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Jumpstarting a Clean Energy Revolution with a National Institutes of Energy

The Breakthrough Institute | September 2009

By Josh Freed, Avi Zevin, and Jesse Jenkins

When the United States faces a significant challenge and decides it is critical to act—sending a man to the moon, winning the Cold War, curing deadly disease—we make a national commitment and invest the resources necessary to meet it. Time and again, as the nation has confronted and overcome these clear imperatives, a substantial and sustained boost in federally supported research and development has been a key driver of our success.

Getting America running on clean energy—the defining challenge and opportunity of our time—will require a new national commitment to energy innovation.

Currently, the federal government lacks both the structure and the financing necessary to meet the energy challenge. The scale and complexity of the challenge before us demands a coordinated and well-funded national effort to transform the global energy sector, yet U.S. policy in this area relies on haphazard financial and political support with little consistent direction. In order to jumpstart a clean energy revolution, the U.S. government must increase its direct support for research and development of new and existing clean energy technologies and create a new structure for energy research that ensures coordination and maximizes its effectiveness.

A successful national energy R&D program capable of driving the innovation necessary to make clean energy cheap must embrace two key components:

1. Increase federal investment in energy R&D by $15 billion per year

In line with President Obama's budget request, the scale of investment for comparable national priorities, and the recommendations of innovation experts, we propose a sustained $15 billion per year increase in federal clean energy R&D to approximately $20 billion per year. This level of funding is necessary to both create new breakthrough technologies and drive improvements to existing technology, enabling the production of clean energy at significantly higher efficiencies and lower costs.

2. Create a National Institutes of Energy

Modeled on the National Institutes of Health, a new National Institutes of Energy (NIE) would effectively apply R&D funding to the goal of developing 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 federal energy R&D agencies, a new NIE would critically strengthen the U.S. clean energy innovation system.

Download: Jumpstarting a Clean Energy Revolution with a National Institutes of Energy (PDF, 326.66 K)

Read More: Economy, Energy, Science, Technology, United States, Americas

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