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March 25, 2014

A Lunch BIT from Structuring an Energy Technology Revolution by Charles Weiss and William B. Bonvillian

Posted by: Susan Mai

Even among the many who agree that action to halt climate change is a necessity disagree on what strategies to pursue and, crucially, whether those efforts should be undertaken by private industry or the government. The task of Structuring an Energy Revolution, by Charles Weiss and William Bonvillian, is to convince a reader that a coordinated public-private program to stimulate innovation is necessary. Or, as one review put it:

Think of all the venture capital firms in Silicon Valley sorting through all the brilliant technological innovations and the reality that very few of them will end up making their investors money. The authors of these books seek to elucidate what conditions would be needed to foster technology revolutions in a free market society where risk-averse capital avoids innovative energy technologies where the chances of ultimately being incorporated on a wide scale into power generation and transportation are interminably small.

This BIT discusses the policy and legislative implementation of such a coordinated effort.

It’s all well and good, one might think, to pair public and private. But what about coordination on the global level? Climate change is, after all, a global phenomenon, and some of the most contentious issues relate to various nations’ efforts (or lack thereof) to compensate for their fair share of emissions. Somewhat to the same point, another review of the book asked whether the kind of energy revolution they called for could be accomplished by the United States on its own.

Weiss and Bonvillian argue that innovation in energy technology, although a global imperative, depends on R&D at the national level. They are convinced that the U.S. innovation system, which was ranked number one in the World Economic Forum global survey in 2008, is entirely capable of meeting this challenge. In a book by U.S. authors aimed for U.S. readers, a conclusion that U.S. leadership is still essential if innovation is to occur with the urgency we need, is no surprise. As a European Union citizen, I would like to protest. Extending on the Apollo analogy, I call for another race to the moon. Ultimately all citizens of the world would be winners in such a race, but there are also national benefits for the race winner.

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