Technology innovation group's Nicholson challenges clean energy deployment consensus

Does the United States' clean energy innovation strategy need to be retooled to account for cost and performance barriers? During today's OnPoint, Megan Nicholson, policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, discusses a new report challenging the clean energy deployment consensus. Nicholson explains how the deployment road map for clean energy technologies is flawed and discusses hurdles to advancing clean energy policy in Washington.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Megan Nicholson, policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Megan, thanks for coming on the show.

Megan Nicholson: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Megan, ITIF has just released a new report that challenges the clean energy deployment consensus. You challenge the assertion that we already have all the clean energy technology that we need and all that's left to do is deploy. Why do you believe this view is misguided?

Megan Nicholson: I think it's one of ITIF's main points in its clean energy perspective is that right now we really need better clean energy technologies in order to solve climate change, and solving climate change is a priority for ITIF. And existing technologies just don't have the cost and performance standards that we need to deploy widely, and this deployment consensus suggests that they do. We would like to challenge that point.

Monica Trauzzi: But isn't this something that industry is working on, on improving those technologies? Aren't they putting efforts and money behind that stuff?

Megan Nicholson: Yes, absolutely, and deployment does get incremental cost declines, and we've seen that especially with wind and solar in the past few years, especially few decades. But deployment can't access these breakthroughs in cost, and that's really what we need. We really need just dramatic breakthroughs that can lower the cost-competitive[ness] with fossil fuels.

Monica Trauzzi: You're challenging what is conventional wisdom among many in Washington. Why did you decide to take this challenge on?

Megan Nicholson: ITIF is the leading think tank for innovation policy in D.C., and it's been a platform that we've held for a long time, so it's not out of the blue, but we think it's really important and possibly the key to solving climate change in the U.S. and globally.

Monica Trauzzi: One of the things that you mention in the press release and the report is what Joe Romm, one of the leading talkers on clean energy, says, and he says deploy, deploy, deploy. How do you think the clean energy community came to this way of thinking? I mean, there're a lot of smart people in this town that think that.

Megan Nicholson: Absolutely. I mean, deployment is an important piece of getting clean energies to be cost-competitive with fossil fuels, but it's not the only piece, and we think that that rhetoric of deploy, deploy, deploy or, indeed, deploy, deploy, deploy is flawed in that we need to emphasize the full energy innovation ecosystem in order to access those breakthroughs. And deployment, smart deployment, especially, tied to cost and performance metrics in order to judge whether technologies are becoming competitive with fossil fuels, isn't an important part, that that just single-track deployment strategy does not have.

Monica Trauzzi: So what do you identify as the biggest areas for improvement, and are there specific technologies that need a little more of a push?

Megan Nicholson: I think, I mean, I could go on and on, but solar and wind are getting to be cost-competitive, but we can still have significant breakthroughs in material science, and energy storage is definitely a big area where we need additional innovation.

Monica Trauzzi: So how do you move beyond what's written in the report and make it actionable?

Megan Nicholson: I think continuing the conversation with groups with a deployment consensus is our main point of having this discussion. We really would like to advance the innovation aspects of clean energy policy.

Monica Trauzzi: What do you think is wrong with the current conversation, the policy conversation, on clean energy in Washington? Is there something wrong with it?

Megan Nicholson: It's very focused on subsidies and mandates and regulation, and we would really like to show that innovation has a piece of that. And right now the innovation ecosystem in the United States is strong, especially in other industries, but in clean energy we have the basics. We have the national labs. We have ARPA-E. We have EERE in the Department of Energy, but those institutions really need to be strengthened, especially with federal funding.

Monica Trauzzi: We'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show. Nice to see you.

Megan Nicholson: Thanks.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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