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With the nation’s multifaceted energy challenges the focus of growing attention, a critical national conversation has begun, centered on creating a national energy innovation strategy. What portfolio of energy technologies should be the focus of national innovation efforts? How should the energy innovation system be structured? And what is the appropriate scale of federal investment in energy innovation priorities? Answering each of these questions demands a solid foundation that begins with an accurate understanding of current federal investments in energy innovation, including funding levels and priorities, the agencies and programs involved, and the type of innovation pursued.
Despite increased efforts by researchers, policymakers, journalists, and the public to seek answers to these questions, all are challenged by a serious lack of accessible and detailed data on current federal investments in energy innovation. Records of budgets and spending levels on energy innovation projects are scattered across federal agencies and lack standardized reporting methods.
Furthermore, across the national energy policy community, there are widespread differences in definitions used to categorize and measure energy innovation spending. Some experts discuss R&D (research and development), others RD&D (adding a “D” for demonstration), and others RDD&D (adding yet another “D” for technology deployment). In some cases only applied research is counted towards R&D, while in others basic science – the fundamental, enabling research that paves the way for new technology applications – is included.
Evidence of these challenges is seen in discrepancies among leading researchers estimating the current level of federal energy innovation spending. For example, the American Energy Innovation Council, Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and the Brookings Institution report 2007 federal energy R&D spending (in 2007 dollars) as $1.91 billion <1>, $2.5 billion <2>, and $3.85 billion <3>, respectively – a range of more than 200% from the lowest to highest estimate. Anyone interested in exploring the federal energy innovation system will face similar data challenges. With federal energy innovation budget figures presented across numerous innovation stages, agencies, and technology areas, a range of estimates is inevitable.
To address these challenges, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) and the Breakthrough Institute have launched the Energy Innovation Tracker project (EIT) to provide policymakers, analysts, and the public with an unprecedented level of detail on federal energy innovation spending via a centralized, publically accessible database and website.
What is the Energy Innovation Tracker?
The goal of the EIT project is to accelerate a national conversation about the best ways to both scale up and reform national energy innovation efforts by putting accurate, comprehensive data on federal energy innovation investment at the public’s fingertips. EIT allows interested parties to quickly access, segment, and filter federal energy innovation programs in numerous ways, providing quick access to summary data and information as well as the ability to download relevant data directly into spreadsheets for custom analysis outside of the web interface. In this way, the EIT will provide a solid, fact-based foundation for the emerging debate around energy innovation policy.
The first edition of the EIT database catalogues federal energy innovation-related spending across nine federal agencies for Fiscal Years 2009 to 2011 (inclusive of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act spending) <4> providing detail down to the project or grant level whenever possible <5>.
Query results from EIT allow users to perform a myriad of analyses that can be used to draw independent conclusions about the United States’ public investment in energy innovation. The following sections outline three different types of analyses facilitated by EIT: trend analysis; in-depth assessment of technology-focused research efforts or the energy innovation efforts of particular federal agencies; and the development of comprehensive baselines for needs assessments or gap analysis comparing current federal energy innovation spending levels to expert recommendations, other national innovation priorities, or technology roadmaps <6>.
Summary Data and Trend Analysis
The first type of analysis facilitated by the EIT project is a high-level study of overall spending trends across agencies, technologies, and innovation phases. The graph below provides an example: the allocation of U.S. energy innovation funding by development phase, from 2009-2011 and ARRA.
For a full example of the kind of trends analysis facilitated by the EIT project, see:
The EIT database contains an unprecedented level of detail on energy innovation projects, from project descriptions to program and budget URLs, to the offices within federal agencies in which individual projects are housed. Users can download project details into an easily manipulated CSV spreadsheet file, allowing comprehensive and in-depth analyses of spending on individual projects, grouped by technologies, energy innovation phase, or federal agency. The following table demonstrates a detailed break down of federal nuclear energy innovation projects derived from the EIT database.
For a full example of the kind of in-depth analysis facilitated by the EIT project, see:
Needs Assessment or Gaps Analysis
Finally, EIT will allow users to perform needs assessments for energy innovation funding levels, by comparing current budgets to funding levels recommended by energy experts, technology-specific funding requirements derived from technology road map assessments, or to historical levels of research spending on other national priorities. The graph below illustrates an example of this analysis: a comparison between the IEA’s recommended levels of innovation spending for various energy technologies and actual federal budget levels in FY2010.
For a full example of the kind of gaps analysis facilitated by the EIT project, see:
The Energy Innovation Tracker project supports a wide range of analysis through its web interface and detailed data export. The goal of EIT is to accelerate U.S. energy innovation policy analysis and strategy by making accurate and comprehensive data on federal energy innovation investment freely available to everyone. Most importantly, this tool will grant policymakers and the public a shared view of current investment in energy innovation and will hopefully act as a catalyst towards improvements in energy innovation definitions and data publishing.
Notes and Citations
<1> American Energy Innovation Council, “A Business Plan for America’s Energy Future,” American Energy Innovation Council (2010), 25.
<2>Gallagher, Kelly Sims and Laura Diaz Anadon. “DOE Budget Authority for Energy Research, Development, & Demonstration Database.” Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, March 3, 2011. Available at: http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/20807/.
<3> Newell, Richard G., “A U.S. Innovation Strategy for Climate Change Mitigation,” Brookings Institution (December 2008).
<4> To be included an item must contribute to advancements in energy technologies or their supporting physical or social infrastructure. Financial incentives for technology adoption, such as rebates and tax credits, are not included.
<5> For details on the collection methods see http://energyinnovation.us/data/methodology/
<6> The following analyses and graphs were compiled using data from the BETA version of the EIT database as of 12/7/2010.