Posts tagged “energy policy”
I work on energy policy for a national security think tank, so I am often asked to talk about energy security. Last week, I participated in a conference in which we were asked to comment on “U.S. Energy Security: How Do We Get There?” As I listened to the presenters at the conference, I realized that how you viewed the problem of ‘Energy Security’ depends on how you identify it. We all seem to have determined that energy security is a problem, but we each had different understandings of what the term ‘energy security’ actually means! Of course, that means there were very different prescriptions for how to ‘solve’ the problems of ‘energy security.’
In the absence of a definition, everyone defines energy security differently –both speakers and listeners. It is something like the late Margaret Thatcher said about the politics of consensus: “it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.” Along those lines, I believe that ‘energy security’ has devolved into simply a buzzword: a phrase that everyone favors, but defines differently. Pundits, politicians, lobbyists, industry, and campaigners from across the political spectrum cry ‘energy security’ because it polls better than their preferred policies. I have done it as well. Listeners, then, are misled because, really, who could actually be against ‘energy security?’ It is like being against mom, America, and apple pie.
President Obama released his long-awaited FY2014 budget request and while it’s unlikely the budget will be taken up by Congress in its entirety, it remains an important document. Namely, the proposal is significant because it steadfastly argues that America can continue to support next-generation industries like clean energy. In fact, the President’s proposal budgets for a number of high-profile, high-impact programs, including those aimed at growing the domestic clean energy manufacturing sector, reduce transportation fuel use, and calls on Congress to fund a new Energy Innovation Hub to transform the electricity grid.
Across the board, the FY2014 request boosts key energy innovation offices at DOE by about 15 percent compared to the FY2013 Continuing Resolution and seven percent higher than the President’s FY2013 request. The lion’s share of budget gains are aimed at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which would see a budget increase of 54 percent from FY2013 CR levels, and at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which would see a budget increase of 46 percent.
Expanding Research Capabilities in Advanced Energy Manufacturing
The largest budget increase target at EERE – 22 percent to be exact – is for the department’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, which invests in transformational research and development of integral clean energy manufacturing technologies and practices. This investment would support and complement EERE’s recently announced Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, which aims to aggressively increase the international competitiveness of emerging energy manufacturing. The program is designed to begin reversing a decade’s long decline in U.S. manufacturing – immediate goals include transferring new research, technologies, and industrial education and training to industry through a new research institute under the banner of the President’s National Network of Manufacturing Innovation as well as EERE’s Better Plants Challenge.
Last week I made my debut as a contributor to the Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ) new feature The Experts: Journal Reports. The idea is that the WSJ poses questions to the panel, and each panel member provides a response of 300 words or so. The first 4 questions that were asked — and answered — last week were:
- Growing oil production has led to predictions that the U.S. could pump more barrels than Saudi Arabia by 2020 and that North American could become a net exporter at a later date. What does this mean for energy markets and geopolitics? (My answer)
- Should the government be financing new-energy technologies? (My answer)
- Should there be a price on carbon emissions, and if so, what’s the best way to do it? (My answer)
- What technological breakthrough is most likely in the next 10 years that could completely change the energy equation as we now see it? (My answer)
Innovation vs. Deployment
One of the continuing debates among climate and energy analysts and advocates is whether public policy should emphasize innovation or deployment. A hardy round of wonky discussion brought to light the nuances of each point of view, but it still leaves one lingering issue: how do we make energy innovation part of advocates’ climate policy pitch?
There are two levels to the debate between innovation analysts and deployment advocates. The most significant debate is over policy nuance and is what has been in the blogging spotlight recently. The debate logic chain typically plays out broadly this way:
- Mitigating climate change requires cutting global carbon emissions to near zero, which requires no less than a transformation of the global energy system from fossil fuels to clean energy. For its part, the United States has set a goal of 80 percent carbon reductions by 2050 and a midterm goal of 17 percent reductions by 2020.
- Innovation analysts argue today’s technology isn’t enough to get us to 80 percent global (or US) carbon reductions. Cheaper and better technologies are needed to fully address climate change, which requires looking at the full innovation ecosystem and aggressively strengthening through policy. Today’s policy approach is woefully lacking because it underinvests in research, development, and demonstration, and provides limited deployment incentives that don’t drive innovation. As a result, innovation analysts (for example, myself) typically focus on boosting R&D budgets, bridging the valley of death, and reforming deployment policies to drive technological improvements as the best path to addressing climate change.
- Deployment advocates argue today’s technologies are enough to at worse meet our midterm climate goals and at best get us much closer to our 80 percent goal than innovation analysts argue. Most commonly, this extends to deployment advocates arguing that big innovations really aren’t necessary. In other words, we need to do everything we can to push deploying today’s technologies by using policies including subsidies, carbon pricing, and mandates. By no means is funding research not important, but it’s not a high policy priority. As a result, deployment advocates (for example, Climate Progress Editor Joe Romm) champion clean energy subsidies and incentives to accelerate the deployment of existing technologies and as the best path to addressing climate change.
As Dave Roberts at Grist argues, there is in fact a lot both “camps” agree on at this level. Cheaper and better clean energy technologies will make deep carbon reductions less and less “difficult, expensive, and politically contentious” than if we relied solely on today’s technologies. The agreement only breaks on the policy implementation side.
Solar energy entrepreneur Jigar Shah took to the site Greentech Media to criticize U.S. energy policy leaders for failing to champion deploying today’s clean energy technologies. Shah’s focus on ways to better deploy competitive clean energy underscores the critical need to re-frame the clean energy debate in terms of innovation and have a healthy discussion on building better policy solutions for deployment that drive innovation and support the growing clean energy industry.
Assessing the Character of U.S. Energy Policy
According to ITIF’s Energy Innovation Tracker, the United States invested $68.3 billion in clean energy innovation (in addition to $35.6 billion in loan guarantees) since 2009, 67 percent of which went towards clean energy deployment policies. This included deploying existing technologies through Stimulus policies like the loan guarantee program, energy efficiency grants, advanced manufacturing, and almost single handedly saving the solar and wind industry through the 1603 cash grant program at the height of the recession. Even in FY2012, which is absent Stimulus funding, 63 percent of the $14 billion in clean energy innovation investment went to deployment projects and programs.
Energy Security Trust
Energy policy is a major topic of discussion during almost every State of the Union address. The most recent address was no exception, with President Obama devoting a substantial portion of his speech toward reviewing recent energy accomplishments, and then promoting new energy initiatives.
One of those initiatives was one of the three major energy policy recommendations that I promoted in my book Power Plays. Here was President Obama’s version during the State of the Union address:
I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a nonpartisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long. I’m also issuing a new goal for America: Let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years.
President Obama aggressively called for addressing climate change in his fifth State of the Union address, but ultimately came up short of outlining a clear and compelling vision with the necessary policy scope to address the significant technological challenges impacting clean energy.
Here are my five top take-aways:
1) Demanded Action to Address Climate Change
It is indicative of the sad state of the U.S. climate debate when a mere mention of support for addressing climate change elicits celebration. Nonetheless, the President deserves credit for calling on Congress to take action against climate change and using about 10 percent of his speech to discuss what he would like to see.
“But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods – all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.”
2) Aggressively Called for Increasing Public Investments in Energy R&D
One of the biggest issues impacting clean energy innovation is declining public investments. Of particular concern are stagnant energy R&D programs, which are a fraction of what is necessary to aggressively develop breakthrough clean energy technologies. According to the Energy Innovation Tracker, federal funding for energy R&D totaled $3.6 billion in fiscal year 2012. In comparison, the Defense Department’s R&D budget that year was $72.3 billion, or more than 20 times as much.
In my previous column — Why I Don’t Ride a Unicorn to Work — I used an analogy to describe the US government’s approach to cellulosic ethanol mandates. In brief, they have mandated that something that does not exist — commercial cellulosic ethanol volumes — be blended into the fuel supply in the hopes that they can incentivize the industry into existence. They decided to require gasoline blenders to purchase the fuel, which as it turns out was a bit of a problem since it didn’t exist.
Last week the court sided with the American Petroleum Institute in a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the mandates. The court ruled that the EPA — which was responsible for determining the mandated volumes each year — based their projections on wishful thinking rather than on sound analysis (See the court decision here).
So how did the EPA respond? Less than a week after the court ruled that the EPA had based their cellulosic ethanol projections on wishful thinking, the EPA set the 2013 cellulosic ethanol mandate at 14 million gallons — up from last year’s mandate of 8.65 million gallons. Given that only around 20,000 gallons of qualifying cellulosic fuel was produced in 2012 — about 0.2% of the final mandated volume — the EPA’s decision to increase the 2012 mandate by over 60% is odd to say the least. It seems like they have doubled down on last year’s wishful thinking with an even larger dose of wishful thinking. CONTINUE»
The Unicorn Analogy
It isn’t because it’s too far to work. Nor is it because it rains here in Hawaii nearly every day and I might get wet. It isn’t because the powerful automobile lobby has convinced me that driving a car to work is a better option for me. No, it’s a bit more fundamental than that.
I don’t ride a unicorn to work because unicorns don’t exist.
But imagine the following scenario. A number of companies claim that they are developing unicorns, and in 3 years they will be commercially available. The government thinks “Hey, this is a great idea. It would be a more environmentally friendly method of transport. Let’s force automakers to start selling these unicorns in 3 years. We will base our projections on how many unicorns these unicorn companies say they will produce. After that we will increase the number the automakers must sell in each subsequent year, and then force the automakers to pay up if they don’t meet these quotas.”
This is Part 4 of a series of posts analyzing and detailing federal investments in clean energy innovation. Part 1 defined “clean energy innovation.” Part 2 broke down the federal clean energy innovation budget. Part 3 took a look at federal investments in clean energy demonstration projects.
For the last couple of years, the lion’s share of debate on U.S. clean energy policy has focused on encouraging deployment – or large-scale construction and installation – of low-carbon technologies. By significantly deploying clean energy technologies, supporters say, the United States can encourage integration of emerging technologies in an energy market dominated by entrenched fossil fuel interests, spur cost-cutting economies of scale, and get started on lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the process. However, others argue that there is a necessity to designing well-constructed deployment incentives aimed at directly spurring innovation to address climate change.
A Quick Typology of Deployment Policies
Federal clean energy deployment incentives can be made available through grants and other annually appropriated programs. For instance, the State and Tribal Energy Programs at the Department of Energy (DOE) deploy building efficiency and renewable energy technologies within communities. The New Energy Frontier initiative at the Department of the Interior (DOI) deploys renewable and energy efficiency technologies on federal lands.