On the importance of energy innovation and deployment

Ending the stale "R&D vs deployment debate" & improving messaging for clean energy and climate advocates


  1. Last Monday, at the start of international climate talks in Paris, France, Bill Gates and dozens of billionaires from across the world announced the formation of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a new partnership intended to mobilize tens of billions of private-sector dollars to commercialize advanced clean energy technologies.
  2. The titans of industry and investment join the governments of 20+ countries who simultaneously launched the Mission Innovation initiative, promising greater public-sector investment in clean energy R&D. (To find out more about the initiative, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz chats with the Christian Science Monitor about the effort here.)
  3. As has happened more times than I can count over the last decade, the subject of greater energy R&D investment sparked yet another round of a well-worn and entirely predictable "debate" about why exactly we need more clean energy R&D, what the need for further innovation implies about the status or readiness of current technologies, and how we should set societal priorities for clean energy investment. For a few very-well-intentioned but less-than-productive examples in this round of the "fight", see here, here, and here. And for a perfectly terrible example of this debate gone wrong, see here.
  4. These are important debates, and real, substantive differences in priority setting exist. Sadly, what so often happens when someone tries to make the case for more energy R&D or start a discussion about priorities in ernest is that the debate falls right back into a tired and unproductive rehashing of whether or not "we have all the technologies we need to tackle climate change" or whether "today's technologies are inadequate and we need new breakthroughs."
  5. Both ways of framing the discussion are as stale as they are unproductive. And reinforcing them generally reinforces the appearance that there really is a debate amongst those who care about climate change about whether we want to deploy today's technologies (we do, as fast as possible) or want to increase investments in energy R&D to improve our current options and expand our portfolio of low-carbon tools (we do, as fast as possible).
  6. Here then is a selection of my recent tweets ranting on this debate, urging clean energy advocates to break out of the tired "deployment vs innovation" ruts, and pointing to two great examples of (a) how to make the case for clean energy R&D that supports the urgently-needed deployment of low-carbon energy options and (b) how to call out those who hide behind a lip-service appeal to "innovation" as a way to actually oppose clean energy action...