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Unlocking Energy Innovation: A Framework for Action

Posted by Content Coordinator on Tuesday, February 7th, 2012



This short report outlines the results of a study of the U.S. energy innovation system conducted at the MIT Industrial Performance Center (IPC). The Energy Innovation Project was carried out by an interdisciplinary team of researchers drawn from nine different MIT departments as well as several other U.S. universities, and was supported financially by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. A new book drawing on the findings of this study has just been published (Richard K. Lester and David M. Hart, Unlocking Energy Innovation: How America Can Build a Low-Cost, Low-Carbon Energy System, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2012).

The MIT-IPC Energy Innovation Project was conducted over a three-year period of extraordinary volatility in the energy sector, encompassing the financial collapse of 2008–2009, the deep recession that followed, the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history in the summer of 2010, the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, and the political upheavals that continue to sweep across the Arab world. In the background, the longer-term problem of energy and global climate change was often overshadowed by these tumultuous events. Yet the scientific evidence suggesting the need for an accelerated transition to a low-carbon energy system to avoid the worst consequences of climate change continued to accumulate during this period, and the Energy Innovation Project focused on how to meet the demands for innovation associated with that transition even while maintaining the reliability and affordability of energy on which our society depends.

Our study focused on the American energy innovation system and has little to say about innovation else- where. The U.S. has a tremendous stake in the success of low-carbon energy innovation in countries like China and India, and American participation in those efforts will be to mutual benefit. But each country’s innovation system is unique, shaped by the particularities of its history, economy, and politics. That is certainly true of the U.S. Although we strongly endorse learning from abroad and closer international cooperation, American institutions of innovation will change mainly in response to domestic influences and along pathways that reflect this country’s special characteristics.

Whatever happens elsewhere, U.S. leadership in energy innovation will be essential to the success of the world’s climate change mitigation efforts. International cooperation is a complement, not a substitute, for American creativity, resourcefulness, and entrepreneurship. The Energy Innovation Project asked how to mobilize America’s enormous innovation resources in the service of a decades-long, global energy transition. It is about a long game, and it is particularly about that part of the long game that will be played here at home.

Download Full Report (PDF): Unlocking Energy Innovation: A Framework for Action


“The Industrial Performance Center (IPC) is an MIT-wide research unit, based in the School of Engineering. The Center is comprised of faculty members, students and research associates from the Schools of Engineering, Management, Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Science, and Architecture and Planning. Our interdisciplinary teams observe, analyze and report on strategic, technological, and organizational developments in a broad range of industries and examine the implications for society and the global economy.”

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