And In Wind Power

JS 120

Public R&D Patents

1975

Public R&D Patents

JS 120

1975

1985

Year

1995

Spending amounts are expressed in 2002 dollars to adjust for inflation.

1975

1985

Year

1995

2005

U.S. R&D SPENDING IN THE ENERGY SECTOR

Public funds Private funds

Spending amounts are expressed in 2002 dollars to adjust for inflation.

Calls for major new commitments to energy R&D have become common. A 1997 study by the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology and a 2004 report by the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy both recommended that the federal government double its R&D spending on energy. But would such an expansion be enough? Probably not. Based on assessments of the cost to stabilize the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and other studies that estimate the success of energy R&D programs and the resulting savings from the technologies that would emerge, my research group has calculated that public funding of $15 billion to $30 billion a year would be required—a fivefold to 10-fold increase over current levels.

Greg F. Nemet, a doctoral student in my laboratory, and I found that an increase of this magnitude would be roughly comparable to those that occurred during previous federal R&D initiatives such as the Manhattan Project and the Apollo program, each of which produced demonstrable economic benefits in addition to meeting its objectives. American energy companies could also boost their R&D spending by a factor of 10, and it would still be below the average for U.S. industry overall. Although government funding is essential to supporting early-stage technologies, private-sector R&D is the key to winnowing the best ideas and reducing the barriers to commercialization.

Raising R&D spending, though, is not the only way to make clean energy a national priority. Educators at all grade levels, from kindergarten to college, can stimulate public interest and activism by teaching how energy use and production affect the social and natural environment. Nonprofit organizations can establish a series of contests that would reward the first company or private group to achieve a challenging and worthwhile energy goal, such as constructing a building or appliance that can generate its own power or developing a commercial vehicle that can go 200 miles on a single gallon of fuel. The contests could be modeled after the Ashoka awards for pioneers in public policy and the Ansari X Prize for the developers of space vehicles. Scientists and entrepreneurs should also focus on finding clean, affordable ways to meet the energy needs of people in the developing world. My colleagues and I, for instance, recently detailed the environmental benefits of improving cooking stoves in Africa.

But perhaps the most important step toward creating a sustainable energy economy is to institute market-based schemes to make the prices of carbon fuels reflect their social cost. The use of coal, oil and natural gas imposes a huge collective toll on society, in the form of health care expenditures for ailments caused by air pollution, military spending to secure oil supplies, environmental damage from mining operations, and the potentially devastating economic impacts of global warming. A fee on carbon emissions would provide a simple, logical and transparent method to reward renewable, clean energy sources over those that harm the economy and the environment. The tax revenues could pay for some of the social costs of carbon emissions, and a portion could be des-

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