Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and leading DC-based think tank Third Way are the latest political figures to issue a call for significantly increased public investment in clean energy innovation. The Ohio Senator and the moderate progressive think tank joined the Breakthrough Institute today to unveil a new report calling for both the creation of a "National Institutes of Energy" and a dramatic increase in federal funding for energy research and development. The report, titled Jumpstarting a Clean Energy Revolution with a National Institutes of Energy, argues that these two measures are necessary to make clean energy cheap and get America running on clean energy.
"Clean energy is the future of our nation, but it can also create jobs now - in Ohio and across the Midwest," Senator Sherrod Brown said. "Done right, increased research and development of new clean energy technologies will drive innovation and reduce our dependence on foreign energy. Already in Ohio entrepreneurs and workers are leading the way."
"Our nation has a history of rising to meet pressing challenges by investing the resources necessary to overcome them," said Jesse Jenkins, Director of Energy and Climate Policy at the Breakthrough Institute and one of the report's authors. "Now, America must dramatically increase our investment in clean energy research and development and employ new and effective models to put that money to work. Clean, cheap energy technologies are needed to revitalize our economy, secure the nation's energy independence, and avert the risks of climate change," Jenkins added.
Modeled after the National Institutes of Health, a New National Institutes of Energy (NIE) would be designed to most effectively channel R&D funding toward the development of new, low-cost commercial clean energy technologies. The NIE would function as a nationwide network of regionally based, commercially focused, and coordinated innovation institutes. Alongside other effective research institutions, the new NIE would critically strengthen the nation's energy innovation capacity.
The report also calls for a sustained increase of $15 billion in annual federal energy R&D funding, consistent with President Barack Obama's proposals. This would result in a total annual R&D budget of roughly $20 billion per year. The purpose of both the R&D increase and the establishment of a new NIE is to close what the authors call "the clean energy price gap" - the difference between the current low price of carbon-intensive energy production like coal and the comparatively higher price of today's non- or low- carbon emitting technologies.
"Getting America running on clean energy is the defining challenge - and opportunity - of our time," said Josh Freed, a co-author of the paper who runs Third Way's Clean Energy Initiative. "Establishing a National Institutes of Energy and fully funding R&D will drive the research that will lead to the next generation of clean technologies. These not only will fight global warming, they will allow the United States to be the energy leader in a carbon-constrained world."
The authors also point to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who has said that it is a "myth [that] we have all the technologies we need to solve the energy challenge... We need new technologies to transform the [energy] landscape." The authors argue that their proposal would create the structure and provide the funding the United States needs to transition from an aging, insecure energy infrastructure to clean, cheap energy. Neither the private sector nor the federal government is currently meeting these needs at a time when other nations around the world, including China, South Korea and Japan, are dramatically increasing their clean energy funding.
Both groups also lauded the involvement of Senator Brown, who keynoted an event on Capitol Hill today to release the new report. "Sherrod Brown has been a leading voice in the Senate calling for energy reforms that helps to transform and save the American manufacturing sector. He understands that the best way to do that is for America to develop the technologies that will close the price gap and make clean energy cheap. This will help create the kind of jobs and industries we need to have a thriving economy in the 21st century," said Michael Shellenberger, President of the Breakthrough Institute. Freed added that Third Way "looks forward to continuing the work with Senator Brown that we have kicked off here today."
U.S. Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) also joined the event to make brief remarks in support of the Breakthrough Institute and Third Way's efforts to advance critical clean energy research investments. The carbon prices established by the American Clean Energy and Security Act recently passed by the House "will not be enough," the Congressman explained, to spur clean energy research and ensure we have the technologies we need to achieve deep emissions reductions. Congressman Holt, who holds a PhD in Physics, warned that if the U.S. does not invest significantly more in clean energy research, "We may find ourselves five years from now, after we've deployed the technologies we have ready today and picked that low hanging fruit, and we're going to look around and say, 'Who was in charge of inventing the next generation of technologies we need?' ... The Market is not just going to do that for us."
Despite differences in their views on the energy bills currently before Congress, Third Way and the Breakthrough Institute said that the two groups had joined together to highlight the critical importance and urgency of energy R&D to the nation's economic future and the fight against global warming.
Any questions about the report can be referred to Jesse Jenkins at jesse@theBreakthrough.org.