD&D, deployment, and commercialization.

The Center for American Progress study makes many of the same recommendations. The study’s title — “Breaking Through on Technology: Overcoming the barriers to the development and wide deployment of low-carbon technology” — repeats our call for a government-led technology development strategy. From the outset the authors place technology front and center and break away from the dominant, regulation- and market-focused policy approach, claiming that “without a firm commitment to develop and transfer new technologies, with industrialised countries taking the lead on financing these endeavours, consensus will be difficult to reach and, in practical terms, emissions will be hard to reduce.”

The authors note that public finance is critical, particularly because of the threat of the “valley of death” between research and development and commercialization of new, clean energy technologies. Similar to the Climate Group’s conclusions, CAP’s main policy recommendations all emphasize the importance of public investment, particularly through direct deployment policy.

One of the study’s major policy prescriptions is to place technology at the heart of the Copenhagen negotiations by encouraging more focused incentives and “government-led finance to steer key technologies through the valley of death” at the international level. In addition, according to CAP, “all governments, individually or in collaboration — preferably the latter — must dramatically increase the supply of finance to support the new Technologies Initiative.” The Blair report also repeats this call for a new international strategy centered on technology:

The Copenhagen agreement should include a Technology Development Objective to scale up market creation and finance for new technology. In the past debates have focused on either delivering emissions reductions or on developing new technology. It is now clear that we must do both. Therefore, alongside emissions targets the Technology Development Objective should have an equal emphasis on innovation.

Breakthrough and our colleagues have similarly argued for a new international climate policy framework focused on technology development and energy modernization (see herehere, and here). Both the Blair/Climate Group and the Center for American Progress reports have made steps in the right direction by strongly advocating that low-carbon technology innovation be at the heart of national and global efforts to build a clean energy economy. That’s a strategy for the energy revolution we need.

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Today, the U.S. Department of Energy announced $377 million in funding to establish 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) pursuing potentially path-breaking basic and translational research at the cutting-edge of clean energy innovation.  Of this funding, $277 comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, otherwise known as the stimulus package) and $100 million comes from the DOE’s FY2009 budget.  The funding will be sustained over the next five years, with the DOE committing $100 million of its budget to the research centers each year.

“Meeting the challenge to reduce our dependence on imported oil and curtail greenhouse gas emissions will require significant scientific advances,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu as he announced the new funding for EFRCs.  “These centers will mobilize the enormous talents and skills of our nation’s scientific workforce in pursuit of the breakthroughs that are essential to expand the use of clean and renewable energy.”

The majority of EFRCs are based in universities, with several harnessing the skills and resources of the national laboratories, and just three awarded to non-profit organizations and private corporations.  Over the course of the program, these centers will employ over 1,800 people in research into four primary realms: Renewable and Carbon-Neutral Energy (including Solar Energy Utilization, Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems, Biofuels, and Geological Sequestration of CO2); Energy Efficiency (Clean and Efficient Combustion, Solid State Lighting, Superconductivity); Energy Storage (Hydrogen Research, Electrical Energy Storage); and Crosscutting Science (Catalysis, Materials under Extreme Environments).


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Jeff Immelt

Jeff Immelt

In yesterday’s Washington Post, prominent U.S. business leaders John Doerr (from Kleiner Perkins) and Jeff Immelt (CEO of GE) became part of the growing chorus calling on the nation’s leaders to prepare America for the clean-energy race. They warn that the U.S. is quickly falling behind in “the next great global industry”—green technology—with the risk of damaging America’s economic competitiveness.

Doerr and Immelt’s observations mirror recent reporting by the Breakthrough Institute and several major news sources—including TIME, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal—that show the U.S. trailing Asia in terms of clean-energy investment and deployment. On the question of which nation is leading the US in the clean-energy race, Doerr and Immelt don’t mince their words:

“We are clearly not in the lead today. That position is held by China, which understands the importance of controlling its energy future. China’s commitment to developing clean energy technologies and markets is breathtaking. (more…)

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