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US should rapidly boost clean energy research funding to address climate change

Highlights

$25 billion by 2025 needed to advance clean energy technology

China invests twice as much as the US in new energy industries

New York — The US needs to invest $25 billion by 2025 to address climate change with energy research and development funding from over a dozen agencies, along with university and private sector partnerships that can advance technologies needed for decarbonization, experts and policymakers said Sept. 23.

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"The US should urgently launch an energy innovation mission, triple its investment in clean energy research, development and demonstration to counter climate change and prosper from the global clean energy transition," Varun Sivaram, senior research scholar at Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy, said during a virtual New York City Climate Week event focused on the recent launch of a report titled "Energizing America."

The report, co-authored by Sivaram, is a roadmap for policymakers including a 100-day plan for the next presidential administration and Congress with detailed recommendations for boosting investments in advanced technologies like renewable energy, energy storage, carbon capture and removal and smart energy systems.

Funding strategies

The key pillars of such a national strategy are increased energy efficiency, energy innovation that can grow jobs, power grid modernization and strengthening international partnerships, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, former deputy secretary of 3nergy and distinguished professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said.

"As the Energizing America report points out, 40 out of the 46 technologies needed to recognize the clean energy transition are not on track today to meet our goals," Sherwood-Randall said.

Federal investment in the Department of Energy's national laboratories has the power to "germinate and launch new solutions across multiple interconnected energy, climate and security challenges," she said.

But political common ground is needed and possible, Sherwood-Randall said, as she pointed out that funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy has increased during the "bitter partisanship" experienced under the current administration.

In order for the next administration to hit the ground running, an overall vision needs to be set along with granular details for achieving it, Sivaram said.

Colin Cunliff, senior policy analyst at the information technology and innovation foundation, and another of the report's co-authors, said the $25 billion by 2025 funding level is not unprecedented and would only account for 0.1% of US annual gross domestic product.

China invests twice as much as the US in new energy industries as a portion of GDP and other US agencies including the Defense and Agriculture departments and NASA are also investing about $1.8 billion per year on clean energy research, Cunliff said.

Additionally, "we are misallocating our funding when it comes to areas such as agriculture or buildings," Sivaram said. While 27% of US greenhouse gas emissions come for the power sector, almost half of DOE spending goes to electricity technologies, he said.

The federal government can partner with universities and private sector companies, as well as state and local governments, he said.

Policy solutions

The Columbia report comes on the heels of a report called "Solving the Climate Crisis" released by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in June, Kathy Castor, Democrat-Florida, and chair of that committee said.

"If we can replicate what we're doing in health and defense in the energy sector for R&D" in terms of helping private businesses "we'll be on a better pathway to solving the climate crisis," Castor said.

One policy recommendation from the House report is to create a federal Clean Energy Standard that could be more effective than the current state-level patchwork of renewable portfolio standards, she said.

Additionally, Castor said that while some form of a national carbon price could help and businesses have started calling for carbon pricing, "it is not a silver bullet."

"Putting a price on carbon ... is an important tool, but everywhere there is a carbon price in the world there are also complimentary policies" like RPS and energy efficiency targets and standards, she said.

"It will take a variety of policies to solve the climate crisis," Castor said.