The world desperately needs innovation in energy technologies — but those innovations are unlikely to happen by themselves. A three-year study by a team of researchers based at MIT has now identified a suite of policy and investment strategies that could accelerate innovation in the United States, helping to meet our growing energy needs affordably and reliably, reducing carbon emissions and alleviating insecurity over energy supplies.
The conclusions of that study are detailed in a new book — Unlocking Energy Innovation (MIT Press, 2012) — by Richard Lester, the Japan Steel Industry Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, and David Hart, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. The project was supported by a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
The study, carried out at the MIT Industrial Performance Center and involving faculty and students from nine MIT departments, concluded that fundamental changes are needed in the U.S. energy-innovation system. Without systematic, transformative changes, Lester says, we are unlikely to succeed either in averting the worst economic and environmental consequences of climate change or in achieving a secure, affordable and reliable energy supply.
“Innovation doesn’t just emerge out of thin air,” Lester says, but requires a productive ecosystem, including public and private research laboratories; small and large firms; financial intermediaries ranging from huge banks to individual “angel” investors; schools, community colleges and universities; and local, state and federal agencies.
“We face a very big innovation challenge over the next few decades,” Lester says, “bigger than most people recognize. And the system as a whole isn’t close to being up to the task.” While the focus of this analysis was U.S. institutions for energy research and development, financing, regulations, standards, and markets, he says, “U.S. leadership in energy innovation will be essential to world success” in affordable mitigation of climate change.