Experts Plot Urgent Course for Federal Investment in Clean Energy

(CN) – In order to establish programs that effectively mitigate the impact of climate change, governments must remain committed to long-term clean energy investment, researchers argued Wednesday.

Writing in the journal Nature, the scientists present six “guiding principles” for investment based on analysis of successful clean energy programs over the past 20 years.

These guidelines include greater autonomy for technical experts, channeling innovation into the private sector by way of technology transfer programs, and funding research efforts based on lasting knowledge creation rather than “quick win” potential.

The researchers caution governments and policymakers must learn from and build on past clean energy programs before time runs out.

“As the window of opportunity to avert dangerous climate change narrows, we urgently need to take stock of policy initiatives around the world that aim to accelerate new energy technologies and stem greenhouse gas emissions,” said co-author Laura Diaz Anadon, professor of climate change policy at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

“If we don’t build on the lessons from previous policy successes and failures to understand what works and why, we risk wasting time and money in a way that we simply can’t afford.”

Public investment in energy research has increased over the past decade and continues to rise. Members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development contributed $16.6 billion to new energy research and development in 2016, up from $10 billion in 2010.

Nations around the world have committed to doubling clean energy investment as part of the 2015 Paris agreement, which aims to keep global warming to “well below” 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.

Britain recently established its Clean Growth Strategy, committing $3.34 billion between 2015 and 2021. A significant portion of this funding will be invested in offshore wind turbines and new generations of small nuclear power stations.

However, the scientists point out that government funding for clean energy has often been volatile due to political shifts that result in significant budgetary swings and process revisions.

For example, one in five technology areas funded by the U.S. Department of Energy experienced budget shifts of more than 30 percent every year between 1990 in 2017, according to the authors. The Trump administration plans to slash energy research and development funding by 35 percent in 2018.

Across the pond, each British prime minister since 2000 has established new institutions to connect the public and private sectors and manage energy innovation.

“Experimentation has benefits, but also costs,” said Anadon. “Researchers are having to relearn new processes, people and programs with every political transition – wasting time and effort for scientists, companies and policymakers.

“Rather than repeated overhauls, existing programs should be continuously evaluated and updated. New programs should only be set up if they fill needs not currently met.”

To limit these policy and budgetary upheavals, scientists should have greater autonomy when it comes to selecting projects, as they are “best placed to spot bold but risky opportunities that managers miss,” the authors write.

The researchers cite projects created by the U.S. National Labs, which have produced more commercially viable technologies than those established by the Department of Energy, despite receiving only 4 percent of the department’s budget.

“Let’s learn from experience on how to accelerate the transition to a cleaner, safer and more affordable energy system,” the authors write.

 

 

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