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On Beyond Paris, Part 1: Humans are Changing the Climate for the Worse

Tim -


You're certainly right that global warming is changing the physical environment. Though I would put examples like the baby Puffins under the category of "increasing air and water temperature" as that is the direct driver of Puffin deaths. It all goes towards saying, changes are happening now and it's only going to get worse.

Matthew Stepp

June 5, 2014    View Comment    

On Part 2: The Mad Scientists at the Department of Energy's National Laboratories

Marcus -


Couldn't agree more that cutting R&D is a losing policy decision because of economic/competitiveness/innovation capacity reasons.

A few pieces of literature you may be interested in along these lines:

One on the overall impact of budget sequestration on U.S. R&D and economic growth:

http://www.itif.org/publications/eroding-our-foundation-sequestration

And a book on Innovation Economics, which holds R&D (among other foundations of innovation) to be a central role of government investment:

http://www.itif.org/publications/innovation-economics-race-global-advantage

Matthew Stepp

September 24, 2013    View Comment    

On Part 2: The Mad Scientists at the Department of Energy's National Laboratories

Bob -


Thanks for your note. To clarify, NIF creates a single one-billionth of a joule laser pulse, amplifies and splits it into 192 individual pulses, each up to ~20,000 joules. Depending on the experiment, the total energy of the 192 lasers range from 1 to 4 million joules. It's a little more than opening the kitchen faucet a bit more though! The amplification process itself was a significant breakthrough, especially considering the relatively small space they do it in and the precision of getting all 192 lasers focused on a single, small target. And even at it's current average experimental total energy pulse (~1.8 megajoules), it's 90-100 times what other leading lasers produce today. I may have cut short the description too much to make a long piece a bit shorter.

Also, thanks for correctly pointing out that I should have used 500 TW of power (more so, peak power) rather than energy. The number and comparison are correct, I just used the wrong descriptor.


Cheers and always appreciate the fact checking.

Matthew Stepp
Director for Energy Innovation Policy
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

September 24, 2013    View Comment    

On Part 2: The Mad Scientists at the Department of Energy's National Laboratories

John -

Thanks for the thoughtful comments and I agree that there are significant barriers to the Labs working with industry. Let me point you to a recent report I coauthored (it's long, but there is a good  Executive Summary) on reforms that could open up the Lab system to industry. Some of the reforms are significant (e.g. allow the Labs to charge flexible pricing to industry partners) and others are easier legislative lifts (e.g. make ACT agreements permanent and available to all Labs).

The latter is something you may be interested in because it was specifically created as a flexible alternative to traditional Lab-Industry agreements, like CRADA's. It allows the contractors to negotiate better terms in exchange for taking on more financial risk rather than the tax payers. Of course, I'm not arguing these changes would solve everything, but it would be a significant help.

Matthew Stepp
Director for Energy Innovation Policy
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

September 24, 2013    View Comment    

On Tesla-Broder Debate Examined: Decarbonizing Transportation

John - 

By know means is electrification = decarbonization.  My assumption here is to focus on transportation as potentially the most significant method of decarbonizing transport which requires coupling with decarbonized power generation. It's a decarbonization path that many analysts and institutions, including myself, the DOE, and others take. I'm certainly not discounting other transporation technologies like biofuels and fuel cells, but my analysis and survey of the state of those technologies leads me to believe that electrification has the highest potential at the scale that we need it to be. So, of course you're right to call out we need to decarbonize power generation - for the sake of focusing the piece, I hold that as an unstated assumption here (a big one for sure, and something I've written about extensively). It simply isn't the focus of the debate at hand.

I'm also glad you bring up the technology vs. culture change debate because I think that's key.  My main argument here is that technology must precede culture change, in particular if we expect to decarbonize transportation at the rate necessary to address climate change. I don't think we can bank on the culture change that Roberts discusses to result in the deep carbon cuts needed. And even Roberts admits that in many ways technology must precede the big culture changes he thinks we need.

Thanks for the comments and I look forward to reading your paper.

Matthew Stepp

March 2, 2013    View Comment    

On Guessing The Next Energy Secretary

I agree in a lot of ways, but I think it's clear that at some point in the first half of 2013, Dr. Chu is set to leave.  Though a lot can happen and it depends on how the political battles over filling the other Secretary slots that are about to open up go.

Matthew Stepp, ITIF

December 7, 2012    View Comment    

On Guessing The Next Energy Secretary

Lewis - 

The problem with that is the energy industry is unlike any of the industries those folks have worked in. Individually, they all have the qualifications, but I don't think it's as simple as to say we "need pertinenent experience in commercial business." And it goes without saying that a lot of the folks working and directing daily policy at DOE have that commercial experience - so IMO it isn't as big of a gap to feel.

What do you think about Ashton Carter - another name that is popping up recently.

Matthew Stepp, ITIF

December 7, 2012    View Comment    

On Can Reforming the Department of Energy Reinvigorate Clean Energy in Obama's 2nd Term?

Couldn't agree more.  The Labs often provide functions that industry individually wouldn't do on their own for a number of competitiveness and risk reasons, one of those being technology testing.  A great example is NREL's National Wind Technology Center which houses the world's largest dynamometer, which tests wind turbine drivetrains.  To my knowledge there are only two of this type of testing facilities in the world, the other being in Europe.  Companies are able to come in and test out prototypes as ongoing R&D or test technology it hopes to be ready for market in real world circumstances to make sure it is of high-performance.  It's excellent work that is accelerating wind turbine innovation across an entire industry.

Matthew Stepp, ITIF

December 7, 2012    View Comment    

On Can Reforming the Department of Energy Reinvigorate Clean Energy in Obama's 2nd Term?

Lewis and Rick - 

Thanks for your thoughtful comments and discussion.  All of your suggestions have merit.  Removing the weapons programs from DOE could potentially have the effect of focusing the Energy Secretary's time and efforts on energy innovation, rather than split (weapons/nukes/clean-up take up the large bulk of DOE's budget).  Though it's not clear to me the best place to move those programs, but it's something that should be talked about. While it doesn't address the weapons programs at DOE, please see ITIF's proposal for a National Institute for Innovation for the type of institutional reshuffling possible if innovation is a central goal: http://www.itif.org/files/NIF.pdf

Lewis and Rick, I also agree that we should take a look at NREL, the National Labs in general, and whether or not there are issues in how that research is being funded/developed/produced, and this is something not well suited for a blog post!  In fact, keep an eye out in first quarter 2013 for an ITIF report on this topic.

I also agree there is room for international cooperation, and the Labs and other US energy institutions do some of this already. I would argue though that the National Labs, even with its criticisms, are the premier research institutions in the world for the type of work they do (R&D that Universities and Industry won't do or are not capable of doing).  There's a reason why other countries look to the U.S. as a model for spinning up their own Lab infrastructure. With that said, I would like to hear more thoughts on international collaboration as it pertains to how that would impact U.S. competitiveness.  We, the public, invest in the Labs and in R&D in general to serve both national missions and remain on the cutting edge. I pose an open question: Does that need, especially in the case of the National Labs, negatively or positively impact whether we expand U.S. Lab-International collaboration?

Matthew Stepp, ITIF

December 7, 2012    View Comment    

On New Hope For The Advanced Battery Sector?

Jim - 

Great overview. The Hub is a significant step forward and looks to build off of the good battery innovations developed since the Stimulus investments through ARPA-E, the Labs, and industry.  Getting all of these players together to collaboratively accelerate battery innovation is a great many steps in the right direction, and I think you're right, the next rounds in the next-gen battery match will look much different than the last couple.

Matthew Stepp, ITIF

December 4, 2012    View Comment    

On A123, Solyndra, and EV Battery Innovation

mbowler - 

Thanks for the comment.  The numbers I was referencing come from a presentation given by officials at DOE that quote the costs of the leading edge of battery technology. DOE references some of these numbers in their press releases, such as here: http://www.doe.gov/articles/update-advanced-battery-manufacturing

Also consider that the Nissan Leaf's battery costs about $13,200 and gets 24 kWh capacity.  That's about $550/kWh.  I imagine that the Volt is very close to this (don't have the numbers handy) and both are considered the leading edge of what's on the market today.

Envia's cost reductions are estimates by DOE and industry partners because the battery is still in the testing phase and heading to production.  But given its capacity and material costs, it should be able to cost much less than $500/kWh.  

The $1000/kWh cost estimate you cite sounds more like what costs were a couple of years ago.

 

 

October 22, 2012    View Comment    

On The Road to Electric Vehicles Runs through Apple

Jim - 

Thanks for reading the report and laying out a comprehensive critique of Clifton and I's assessment.  Here are some counterpoints:

1. Innovation economics-based energy policies don't dictate that emerging technologies move from government program to government program. Instead, it's focused on accelerating technology innovation of new products and services. In other words, government investments in innovation, especially from research through commercialization aims to fill gaps in next-generation technology development.  The key to these policies working, though, is public-private partnerships to move technology development forward.  That's why programs like ARPA-E are so important: they invest in high-risk ideas (in industry, universities, Labs, etc.) to help them reach pilot stage so to entice industry and VCs to run with them. The same varied list of ways new ideas emerge from the Office of Science are a good example as well. So rather than saying its more about moving tech from program to program, it's more accurate to say innovation economics creates a path for emerging technologies to develop, whether that be from support from gov investments, industry investment, or both.

2. Innovation economics (and its policy approach) are not theoretical.  In fact, you have to look no further than the United States for just one example: the Department of Defense. DOD has an internal innovation ecosystem, with industry partners, gov investment, research, pilot programs, and a pathway to scale-up through the procurement budget.  Of course, DODs ecosystem model is but one way of supporting innovation - and is not directly aimed at commercial markets (though it's spurred commercial breakthroughs) - it's still a real-world example. Germany's basic research-applied research-manufacturing paradigm is another. Japan does something similar. Australia recently reorganized its energy programs to better align its innovation functions. The list goes on and on...

3. There have been successful commercial products in the battery industry launched through an innovation economics approach. Today, battery companies like A123 and the emerging company Envia are two recent examples of technologies that came from government sponsored research (National Labs), recieved ARPA-E grants to pilot, and have recieved scale-up investment (A123) or tech testing support (Envia) from VCs and industry. A123 reached commercial scale and is still innovating new battery designs to lower costs and Envia holds the potential of a significant cost breakthrough in battery packs of $300/kwh compared to today's $500/kWh.  These don't reach the $100/kWh goal I cite, but they're still innovations to build off of towards that goal. But even going back in time, the hybrid-electric vehicle industry, including its battery, comes from years of innovation investments by the US government as well as countries abroad like Korea and Japan. No doubt, the entire battery-based vehicle industry lends itself to an innovation economics type approach.  Our report simply says we need to do that more directly and aggressively.

4. I'm not too sure the key to better EV batteries is through the mobile tech market, instead I would just focus on battery manufacturing in general. If mobile devices are the driver of battery advancements, why are Korea and Japan not producing much better batteries? Why would a US mobile device manufacturer produce more battery advancements than an Asian mobile device manufacturer? Instead of looking to mobile device companies as the key to EV batteries, I propose we simply focus on the second part of your answer: battery manufacturing, and really, you mean demonstration and scale-up. It's true that the US is behind in advanced battery innovation.  Part of the reason is as you infer: the US let mobile device battery manufacturing move overseas decades ago and the innovation followed suit. Right now we're playing catch-up by investing in battery innovation and we need to do more.  But bringing back mobile device manufacturing as a strategy to produce better EV batteries (while not necessarily a bad thing by itself), is a very round-about way of doing it.

In our report we agree with your overall assessment and propose something different: more coordination among DOE-DOD-auto manufacturers to test new battery technologies.  Some of this is going on today through the DOE-DOD Memorandum of Understanding, though not nearly enough.  Formal partnering as part of a coordinated battery innovation strategy would be better and would provide the same type of real-world demonstration you seek. Another way to do it would be how DOE is working with auto companies to test new carbon fiber technologies.  DOE is currently building a user facility to test new production processes and materials so new ideas can quickly get to market.  One could easily think of a similar partnership to test new battery ideas. 

Anyway, thanks for your thoughtful comments and look forward to more discussion.

October 15, 2012    View Comment