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U.S. Should Launch a National Energy Innovation Mission to Reach Climate Goals

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Research released today recommends that the U.S. federal government triple its annual investment in energy innovation over the next five years to speed clean energy transitions around the world and build advanced energy industries at home. The Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University released Energizing America: A Roadmap to Launch a National Energy Innovation Mission, a detailed guide for federal policymakers to raise energy innovation as a core national priority. Co-authored with scholars from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), Energizing America is the first in a series of volumes to kickstart a U.S. federal clean energy innovation policy agenda.

Offering a detailed roadmap for the next presidential administration and Congress, the volume released today calls for the federal government to dramatically increase federal funding for energy research, development, and demonstration across ten “technology pillars” that represent critical needs to decarbonize the global economy. John Kerry, 68th U.S. Secretary of State, endorsed Energizing America as, “A plan to make the U.S. the world leader in clean energy innovation and rise to an existential challenge—creating exciting new jobs along the way.”

The federal government currently invests less than $9 billion per year on energy innovation, less than a quarter of what it invests in health innovation and less than a tenth of what it invests in defense innovation. Raising annual federal investment to $25 billion by 2025 can jumpstart private innovation and sustain one million jobs over the long run, the authors conclude.

Varun Sivaram, senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) and lead author of the roadmap said, “Clean energy innovation is central to combating climate change — and to positioning the United States to compete globally in growing cleantech markets. As the IEA warns, half of the emissions reductions needed to swiftly reach net-zero emissions must come from immature technologies that haven’t yet reached markets.”

Co-author David Sandalow, senior research fellow at CGEP and a former senior official at the White House, State Department and U.S. Department of Energy, added “Mobilizing the full capacity of the federal government to accelerate energy innovation can make a huge difference in meeting these challenges.”

The volume explains why energy innovation is a critical national priority and synthesizes lessons from previous federal funding increases for space, health, and defense funding to create detailed recommendations for ramping up energy innovation funding across five years.

In recent years, clean energy innovation has gained bipartisan support in Congress. Lawmakers from both parties are advancing legislation that would boost funding for energy storage, carbon capture, nuclear energy, smart power grids, hydrogen, and other critical clean energy technologies. But to date, no coherent, overarching roadmap exists to guide investments across the federal government to advance the full spectrum of clean energy technologies. Energizing America fills that gap.

“Innovation is key to combating climate change, achieving a more secure and clean energy future, and maintaining American leadership in the growing energy industries of tomorrow,” said Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy. “Although the case for energy innovation is clear, the question for policymakers remains: how best to accomplish it? Energizing America answers that question and offers the next administration and Congress a strategic framework to triple U.S. annual investment in energy innovation over the next five years, including detailed funding proposals across the full spectrum of critical energy technologies and recommendations for immediate implementation.”

The roadmap recommends that the incoming presidential administration and Congress take three immediate steps in 2021:

  1. First, the president should issue a presidential policy directive announcing the National Energy Innovation Mission, establishing energy innovation as a national priority, setting a goal of tripling federal funding for energy innovation in five years, and creating a White House Task Force to coordinate among agencies and speed implementation.
  2. Second, the next Congress should pass an ambitious budget for the 2022 fiscal year that sharply increases federal energy research, development, and demonstration funding—focusing particularly on currently underfunded technology pillars—and sets the U.S. on a path to tripling the budget by 2025.
  3. Third, the United States should immediately reassert its international leadership by recommitting to Mission Innovation, courting bilateral collaborations to advance energy technologies, and stimulating a competitive race-to-the-top to raise global public funding for clean energy innovation.

“The three steps we are recommending right away would spark federal action on an unprecedented scale to accelerate energy innovation. But that should only be the start,” said David M. Hart, co-author and director of ITIF’s Clean Energy Innovation Policy Program.  “A sustained ramp-up of federal investment, as we have proposed, would create massive opportunities to reduce global carbon emissions while strengthening U.S. industry and creating jobs.”

On September 23 at Noon EDT, the Center on Global Energy Policy will host the global launch of Energizing America at Climate Week NYC 2020. The virtual event will be headlined by Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, distinguished professor at Georgia Institute of Technology and former deputy secretary of energy, and Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL), chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Register for the event here.

Energizing America: A Roadmap to Launch a National Energy Innovation Mission is available here, and also on Amazon.

About the Center on Global Energy Policy

The Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) at Columbia University SIPA advances smart, actionable and evidence-based energy and climate solutions through research, education and dialogue. Based at one of the world’s top research universities, what sets CGEP apart is our ability to communicate academic research, scholarship and insights in formats and on timescales that are useful to decision makers. We bridge the gap between academic research and policy — complementing and strengthening the world-class research already underway at Columbia University, while providing support, expertise, and policy recommendations to foster stronger, evidence-based policy. Recently, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger announced the creation of a new Climate School to tackle the most urgent environmental and public health challenges facing humanity.

About the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is an independent, nonpartisan research and educational institute focusing on the intersection of technological innovation and public policy. Recognized as the world’s leading science and technology think tank, ITIF’s mission is to formulate and promote policy solutions that accelerate innovation and boost productivity to spur growth, opportunity, and progress.

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