National Science Board Calls for New Commitment to Clean Energy Innovation

April 16, 2009 | Jesse Jenkins,

The National Science Board, the advisory board for the National Science Foundation, issued a call for a renewed national focus on clean energy innovation this week, in a draft report titled Building a Sustainable Energy Future.

Much as the Breakthrough Institute has long advocated, the National Science Board calls for a major increase in federal funding to "[s]upport a range of sustainable energy alternatives, their enabling infrastructure, and their effective demonstration and deployment." The report calls for a ramp-up in clean energy "RD3E" activities - research, development, demonstration and deployment as well as education.

While it does not include a specific funding level recommendation, the National Science Board calls on the federal government to "support a national sustainable energy R&D program at a greatly increased and appropriate scale to meet sustainable energy technological and deployment challenges necessary to reduce energy intensity and carbon intensity in a timely manner."

This new commitment to clean energy innovation should:

Ensure long-term stability for Federal energy research, development, demonstration, and deployment by creating a "Clean Energy Fund." This funding mechanism should guarantee long-term funding and commitment to support the rapid, pro-competitive commercialization of innovative sustainable energy technologies, applications, and systems. The Clean Energy Fund will be particularly useful in supporting large-scale, long-term development and demonstration initiatives.


The report also calls for direct investments to "accelerate [the] adoption and commercialization of sustainable energy technologies ... with incentive policies that are predictable over time."

David Bruggeman at Prometheus has more on the National Science Board's new recommendations:

The report provides guidance to the National Science Foundation on how to "increase its emphasis on innovation in sustainable energy technologies and education." It also recommends that the government "develop and lead a nationally coordinated research, development demonstration, deployment, and education (RD3E) strategy to advance a sustainable energy economy that is significantly less carbon-intensive." The press release announcing the report is somewhat vague on the recommendations, but the report provides many more details. It's a product of the NSB Task Force on Sustainable Energy, formed in October 2007. It held three round table discussions in 2008 with various stakeholders. The report's specific recommendations (from the executive summary) for NSF [include]:

1. Coordinate sustainable energy activities. Collaborate with other Federal agencies through an interagency working group on sustainable energy that will work under a new Presidential Sustainable Energy Council.

2. Strengthen systems approaches in research programs. Develop and strengthen interdisciplinary "systems" approaches for research programs in the natural and social sciences that focus on environmental, social, and economic issues fundamental to the future energy economy. Examples of systems approaches that could be applied to the energy economy include the use of ecosystem life-cycle and whole-system analyses; consumer behavior information; and economic net value of technologies, applications, and systems. Enhance interdisciplinary research programs that develop environmental accounting techniques that can utilize both biophysical and economic values in parallel.

3. Strengthen science and engineering partnerships. Support partnerships for building clean and sustainable energy science and engineering initiatives among states, universities, and the private sector. International entities should be an essential part of many of these partnerships. [Editor's note: sounds consistent with the Energy Discovery Innovation Institutes concept proposed by the Brookings Institution in a report the Breakthrough Institute provided comment on and has supported]

4. Support education and workforce development. Create new and strengthen existing programs to train students, researchers, and technicians for a sustainable energy workforce. Promote interest in the fields of science and energy in K-12 education by developing and disseminating programs designed to teach students about energy, the environment, and related technology and economic issues. Support, in conjunction with other Federal agencies, technical training programs in community colleges and undergraduate institutions that include support for science and engineering teachers, technicians, and professional development activities. [Editor's note: sounds an awful lot like the National Energy Education Act proposed by the Breakthrough Institute]

5. Collaborate internationally. Encourage international collaboration in sustainable energy RD3E, including through the NSF Office of International Science and Engineering and through partnerships with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

6. Promote public awareness and action. Foster societal literacy about energy-saving practices and technologies and encourage efficient and effective use of energy by enhancing existing programs and by developing new sustainable energy education programs for students, NSF-funded researchers, and the public.


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By marie on 2009 06 23


Hot fusion, supercolliders, and such pure science research projects, are black hole money pits sucking up all available funding for applied science directed to making clean tech work. So a call for more money will be ineffective if the existing funding priorities are preserved. Even for clean tech applied science, research money for new approaches will be scarce because DOE has already committed $80 billion in future funding to 16 contractors for the old stuff. http://www1.eere.energy.gov/femp/news/news_detail.html?news_id=12150 This parting shot of the Bush administration (Dec. 18, 2008) makes sure no new technology can be investigated, reiterating the canard that we already know what we need, and all that is missing is more money.

By Wilmot McCutchen on 2009 04 23


Hi Paul, thanks for commenting. Involving a number of different federal agencies involved in energy-related R&D is key. That is principally DOE, but also includes DOD, USDA, NASA, NSF, and Commerce's NIST and the Small Business Administration's Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) fund. We need a government-wide focus on clean energy innovation to propel American into a clean, prosperous new energy economy. Hope you keep reading and commenting. Cheers...

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 04 17


Please include agencies that we normally wouldn't think were involved in energy conservation. I specifically name NASA. They can lower their carbon footprint per mission. NASA needs to remember how proud they felt when they invented the integrated circuit as a by-product of their work.

Please be prepared to develop and deploy inventions that inexpensively ameliorate the symptoms of global warming, or which inhibit global warming. Simple schemes, such as putting white roofs on houses on California, have had nonzero effects.

By Paul Klinkman on 2009 04 17