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Energy Leaders: America Must Capitalize on Innovation

By Erin Smith

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Bipartisan Policy Center and Edison Electric Institute hosted a discussion on innovation with several prominent leaders in the energy sector on July 28 in Philadelphia. BPC President Jason Grumet moderated the conversation, which included Dr. Ernest Moniz, former Senate Majority Leader and BPC Co-Founder Tom Daschle, and Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning. The speakers presented varied perspectives, but agreed that maintaining American leadership in innovation is critical to driving the country forward and providing clean, abundant, and affordable energy.

Innovation and Policy

All three speakers agreed on the importance of coordinating technological, regulatory, and business model innovation efforts. Daschle stressed that “the combination of public policy and innovation together is essential,” to which Moniz agreed, saying that technological innovation must work “hand in hand” with policy and that the two are “much more powerful when combined.” Moniz also stressed the importance of policies that accelerate the pace of deployment of new innovations at scale if America wants to remain an energy leader. Fanning, meanwhile, accentuated the need for business models to evolve alongside technological advances, saying that the business models of the past “served us well and for so long, but they don’t serve the new future very well.”

Bipartisan Support

Reflected throughout the conversation was the strong bipartisan support that innovation enjoys. Daschle referenced efficiency amendments in the Senate energy bill as an “illustration, even in these polarized times, of things that can be done.” Moniz highlighted recent legislative efforts supporting energy innovation, including attempts to significantly increase funding for energy R&D as a sign of that growing agreement. Fanning agreed with these assessments, emphasizing that challenging conventional wisdom and engaging with people you may disagree with are keys to successful innovation. The discussion made clear that innovation is an area where policymakers can make real progress towards national objectives like economic growth, despite our collective political challenges.

Innovation: America’s Not So Secret Weapon

All three speakers noted that energy innovation will be crucial to solving problems and capitalizing on opportunities in the future. Moniz stressed that maintaining America’s competitive edge in multi-trillion-dollar clean energy markets will require a focused and sustained effort to support innovation. He also emphasized that breakthrough technology innovation is “absolutely critical” for achieving deep de-carbonization in the mid-century timeframe.

Daschle agreed, pointing out that while energy innovation will be key to reducing carbon emissions, it can also provide an “enormous opportunity for economic growth and vitality if we do this right.” Fanning concurred, saying that good energy policy is one of America’s most “unassailable advantages” and that the United States needs to “play offense anywhere it can, and the way to do that is through innovation.” He also underscored the links between energy innovation and other national priorities, noting that “energy security breeds national security breeds economic security.” The speakers all pointed to public-private partnerships as key to maintaining America’s competitive edge in energy innovation.

Final Thoughts

Innovation in the energy sector has far reaching economic, environmental, and security implications. Strong bipartisan support demonstrates the potential benefits of the American commitment to innovation, a point clearly articulated by the experts assembled at this event. The contributions of innovation to our nation’s character and economy point to the enormity of the opportunity America now faces. It will be critical for our leaders to build on the growing consensus surrounding innovation and ensure that as new technologies emerge to meet growing demand for energy, the United States leads the world in producing the next generation of energy technologies.

KEYWORDS: TOM DASCHLE, JASON GRUMET, EDISON ELECTRIC INSTITUTE, ERNEST MONIZ