A New Paradigm in Energy Innovation: Energy Discovery-Innovation Institutes

February 10, 2009 | Jesse Jenkins,


By Jesse Jenkins & Teryn Norris

The Brookings Institution officially unveiled a new proposal yesterday calling for "a new paradigm in energy innovation" at an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The proposal, which was developed for over a year and is one of the most in-depth proposals for new energy R&D out there, calls for an "order of magnitude" increase in federal energy R&D investment and proposes a new model for clean energy technology research and commercialization: establishing a national network of regionally-based "Energy Discovery-Innovation Institutes" (e-DIIs) to serve as hubs of distributed research linking the nation's best scientists, engineers, and facilities and effectively combining the forces of academia, government and industry.

The report, prepared by Brooking's Metropolitan Policy Program (Metro) concludes:

This report urges two major changes in U.S. energy policy. First, it calls for an order-of-magnitude increase in federal investment levels for energy R&D, as a necessary step to matching the enormous scale of the nation's energy problem with massive efforts to develop market-ready technological solutions. Second, it argues that the complexity of the nation's energy challenges require that the nation make use of decentralized, multidisciplinary, collaboration-oriented new research paradigms better able to integrate scientific research, technology development and commercialization, and the production of human resources across a broad range of scientific, technological, economic, behavioral, and public policy considerations.

More specifically, the report proposes augmenting expanded energy R&D programs across the nation's range of national laboratories and industrial research centers with a new research paradigm proposed by the National Academy of Engineering: a national network of energy discovery-innovation institutes (e-DIIs). Decentralized, multidisciplinary, and applications oriented, the proposed e-DII network would link together a new regionally grounded, "bottom up" drive to accelerate the commercialization of breakthrough technological advances in many domains. When completed, the new network would consist of 20 to 30 e-DIIs, with interagency federal funding building to a total level of $5 to $6 billion a year.


In this video, Mark Muro, a fellow and policy director at Metro and co-author of the new report speaks about energy Discovery-Innovation Institutes and their potential to transform both our nation's energy sources and the economies of metropolitan areas:



Breakthrough Institute's Michael Shellenberger participated in yesterday's e-DII event, where he commended Brookings for advancing critical new investments in energy innovation. Shellenberger also argued for a robust focus on the full chain of energy technology development, from the earlier-stage R&D initiatives that would be performed by e-DIIs on through the later stages of demonstration and early commercialization and deployment.

"What we need is a national strategy to make clean energy cheap," Shellenberger said, pointing out that while the kind of R&D performed by the proposed e-DIIs is essential to this objective, major technology improvements also occur "when you get the technologies out of the labs and start scaling them up, as Denmark did for wind turbines or Japan did for solar panels."

The Brookings proposal is very consistent with Breakthrough's previous calls for major new increases in federal energy R&D investments, including "Fast, Clean, & Cheap: Cutting Global Warming's Gordian Knot" (pdf), our white paper published in the Harvard Law & Policy Review and cited multiple times in the Brookings report. Additionally, like the National Energy Education Act proposed by Breakthrough in July 2008, the Brookings e-DII proposal recognizes the critical role of universities in solving the nation's energy challenges while educating and training a new generation of talented scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs. The new e-DII proposal contains the most in-depth analysis of how to harness our nation's high caliber universities and most effectively structure and distribute a renewed national focus on energy R&D. Breakthrough's energy policy experts happily contributed advice and comments during the later stages of the e-DII report's development.

Overall, the Brookings Institution's e-DII proposal represents a major contribution to the energy innovation policy discussion, and its recommendations deserve serious consideration. Breakthrough looks forward to continued collaboration with the Brookings Metro team to advance new thinking on a robust strategy that can drive new innovation and create and deploy the clean energy technologies needed to build a 21st century energy economy.