24 Feb 2010  Working Papers

Accelerating Innovation In Energy: Insights from Multiple Sectors

Executive Summary — How should the energy sector best respond to the threat of climate change? In this introductory chapter to a forthcoming book, Harvard Business School's Rebecca M. Henderson and Richard G. Newell of Duke University frame the discussion by highlighting the volume's contributions concerning four particularly innovative sectors of the U.S. economy: agriculture, chemicals, life sciences, and information technology. These four sectors have been extraordinarily important in driving recent economic growth. Henderson and Newell describe why accelerating innovation in energy could play an important role in shaping an effective response to climate change. Key concepts include:

  • An effective innovation system has three key elements: accelerating demand for new technology; institutions that support abundant generation and dissemination of fundamental scientific and technical knowledge; and a vibrant, competitive private sector.
  • Public policy has played a role in building and/or sustaining all three elements.
  • If the goal of federal policy is to encourage effective technological solutions to mitigate climate change, then a short-term commitment is unlikely to meet expectations, even if the commitment is extraordinarily intense, such as was seen with the Department of Defense's Manhattan Project.
  • If federal agencies increase investment in energy innovation at the same time that vigorous efforts are made to enhance the demand for carbon-free technology, it is likely that technological innovation could play a decisive role in mitigating some of the key economic and social risks arising from climate change.

 

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