A new report on clean energy innovation headed by two of the world’s leading energy experts assesses the state of the clean energy innovation ecosystem in the U.S. and identifies clean energy technologies with the highest breakthrough potential.
The report—led by former U.S. Secretary of Energy and Energy Futures Initiative founder, Ernest J. Moniz and IHS Markit vice chairman Daniel Yergin—evaluates ways to maintain U.S. leadership in clean energy innovation by better aligning the policies, players and programmes that will drive technologies that can keep the nation globally competitive.
The report, entitled Advancing the Landscape of Clean Energy Innovation, was commissioned by Breakthrough Energy.
The report assesses energy technologies based on four criteria—technical merit, market viability, compatibility with other energy systems and consumer value.
The report identifies the key innovation pathways that are necessary to maintaining U.S. leadership in clean energy. Among them: increased and better targeted public investment across all stages of innovation—from fundamental research through commercial scale demonstration; a research and investment portfolio embracing multiple technology options; and a strengthened role for states, cities and tribal governments in the innovation process.
The report also finds that disciplined public-private partnerships are needed across the innovation value chain and recommends that the private sector step up its innovation investment from the savings created by the 2017 tax cut law, with a particular focus on testing facilities for product demonstration.
The report recommends that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) further revise its fuel-centric organisational structure, an artifact of its establishment after the oil embargoes of the 1970s, to reflect the essential role electricity plays in fuel infrastructure driving the U.S. economy.
The report examines a broad list of technologies related to the areas of energy supply (electricity and fuels), energy application (industrial, transportation and buildings) and cross-cutting technology areas (including large-scale carbon management, advanced materials and high-performance computing). From this broad list the report identifies 10 high-priority clean energy innovation areas:
- Storage and battery technologies
- Advanced nuclear reactors
- Advanced manufacturing technologies
- Building energy technologies
- Electric grid modernisation and smart cities
- Large-scale carbon management
- Carbon capture, use and storage
- Sunlight to fuels
- Biological sequestration
Achieving accelerated innovation can be challenging given that clean energy systems are highly capitalised and provide our society with essential, indispensable services, the report notes. This combination leads to considerable inertia and risk aversion and underscores the inherent tension between the energy incumbents and the technology disruptors.
The report says that greater coordination between all these stakeholders is required to create the conditions for commercial adoption of groundbreaking clean energy technologies.
“We are now undergoing rapid change in the global competitive environment, challenging America’s preeminent position but also offering immense opportunity for shaping the inevitable low-carbon global energy future,” said Moniz. “These technologies provide an actionable framework for prioritising public resources and inspiring private innovation.”
“Today’s world is the product of energy transitions that have taken place over the past 300 years. The resulting and current energy systems are extremely complex and interdependent. They are the product of many decades of investment, infrastructure development, innovative engineering and efficiency improvement. They evolve incrementally, and it takes many decades for major changes to occur,” said Daniel Yergin. “Continued innovation of these systems will require purposeful coordination among all the players involved.”
The report notes that clean energy innovation is critical for national economic strength, competitiveness, security and for addressing effectively the challenges of climate change.
It concludes that longstanding U.S. leadership in this area will be maintained only if the existing ecosystem in strengthened.
“The relationship between our national research labs, universities, the private sector and government on all levels has made the United States the driver of energy innovation for some 70 years,” said Moniz. “Today our leadership position is now under threat as our economic rivals pursue their own modernisation programs. Our report offers a roadmap for accelerating clean energy development in the U.S.”