American innovation is undoubtedly the key to overcoming some of our nation’s most difficult challenges. Our innovation engine is made up of the government, providing guidance and support; the research community and academia, seeking new discoveries and building the knowledge base; the private sector, bringing those discoveries to the market in new and useful ways. Historically, the federal government has focused upstream on funding early stage research and development while states have focused on creating a favorable environment for small businesses and job creation. But does this blend of different priorities help or hurt our efforts to accelerate innovation in clean energy?
CRES Forum recently partnered with the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) to hold a discussion digging deeper into how those roles have evolved, how states are taking new and different approaches to innovation to promote the transition from early-stage R&D to commercialization, and what is needed to bridge the gap to a clean energy economy. The backdrop to the webinar was the “States and Cleantech Innovation” report recently released by NASEO. The report informed much of the discussion from the webinar’s speakers.
CRES Forum’s Charles Hernick opened the event with a discussion of clean energy goals for getting people back to work and then introduced Sumesh Arora, who acted as moderator for the panel. Arora is director of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Energy and Natural Resource Division, and the co-chair of NASEO Energy Innovation Advisory Group.
Arora began by speaking to humanity’s resiliency in the face of COVID-19. He added that innovation is taking many different forms depending on the location, and that it’s not an “one-size-fits-all.”
Arora then introduced Araceli Fernandez Pales, senior analyst at International Energy Agency, who spoke about energy innovation from a global outlook.
“We’ve seen a growing push and interest from countries with different governments and companies at the same time to work towards an energy system that could be cleaner and more resilient,” Fernandez Pales reported. “When we look at previous examples of how clean energy technologies have made it into the market, there are really good reasons for hope.”
Fernandez Pales discussed the opportunities for clean energy developments in different sectors, and how those developments can help boost economies. She highlighted aviation and shipping as two industries where energy innovation is greatly needed.
Fernandez Pales also addressed COVID-19, saying it has damaged the innovation pipeline—or made it more difficult in many cases. She suggested that refocusing our R&D priorities to aid technologies that have received less funding in the past would help energy innovation significantly. Specifically, Fernandez Pales concluded that energy markets need a strong push for innovation that reduces emissions.
Sandi Fazeli, the managing director for NASEO, weighed in next. She provided the U.S. and state-level perspectives on energy innovation, beginning with ways that energy innovation can advance the priorities of state energy offices.
“Technology advancement and commercialization have been a big priority for my organization, NASEO, for a number of years now. [The state officials we work with] advance a wide array of priorities including energy reliability and resilience, energy efficiency and affordability, and clean energy,” said Fazeli. “The common denominator among many of the state energy offices is their mission around economic development, environmental and energy reliability, and security goals.”
“Many states have implemented programs to boost the use of clean energy technologies, whether through codes, standards, and regulations, or through investments and financing in their own state,” continued Fazeli.
Fazeli also spoke to some of the challenges the U.S. is facing, including “climate change and the need for drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and energy system resilience in the face of extreme weather events.”
She said the states should promote clean technology investment because it attracts global talent and increases revenue-generation opportunities. She also said that clean energy jobs command above average salaries, and that especially in industries who are in transition due to the effects of COVID-19, clean energy can help to create job opportunities.
Next, Kimberly Britton, the CEO for EPICenter, an energy innovation center located in San Antonio, spoke on energy innovation in action. Britton’s work with EPICenter helps utilities advance energy innovation in their organization and operations.
“We are getting increasing calls to work with organizations like big utilities on how they operationalize these incredible innovations that are coming forward,” explained Britton.
She said that some of their most important work revolved around getting new technology from the research stage to a place where it can truly benefit the organization and affect the bottom line. Britton said the most important innovations are often small and incremental but solve an important part of the puzzle in bringing the technologies to market.
Clearly, the roles of government in clean energy innovation continue to evolve, and this has only been heightened by the pandemic. Panelists agreed that how to use energy innovation to further local development and help communities affected by the economic downturn is an important discussion. It is sure continue over the next decade and beyond as the U.S. as the industrialized world works to de-carbonize.
To view a recording of the full webinar, click here.