Report Offers Blueprint for Aligning DOE’s Innovation Efforts with Climate Progress

As the Biden-Harris administration and Congress look to ramp up U.S. energy research and development funding, a new report by Environmental Defense Fund shares recommendations to align the Department of Energy’s clean energy innovation priorities with progress on urgent climate goals.

President Biden has called for the greatest ever investment in clean energy innovation to combat the climate crisis and has reiterated this commitment in the American Jobs Plan and the administration’s recent discretionary budget request.

Leveraging new findings from an EDF-commissioned report by Evolved Energy Research, the report gives federal lawmakers insights on how to maximize DOE’s clean energy-focused research, development and demonstration (RD&D) programs by prioritizing the technologies that will drive the greatest reductions in emissions. These recommendations include quadrupling DOE funding for clean energy innovation by 2025, rebalancing DOE’s portfolio to prioritize currently underfunded heavy-emitting sectors, creating new cross-cutting programs and updating the formal mission of DOE’s energy and science offices.

“To tackle the climate crisis on an urgent timeline, the United States needs to fully leverage clean energy innovation as a key tool in a larger suite of solutions,” saidJake Higdon, Senior Analyst for U.S. Climate Policy at EDF and co-author of the report. “This report uses new analysis to offer federal policymakers a blueprint for how to equip the Department of Energy’s innovation programs for the climate fight. Efforts to improve and expand the clean energy technologies of today, as well as developing emerging technologies of tomorrow, will create jobs and help the U.S. lead a rapidly growing global clean energy economy.”

The report highlights key ways that DOE’s innovation programs can be better equipped to catalyze the technology breakthroughs needed to meet the escalating climate crisis head-on. Since the 1970s, the amount of money spent on energy RD&D as a percentage of GDP has declined by 75%. DOE’s portfolio also does not reflect where the major sources of climate pollution are found in our economy: More than two-thirds of funding for R&D goes to power sector technologies even though the power sector accounts for one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, DOE’s innovation budget is heavily weighted toward R&D, but essential climate tools need support throughout the innovation cycle in order to fully bring emerging technologies to market.

“With major innovation commitments from the Biden administration and growing bipartisan interest in Congress, now is the time to re-orient the Department of Energy’s innovation efforts toward maximum climate progress,” said Steve Capanna, Director for U.S. Climate Policy and Analysis and report co-author.“The recommendations in this report offer concrete ways that policymakers can align priorities and budgets with the most impactful technologies for slashing emissions.”

The report harnesses insights from Evolved Energy Research, which developed a new analytical framework to understand how technologies across 15 different areas deploy and interact within the energy system under various innovation scenarios and climate policies.

Using these findings, the report makes the following four key recommendations to the administration and Congress:

1. Grow clean energy research, development and demonstration (RD&D) funding at DOE to $32 billion by Fiscal Year 2025. This level of investment makes up for lost time and puts the U.S. on track to meet the scale of clean energy investment that the Biden administration has committed to in the next decade.

2. Rebalance the DOE portfolio to focus on technologies that cut the most cumulative emissions. Policymakers should increase funding to align the applied energy program budgets with current emissions by sector, increasing budgets for offices focused on sectors under-represented in DOE’s current budget — including transportation, industry, and buildings.

3. Create new cross-cutting programs at DOE that coordinate RD&D across ‘complementary’ technologies — those that can boost the deployment of other technologies in the energy system. Programs should focus on groups of technologies that can maximize emissions cuts, including by transforming the Office of Fossil Energy to become an Office of Carbon Management that coordinates across the power, industrial and transportation sectors. Other cross-cutting DOE programs include electrification, clean fuels and industrial decarbonization.

4. Update the formal mission of DOE’s energy and science offices to be focused on reducing greenhouse gases and other harmful pollution. Other critical considerations include issues of environmental and energy justice; fairness for energy workers; and resilient, reliable, secure, and affordable energy systems.

Read the EDF full report here and blog with key takeaways here.

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