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Unlocking Energy Innovation

Unlocking Energy Innovation: How America Can Build a Low-Cost, Low-Carbon Energy System

Richard K. Lester
David M. Hart
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Unlocking Energy Innovation
    Book Description:

    Energy innovation offers us our best chance to solve the three urgent and interrelated problems of climate change, worldwide insecurity over energy supplies, and rapidly growing energy demand. But if we are to achieve a timely transition to reliable, low-cost, low-carbon energy, the U.S. energy innovation system must be radically overhauled. Unlocking Energy Innovation outlines an up-to-the-minute plan for remaking America's energy innovation system by tapping the country's entrepreneurial strengths and regional diversity in both the public and private spheres. "Business as usual" will not fill the energy innovation gap. Only the kind of systemic, transformative changes to our energy innovation system described in this provocative book will help us avert the most dire scenarios and achieve a sustainable and secure energy future.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30017-9
    Subjects: Political Science, Physics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Zero to Eighty in Forty
    (pp. 1-8)

    America needs energy. We need energy for many reasons—to stay warm, to stay cool, to work, to get around, to communicate, and for much, much more. We need energy to be reliable and readily available. We need its price to be low and stable, so businesses can stay competitive and plan ahead, and so families don’t have to worry about utility bills eating up the household budget.

    To meet these many needs, our nation has built a huge and intricate system for producing and delivering energy on demand in a variety of forms. The system has worked reasonably well...

  6. 1 Beyond Wishful Thinking: Facts, Deductions, and Grounded Assertions About Climate and Energy
    (pp. 9-28)

    The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan is reputed to have said that “everyone is entitled to his own opinions but not his own facts.” The debate over climate and energy is muddled by confusion about the facts. Some confusion has been sown deliberately by actors whose interests are at odds with the facts. Some is the inevitable result of the extraordinary scale and complexity of the natural and social systems at issue. This chapter sets forth the facts as we understand them. Facts are statements about the present and the past that have been validated by evidence. We include in...

  7. 2 An Energy Innovation System That Works
    (pp. 29-56)

    Chapter 1 made the case that a fundamental transformation of the U.S. and global energy systems needs to be well underway within the next two to three decades. Success in bringing about this transformation will require greatly accelerating the pace of energy innovation. Innovation to improve the portfolio of low-carbon options offers the only palatable path forward to meet the energy needs of an expanding U.S. economy while substantially reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released to the atmosphere.

    We envision three waves of innovation. The first wave should focus on making energy use more efficient, beginning on a large...

  8. 3 Electric Utilities and the Three Waves of Energy Innovation
    (pp. 57-76)

    The American energy innovation system of the future must generate many new options, test them, and weed out the least promising candidates on the basis of the test results. As innovations move from the option creation stage of the innovation process to improvements-in-use, the system should carry out these functions repeatedly on a wider and wider scale, but with a steadily narrower range of variations on the innovation at each stage. Over time, a speculative idea will become a highly optimized product or service with features that enable profitable business models to operate.

    Markets and market-like structures play particularly important...

  9. 4 The First Wave of Innovation: Energy Efficiency in Buildings
    (pp. 77-98)

    The transformation of the utility sector described in chapter 3 has already begun. It will take many years to complete, but other actions to accelerate low-carbon innovation can begin sooner. Indeed, waiting is not an option, given the scale and urgency of the challenge. Fortunately, there are many things that can be done right away to unlock the first wave of energy innovation.

    The first wave is about getting more from less. People want energy services—transportation, lighting, heating, and the like—but each service could be provided with less energy than it takes now. The United States is the...

  10. 5 The Second Wave of Innovation—Part I: Low-Carbon Electricity Supply
    (pp. 99-120)

    Unlocking energy efficiency—not only in buildings, which we have discussed in detail in chapter 4, but also in transportation and industry—will be the first wave of low-carbon energy innovation. However, as we showed in chapter 1, the nation’s energy and climate goals cannot be achieved through efficiency improvements alone. America’s need for energy is too great, and the existing energy system too carbon-intensive, for an efficiency-only approach to work. Nor is natural gas-fired electric power a permanent solution, even though it emits substantially less carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour than coal. While welcome at the moment, an excessive focus...

  11. 6 The Second Wave of Innovation—Part 2: The Rest of the Electricity System
    (pp. 121-142)

    Central-station generation supplies almost all of the electric power consumed in the United States today, and it will continue to be a major part of the decarbonized electricity system decades hence. Economies of scale drove the development of big power plants and the big transmission lines that connect them to customers. These technologies were more affordable than smaller-scale, more widely distributed power systems. Although these economies of scale have moderated in recent years, they have not disappeared. Even for modular low-carbon energy supply technologies, such as solar photovoltaics or wind turbines, there are cost advantages to deployment in large arrays....

  12. 7 The Third Wave of Innovation: Creating Breakthrough Options
    (pp. 143-158)

    Achieving an 80 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in the next 40 years—what we have called “going from zero to eighty in forty”—will be a remarkable achievement for the United States. It will mean that the nation has recognized and responded in advance to a threat of extraordinary proportions. It will mean that inertia and vested interests have been overcome to create new institutions and build new industries. It will mean that the United States has unlocked the great innovative capacity of its people, firms, universities, and government agencies to bring new technologies, new business models, and...

  13. 8 Building a New American Energy Innovation System: A Ten-Point Framework
    (pp. 159-168)

    America’s innovation system is one of this country’s great assets. That system must now be fully extended to meet the energy challenges of the twenty-first century. U.S. leadership in energy innovation will be essential if the world is to avoid the most harmful effects of rising greenhouse gas levels while still meeting the demand for abundant, affordable, and reliable energy. As we have emphasized in this book, nothing less than a fundamental transformation of current patterns of energy production, delivery, and use will be necessary if these goals are to be achieved.

    The biggest obstacle to this transformation is that...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 169-184)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-194)
  16. Index
    (pp. 195-216)