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  • Author: Varun Sivaram, Matt Bowen, Noah Kaufman, Doug Rand
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: President-elect Joe Biden has called climate change one of the four most important crises facing the country and pledged ambitious climate action.[1] At the heart of his strategy to slash US and global emissions is a focus on developing new and improved technologies to make clean energy transitions more affordable. During the campaign, Biden pledged a “historic investment in clean energy innovation.”[2] Indeed, boosting funding for energy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) is widely popular among both Republicans and Democrats and represents a rare legislative opportunity for advancing climate policy under a razor-thin Democratic majority in Congress.[3] In December 2020, Congress passed the most sweeping energy legislation in a decade, attached to the $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus package, and authorized boosting clean energy RD&D funding.[4] Yet such investments alone may not be sufficient to successfully commercialize critical clean energy technologies. Today’s energy industry presents daunting barriers that impede the swift adoption of newer, cleaner technologies. As a result, the private sector underinvests in scaling up promising technologies and building out clean energy infrastructure.[5] Therefore, in addition to funding energy RD&D (“technology-push” policies), government policies should bolster market demand for clean energy to encourage private investors and firms to scale up and commercialize new technologies (“demand-pull” policies). Still, there are steep political obstacles in the way of many ambitious demand-pull policies. For example, President-elect Biden has called for economywide measures such as a clean electricity standard and $400 billion of public procurement of clean products such as electric vehicles.[6] These policies would create large markets for mass deployment of clean energy and speed a clean energy transition. But enacting them requires substantial new regulations and appropriations from Congress, a challenging feat even given the new Democratic control of both chambers of Congress. Fortunately, there is a set of targeted demand-pull measures that the Biden administration can immediately use—with existing statutory authority and without requiring massive new appropriations—to create early markets for promising clean energy technologies. These measures, which we call “demand-pull innovation policies,” fill a niche between RD&D investments that create new technology options and policies that support the large-scale deployment of clean energy. Demand-pull innovation policies focus narrowly on creating and shaping early markets for emerging technologies. For example, targeted government procurement, prize competitions, or milestone payments can provide early markets for clean energy technologies that have been developed with the aid of public RD&D funding. The government can also coordinate private procurement or otherwise catalyze private market adoption through certification and standard-setting processes. Such demand-pull innovation policies have extremely high leverage and have transformed limited public investment into flourishing private commercial markets across the space, medical, and energy fields.[7] Coherently pursuing demand-pull innovation policies will require coordination across the federal government. To this end, the incoming Biden administration should consider creating a new government office, the Energy Technology Markets Office (ETMO), to spearhead the scale-up and commercialization of promising clean energy technologies. The ETMO could be housed within the Department of Energy (DOE) to take advantage of the DOE’s deep expertise in energy technologies and markets. Indeed, in the recently passed Energy Act of 2020 (Division Z of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021), Congress directed the DOE to build its capabilities to pursue demand-pull innovation policies.[8] In the same legislation, Congress also authorized the DOE’s Office of Technology Transitions, which could alternatively lead the demand-pull innovation agenda. Regardless of whether the administration creates a new office or augments an existing one, in order to maximize their potential impact, demand-pull innovation policies should not be the domain of only the DOE. Rather, the DOE should collaborate with a range of federal agencies—many of which, such as the Department of Defense, have sizable resources to invest in emerging technology procurement—to enact policies and pursue public-private partnerships to build market demand for the innovations critical to decarbonization. In concert with new RD&D investments in clean energy innovation, demand-pull innovation policies could be a powerful tool to speed the adoption of new technologies and cultivate advanced energy industries that can manufacture and export US innovations.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy, Environment, Science and Technology, Green Technology, Carbon Emissions
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Noah Kaufman
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: As governments plot their responses to the COVID crisis, it’s difficult to find an influential voice who is not calling for economic stimulus legislation that simultaneously aims to achieve climate change goals.[1] As International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva put it: “We are about to deploy enormous, gigantic fiscal stimulus and we can do it in a way that we tackle both crises at the same time.”[2] After all, governments will spend trillions of dollars to put people back to work. This could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape massive government expenditures in a lower-carbon direction. Europe appears poised to take this advice, with the European Commission crafting a “Green Deal” at the center of a recovery package.[3] Many European countries have strong climate policy frameworks in place, including emissions regulations and net zero targets. In these countries, clean energy investments within economic stimulus packages can combine with these existing policy frameworks to enable even faster and cheaper decarbonization.[4] Here in the United States, the situation is starkly different. Expectations for climate progress from economic stimulus should be low, for two (related) reasons. First, the United States has no national climate plan in place, and the ability of clean energy spending to deliver emissions reductions without accompanying emissions regulations is very limited. Second, political opposition can prevent or severely weaken climate measures in economic stimulus for the foreseeable future. The climate measures with a plausible chance of inclusion in economic stimulus will, at best, enable the United States to continue muddling along on an incremental decarbonization pathway while temperatures rise to increasingly dangerous levels.
  • Topic: Energy Policy, Green Technology, Recovery, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: David B. Sandalow, Xu Qinhua
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: On June 14, 2020 New York time and June 15, 2020 Beijing time, the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University and Center for International Energy and Environment Strategy Studies at Renmin University convened a joint Zoom workshop on green stimulus programs in the US and China. The workshop offered a chance for scholars from the two universities to explore the recent economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stimulus measures adopted to date and green stimulus proposals in both countries. Participants also discussed other measures to promote clean energy and low-carbon development in the US and China.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy, Environment, Green Technology, Paris Agreement
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Varun Sivaram, Colin Cunliff, David Hart, Julio Friendmann, David B. Sandalow
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Book
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Clean energy innovation is central to the fight against climate change. The dramatic success in lowering the costs of solar panels and wind turbines in the past decade must be replicated across a wide range of other energy technologies. Doing so will open extraordinary economic opportunities. To rise to this challenge, the United States should launch a National Energy Innovation Mission. Led by the president and authorized by Congress, this mission should harness the nation’s unmatched innovative capabilities—at research universities, federal laboratories, and private firms (both large and small), in all regions of the country—to speed the progress of clean energy technologies. To jumpstart this mission and unlock a virtuous cycle of public and private investment, the US federal government should triple its funding for energy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) over the next five years.
  • Topic: Energy Policy, Green Technology, Renewable Energy, Wind Power, Solar Power, Safe Energy
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Noah Kaufman, Yu Ann Tan
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), Columbia University
  • Abstract: Regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, which are global pollutants, should ideally be coordinated across broad geographic and economic scopes. That way, climate policies can capture important interactions across sectors and borders. However, the United States has repeatedly failed to implement national and economywide climate legislation. That failure has led to an increasing focus on climate actions that are much narrower in scope: sector-specific regulations from subnational governments. A prominent recent example is New York City’s Local Law 97, which limits carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from a large segment of the city’s residential and commercial buildings. This law is among the most ambitious building emissions regulations in the world, but this commentary focuses on a concern with the design of Local Law 97. The law does not account for the planned decarbonization of the local electricity grid over the next decade, and thus fails to sufficiently encourage a shift from fossil fuels to electricity (or “electrification”), a critically important strategy for achieving a low-carbon building sector. Such a narrow focus is common for sector-specific climate regulations. The following sections explain the importance of electrification to deep decarbonization and the failure of building regulations to encourage it, focusing on New York City’s Local Law 97. Fortunately, solutions to the overly narrow focus of the New York City buildings law are readily available, including via New York State’s comprehensive climate strategy, which can align climate action across economic sectors within the state.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy, Environment, Law, Green Technology, Carbon Emissions
  • Political Geography: New York, North America, United States of America