Can a brain trust of seven people convince the U.S. government to spend upwards of $16 billion each year on research and development of clean energy technology? What about if that group includes Bill Gates, John Doerr, and Jeff Immelt? These three corporate leaders, along with a handful of others, recently established the American Energy Innovation Council, an organization that aims to stoke economic growth and create new industries by investing in world-changing energy technology. And today, the group is arguing its case at the White House.
The Council explains why it advocates an increase in clean energy R&D spending on its Web site:
The nature of the energy business requires a public commitment. A new generation of television technology might cost $10 million to develop. Because those TVs can be built on existing assembly lines, that risk-reward calculus makes business sense. But a new electric power source can cost several billion dollars to develop and still carry the risk of failure. That investment does not compute for most companies...Vigorous federal commitments to new energy technology would bring these options to commercial viability.
This kind of radical change is, in other words, too risky for private investors to deal with on their own. And with resource shortages and climate change on the horizon, we don't have time to waste. That's why the council's so-called Business Plan for America's Future offers five ultra-ambitious recommendations:
Create an independent National Energy Strategy Board — The board will be charged with creation of a Congressionally mandated Energy Strategy Board charged with developing and monitoring a National Energy Plan for Congress and the executive branch, and oversight of a New Energy Challenge Program
Increase annual investments in clean energy RD&D by $11 billion, to $16 billion per year
Create Centers of Excellence in Energy Innovation — Each of these hubs of innovation will require annual funding in the range of $150 million to $250 million as a part of the $16 billion total.
Fund ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) at $1 billion per year—this will be a jointly funded program between the federal government and the energy industry focusing on the transition from pre-commercial, large-scale energy systems to full-size system tests.
The AEIC also advocates the implementation of complementary energy policies such as carbon caps, clean energy or renewable energy portfolio requirements, technology performance standards, cuts in fossil fuel subsidies, and oil import fees.
It may be difficult—if not impossible—to convince the federal government to overhaul its clean energy policies based on these strategies. But even if just one or two are taken into consideration, we will be better off. As the AEIC notes in its business plan, "The recommendations in this report are specific and affordable. They are not especially difficult, and they need not inspire a partisan battle." The latter point may be wishful thinking, but the AEIC is correct. With $1 billion sent overseas every day to buy oil, it is difficult to reasonably argue against spending $16 billion on innovation.