Revolutionary Engines

How Cars Saved the Urban Environment

In 1898, delegates from across the globe gathered in New York City for the world’s first international urban planning conference. One topic dominated the discussion. It was not housing, land use, economic development, or infrastructure. The delegates were driven to desperation by horse manure.

The horse was no newcomer on the urban scene. But by the late 1800s, the problem of horse pollution had reached unprecedented heights. The growth in the horse population was outstripping even the rapid rise in the number of human city dwellers. American cities were drowning in horse manure as well as other unpleasant byproducts of the era’s predominant mode of transportation: urine, flies, congestion, carcasses, and traffic accidents. Widespread cruelty to horses was a form of environmental degradation as well.

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There’s No Way Around the Need for Innovation

How Jonathan Chait Misunderstands the “Technology-First” Approach

Usually the best response to the name-calling that so often passes for public discourse over climate policy is to ignore it, but Jonathan Chait’s June 17 piece in New York Magazine deserves discussion because it unintentionally illustrates the most underappreciated source of climate gridlock today: the partisan groupthink that often prevents liberals from engaging in any kind of conversation about creative ways to finesse the barriers to progress.

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Patent-Free Innovation

Why Tesla Giving Up Its Intellectual Property Is the Model for Clean Tech

Late last week, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, announced he would not initiate lawsuits against anyone who uses the patents for Tesla’s technologies. In effect, Tesla’s competitors can now freely take advantage of the company’s designs for sunroofs, vehicle parts, and batteries.

Given Musk’s celebrity status as an inventor, it is no surprise that most of the press has devoted its coverage to analyzing his rationale. On the face of it, letting others openly copy the technologies and ideas you have painstakingly developed doesn’t seem like a sensible business plan. In the long-term, however, Musk’s decision shows how greater knowledge sharing and looser patent regulations could accelerate innovation in the clean tech industry.

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Embracing Creative Destruction

Hopeful Pragmatism for a Disruptive World

Over the last two decades, Joseph Schumpeter has become perhaps the most influential economist in the world, largely because of his view of capitalism as a process of “creative destruction.” His most famous work, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, published in 1942, is today more widely cited than John Maynard Keynes’s The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Schumpeter taught at Harvard and was elected president of the American Economics Association in 1948. Yet his work was neglected outside of academic economics for almost half a century after his death in 1950.

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Jeremy Rifkin’s Techno-Nirvana Fantasy

A World of Abundance Where Humans Consume Less?

Techno-utopianism seems to be a particularly American phenomena. As I argued in The Past and Future of America’s Economy it seems like about every half century – usually as it turns out right before a big structural slowdown of technological innovation – pundits and scholars start to go overboard on how great the techno-enabled future will be. Case in point was the 1967 book Year 2000 written by Herman Kahn, noted futurist and founder of the Hudson Institute. Kahn relied on the new “science” of forecasting and ended up with a book that had the tone of “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” He wrote: 

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Why Innovation Should Be at the Heart of Climate Policy

An Interview With Matthew Stepp of CCEI

As a graduate student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Matthew Stepp was frustrated by the fact that the major climate change policies under debate – carbon pricing, electric vehicle subsidies, feebates – weren’t enough to deeply cut carbon. He was also skeptical that the climate advocacy’s vague call for movement building could change the political economy calculus.

At the Breakthrough Institute, where Stepp was a Generation Fellow, he found others who shared his frustration and were attempting to outline new policies that could effect technological change. Four years later, and Stepp is now the leader of the first think tank in Washington, DC, that is dedicated to spurring clean energy innovation, much like what was accomplished with the shale gas revolution

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Byting the Hand That Feeds

Why Silicon Valley Should Improve, Not Abandon, Washington

In Silicon Valley, 2013 will be remembered as the year the idea of separating from the United States went viral. There was the Stanford lecturer and investor, Balaji Srinivasan, who called for “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit,” declaring to a large audience of elite entrepreneurs, "We need to build an opt-in society, outside the U.S., run by technology.”

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‘Mass Flourishing’ Falls to Myths of Economic Growth

Edmund Phelps’s Book Belies State’s Role in Innovation

Despite winning the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2006, Edmund Phelps has endeavored to write a big and ambitious book—something like The Wealth of Nations for the 21st century. Phelps hopes to offer a bold new answer to the big question of why some nations are wealthy and others poor. While innovation is central to his latest book Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change, Phelps does not understand how innovation occurs. What he intended as a learned argument for rolling back ‘big government’ ends up sounding like just another Tea Party diatribe.

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Remembering George Mitchell

Tributes Honor Gas Innovator as Public Servant

“I don't want to take anything away from Mitchell,” wrote Clyde Prestowitz, president of the Economic Strategy Institute, in Foreign Policy after famed Texas gas innovator George Mitchell passed away in late July. “He was a great investor, philanthropist, and entrepreneur who doggedly pursued the idea that shale could be made to yield its vast oil and gas content. But contrary to the classic picture of the lone wolf inventor who persists alone in the face of indifference, ridicule, disappointment, and even contempt, Mitchell had a partner -- the American taxpayer and the federal government.”

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Drilling for Innovation

How Revenue from Oil and Gas Can Fund Clean Energy R&D

In 2011, ITIF proposed using a portion of U.S. oil and gas drilling revenue from federal lands to fund critical clean energy innovation programs. The proposal expanded on a similar idea made in 2008 by House Republicans in the American Energy Act, which called for using revenue from expanded drilling to support both fossil fuel and clean energy programs. In 2013, Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski reinvigorated the idea by calling for the creation of an “Advanced Energy Trust Fund” backed by revenue from expanded oil and gas drilling to support a broad set of policies including clean energy innovation. Shortly thereafter, Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) proposed a scaled-down version that would use a smaller share of oil and gas revenues to support the development of low-carbon and natural gas-based transportation technologies. President Obama ultimately made SAFE’s proposal a key part of his second-term energy strategy during his State of the Union address.

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Building the Case for a High-Energy Planet

Generation Fellows Assess Future of Energy, Innovation, and Agriculture

How much land would be required to power the world on renewable energy alone? When does greater energy efficiency actually increase energy consumption? How are China and the United States working together on innovative technologies like solar and wind? What is the future of travel? These are some of the big questions Breakthrough Generation 2013 Fellows confronted this year, leading to surprising and path-breaking answers.

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The End of Economics

Part One: Dreams of Being a Science Led to Irrelevance

Forty years ago today, that any student who enrolled in an undergraduate degree at the Faculty of Economics at Sydney University in 1971 had to complete four year-long courses in economics, out of a total of ten such courses: Microeconomics and Quantitative Methods in the first year, Macroeconomics in the second, and International Economics in the third.

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A Deeper Climate Conversation

How Natural Gas and Nuclear Are Essential to Decarbonization

In the last month, the Breakthrough Institute has published two major reports that inject fresh and pragmatic perspective to the discourse on climate and energy. In contrast to the binary and simplistic conception of decarbonization that imagines a step-wise shift from fossil fuels to exclusively renewable technologies, we have aimed to simultaneously place the role of natural gas in the broader process of decarbonization and chart a new path for nuclear energy innovation. These two goals are neither replacements nor antecedents for continued support for renewable energy, but they do and should complicate dialogues over how best to transition to a high-energy, zero-carbon planet.

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Mugged By Reality

Nordhaus on the Smarter Environmental Agenda

In 2007, when Ted Nordhaus, the co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute, published his first book (Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility) he became simultaneously one of the most despised and one of the most revered figures in the U.S. environmental movement. The book, coauthored by Michael Shellenberger, was a seething indictment of the sort of traditional environmentalism that prizes renewable energy, condemns fracking and nuclear plants, and threatens global apocalypse should we fail to address climate change. Five years later, he hasn’t backed down. What follows is an edited interview based on two recent conversations with Nordhaus.

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You Didn’t Build That

A Century of Government-Supported Technologies

On July 13, 2012, during the heat of the presidential election, President Barack Obama was making the point that entrepreneurs are always dependent on investments by the public in infrastructure, education, and science and technology. Describing a highway that enables a small business to ship its goods to market, the president memorably declared: “You didn’t build that.”



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Information Society

The Rise of Big Data

Covering everything that’s happening today with information technology in one book is a monumental challenge. As if to acknowledge that difficulty, Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier, authors of Big Data, begin by describing the data’s magnitude. They note, for instance, that the amount of data now stored around the world is an estimated 1,200 exabytes (itself an already dated and debatable number), which can be expressed as an equally incomprehensible 1.2 zettabytes. “If it were all printed in books, they would cover the entire surface of the United States some 52 layers thick.”

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Where the iPhone Came From

Every Major Technology in Smartphones Came From US Government Investment

Albert Einstein famously held the view that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” What we think we know can limit what we see as possible. The greatest thinkers challenge what everyone believes to be obvious. They allow us to see the world anew.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Nuclear Power

Going Green

No technology is more enshrouded in myth than nuclear energy. The urgency of addressing global poverty and reducing emissions demands that we consider this technology without ideological blinders. The basic facts of the technology — both good and bad — must be confronted. This Breakthrough Institute Frequently Asked Questions is backed by primary sources and addresses the toughest questions asked of nuclear.

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The State and the Innovation Economy

An Interview with William Janeway

Contrary to the libertarian beliefs of many tech investors, rising living standards often depend in large part on a robust state role, explains venture capitalist and economist William Janeway. The public sector has been indispensible in advancing transformative innovations, and must remain so by making massive investments in science and technology, often sustained over decades, and using its power of procurement to create new markets for nascent products.

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The Surprising History of Energy Tech Innovation

AEIC Report Dispels Myths of Shale Gas Boom

The federal government played a crucial and often unexpected role in the decades-long technological innovations that led to the shale gas revolution, according to a new report from the staff of the American Energy Innovation Council, the latest independent investigation into the public sector origins of the North American gas glut first uncovered by the Breakthrough Institute.

The report shows how government funding and institutional support amounted to billions of dollars over three decades and a complex structure of policies that combined government and industry resources to solve a critical technological challenge: tapping a vast underground bounty of energy recently considered inaccessible. The conclusions further challenge the longstanding myth that the shale gas boom was brought about through private sector innovation alone and offer important lessons for energy innovation more broadly. 

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Chinese Nuclear and the Future of Energy Innovation

Between Nuclear and Fracking or Coal and Pollution, the Choice Is Clear

Over the past few years I've given the New York Times’s Justin Gillis a (deserved) hard time for some of his reporting. I'm now happy to given him some well-earned praise on the occasion of his first monthly column at the Times on climate change. Gillis wisely chose to write his first column on energy innovation, with a focus on nuclear power and China:

We have to supply power and transportation to an eventual population of 10 billion people who deserve decent lives, and we have to do it while limiting the emissions that threaten our collective future. 

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Breakthrough’s Nordhaus vs. EDF’s Krupp

Krupp Declares Opposition to Expanding Natural Gas Production

Shale gas is the "killer app" in the fight against coal, Breakthrough chairman and cofounder Ted Nordhaus argued in a recent debate with Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp. The goal of climate policy must be to advance a zero-carbon revolution. Krupp called for more regulations and carbon pricing as well as opposition to expanded gas production.

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Welcome, Robot Overlords

How Intelligent Machines Let Us Enjoy Life

A surprising number of people seem to be freaking out about an imminent takeover by robots. It’s true that only at the fringe is anyone suggesting a Matrix-style dystopia where the machines rise up and enslave us. But the commonly-expressed conviction that technological innovation will immiserate broad segments of society is only somewhat less irrational.

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Obama Aims for Nuclear Breakthroughs

Administration Pushes Innovation of Next Generation Technologies

Two years ago, some thought that the nuclear energy had been leveled. But the industry today is picking up steam by getting construction licenses to build four new units and by getting government funding to develop smaller nuclear reactors that are less expensive and which may be less problematic when it comes to winning regulatory approval.

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Tech Breakthroughs Needed to Address Global Warming

New Analysis Concludes Socolow/Pacala Wedges Underestimate the Energy Challenge

Carbon dioxide emissions need to be reduced far more and far faster than previously thought if a global temperature rise is to be kept under 2 °C, according to a report in Environmental Research Letters. The researchers say that scaling up existing technology won’t be good enough to meet the goals. Instead, we need new technological breakthroughs.


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Obama’s Climate Legacy

Delivering on an Innovation Agenda

With Tuesday's State of the Union address, liberals are wondering how President Barack Obama will set the tone for major progressive priorities in his second term. By giving climate change a prominent mention in his second inaugural address last month, Obama has raised expectations of delivering on a green agenda over the next four years. Nevertheless, many environmentalists remain deeply disappointed over the failure of cap-and-trade legislation and the president’s hedging on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. They are as skeptical that he has the conviction to lead a fight against climate as they are of his willingness to battle intransigent Republicans in Congress.

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Shellenberger on Colbert Report

Breakthrough Cofounder Talks Climate, Nuclear, and Frankenstein with Stephen Colbert

Michael Shellenberger, president and cofounder of the Breakthrough Institute, made the case for a new environmentalism on the Colbert Report last week.

The new environmentalism is defined by its embrace of technology as essential to human progress and overcoming environmental challenges such as climate change.

“That’s why we wrote this book — it’s called Love Your Monsters. It comes from this idea that we should treat our technologies like our children, like our creations,” Shellenberger explained. “When they fail us — when they disappoint us — you don’t abandon them, you improve them. You make them better.”

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Against Technology Tribalism

Why We Need Innovation to Make Energy Clean, Cheap and Reliable

The following is a speech delivered at the Energy Innovation Conference in Washington, DC, on January 29, 2013.

About once a month we at the Breakthrough Institute get an email or, as often, a carefully hand-typed letter, from someone who politely if sternly informs us that they have invented the solution to all of the world's energy needs. This incredible technology, they explain, has none of the problems that plague other energy technologies. It's so cheap as to be almost free. It emits zero pollution. It's safe. And it's totally reliable.

Unfortunately, they explain, the investors they've shown their design to just don't get it. They are writing in the hopes that we might get it — seeing as we’re committed to paradigm shifts and all — and help them to secure modest up-front financing required to demonstrate this miracle for all of the world to see.

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Why Economists Don’t Get Technology

Beyond Behavior Change

The gap between the cultures of technology and academic economics was on display at the 2013 meeting of the American Economic Association in San Diego last Friday and Saturday. On Saturday, January 5, Rice University’s Kenneth Barry Medlock moderated a panel entitled “The Future of Energy: Markets, Technology and Policy” that featured Jim Sweeney of Stanford, Dale Jorgenson of Harvard, and Adam Sieminski of the US Energy Information Administration.

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Obama’s Climate Cunning

Gas, Clean Tech, and the Path Ahead

The New Year will not mark a clean slate. Congress and the president will re-convene their hostilities. And while the impasse will prevent legislative action to fix the level greenhouse gas emissions, the president is nevertheless preparing a more insidious attack on climate change.

Re-election to the White House is giving President Obama the oomph he needs to tackle the effects of global warming — a topic that has been legislatively off-limits. To achieve his objectives, Obama is remaining persistent and is pursuing a high-tech, clean-tech economy in conjunction with his administration’s recently enacted environmental regulations.

“Addressing climate change is urgent,” says Michael Shellenberger, president of the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental think tank based in Oakland, Calif. “Energy transitions take a long time and we need to get started.”

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How Solar Panels Became Cheap

Larger Factories and More Efficient Panels Were the Key

We hear a lot about energy research and development. Perhaps that's because it's the one sort of policy that Republicans and Democrats generally agree on. But there's a different kind of research that I'd like to see get a lot more attention and funding. I'm talking about research into what various kinds of energy policies actually *do* to shape the technical possibilities open to humanity.

In my time researching energy, most of the people who actually care about where we get our energy from have committed to an energy source, be it oil, gas, traditional nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal, or thorium. Then, they go looking for policies that would benefit their technology. I've also run into a lot of people who believe in inexorable laws of change in energy, whether that's decarbonization or the inevitable rise of natural gas or nuclear power. And I've run into a lot of energy experts who believe in a fairly simple relationship between research money going in and technologies coming out.

Unfortunately, none of these three groups of people is likely to produce very good energy policy. To put it in more mainstream terms, we've got a lot of energy pundits and very few energy Nate Silvers, who put reality (i.e. good data) ahead of ideology and intuition. Don't get me wrong: everyone in energy loves them some data, but few people are interested in using it the way Silver does.

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You Didn’t Frack That

How Energy Innovation Happens

Governor Mitt Romney doubled-down on his criticisms of President Barack Obama’s energy policies in last night’s town hall debate, saying the president has stood in the way of the private sector’s full exploitation of America’s fossil fuel resources.

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Carbon Taxes and Energy Subsidies

A Comparison of the Incentives and Costs of Zero-Carbon Deployment

Carbon taxes like the ones being proposed by current and former member of Congress are unlikely to increase the deployment of zero-carbon energy technologies and would only modestly increase the incentive for utilities to shift from coal to gas, a new Breakthrough Institute analysis finds. Absent continued Congressional authorization of existing low-carbon energy subsidies, the price incentive for the deployment of zero-carbon energy sources would decline by between 50 to 80 percent.

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Carbon Fiber: Another Successful Government Innovation

Commercialization Could Revolutionize Auto Industry

Ford and Dow Automotive Systems recently announced that they would collaborate to develop low-cost carbon fiber to bring this niche product to wide commercial application. Carbon fiber, which has been used in racecars, sporting goods, and the aerospace industry for decades, may be the "holy grail of weight reduction" for cars and trucks. Its high strength-to-weight ratio could make vehicles lighter and more efficient while strengthening crash protection. And although Ford and Dow's agreement might seem like another run-of-the-mill corporate partnership, its roots lie in years of robust public investments and vital public-private partnerships.

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Mr. Jenkins Goes to Washington


In Senate testimony yesterday, Breakthrough Institute Energy and Climate Policy Director Jesse Jenkins urged lawmakers to adopt innovation-centered reforms that will drive advanced energy technologies to subsidy independence.

Appearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Jenkins called for changes to national energy policy on two fronts.

Congress should first reform its suite of deployment subsidies to "better drive and reward innovation" so that clean tech segments can become cost-competitive with fossil fuels without subsidy "as soon as possible," Jenkins said.

Despite important recent gains in performance and cost reduction, most advanced energy market segments - also referred to as "clean tech" - remain dependent on federal policies. "That policy support is now poised to turn from boom to bust," Jenkins warned.

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Love Your Monsters

Why We Must Care for Our Technologies As We Do Our Children

Environmentalists chastise humanity for transgressions against Nature. We are told that by creating technologies, we have sinned. But if humanity has sinned, it is not through the act of creation. Instead, we sin when we fail to care for our technologies. We should not stop creating; rather, our goal should be to never stop innovating, inventing, creating, and intervening. Instead of turning our backs on modernization, we must learn to modernize modernization. This challenge demands more of us than simply embracing technology and innovation. It requires exchanging the modernist notion of modernity for one that sees the process of human development as neither liberation from Nature nor as a fall from it, but rather as a process of becoming ever more attached to, and intimate with, a panoply of nonhuman natures.

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CNN Blows Obama SOTU Shale Gas Fact-Check


"They did a hell of a lot of work, and I can't give them enough credit for that. DOE started it, and other people took the ball and ran with it. You cannot diminish DOE's involvement." So said Dan Steward, former geologist and Vice President for Texas-based gas company Mitchell Energy, in an interview with the Breakthrough Institute.

In a recent edition of their political fact-checking series, CNN makes glaring historical omissions in their claim that the private sector, not the government, was the leading developer of the technologies that led to the modern shale gas boom.

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Obama’s Energy Revolution

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama referred to the findings of a Breakthrough Institute investigation, which found that 30 years of federal funding led to the shale gas revolution.

"It was public research dollars, over the course of thirty years," said the president, "that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock -- reminding us that Government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground."

Obama is referring directly to a Breakthrough Institute investigation, which found that all the major technologies -- massive hydraulic fracking, horizontal drilling, 3-D mapping -- came from federal funding. Breakthrough's research was published in the Washington Post, with a longer history of shale gas and key interviews published at the Breakthrough.


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Terry Engelder on Federal Role in Shale Gas Revolution

As a part of the Breakthrough Institute's in-depth investigation of shale gas extraction and the role of the federal government in the development of many of the key enabling technologies, we interviewed Terry Engelder, professor at the Penn State and one of Foreign Policy's 100 Global Thinkers. Dr. Engelder has authored highly respected research on shale gas resources and is considered one of the nation's top experts on the geology and history of natural gas mining. As with our exclusive interview with Dan Steward, former Mitchell Energy Vice President, Engelder's testimony relates the long and productive partnership between the gas industry and the federal government that led to today's ongoing shale gas revolution. "The government got it really right," says Engelder. "In terms of a symbol of effective public-private venture, it's shale gas."


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History of the Shale Gas Revolution


The shale gas revolution, which has been the primary source of increased natural gas production since 2000, [1] is the result of technological breakthroughs more than three decades in the making. All of the key technologies -- massive hydraulic fracking, horizontal wells, and advanced earth imaging -- were developed by government scientists and by government agencies working with and sometimes funding private entrepreneurs.

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A Clean Energy Deployment Administration

In a series of policy briefs released last month by the Breakthrough Institute, we document the challenges faced by clean energy innovators and entrepreneurs working to bring advanced energy technologies from the lab to market and offer policy proposals for carrying nascent technologies across the clean energy "Valleys of Death." In particular, we offer detailed recommendations for the establishment of a Clean Energy Deployment Administration, or CEDA, a flexible, independent government financing entity which would use a diverse set of financing tools to bridge the Commercialization Valley of Death.

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A National Clean Energy Testbeds Program

In a series of policy briefs released last month by the Breakthrough Institute, we document the challenges faced by clean energy innovators and entrepreneurs working to bring advanced energy technologies from the lab to market and offer policy proposals for carrying nascent technologies across the clean energy "Valleys of Death." One detailed proposal offers recommendations for the establishment of a National Clean Energy Testbeds Program, or N-CET, which would employ public lands as dedicated demonstration sites for proving innovative energy technologies at scale.

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Love Your Monsters Ebook

Postenvironmentalism and the Anthropocene

These are demoralizing times for anyone who cares about the global environment. Emissions trading, the Kyoto treaty, and sustainable development have all failed. And yet climate change, deforestation, and species extinction continue apace. What lessons can we draw from the failure of environmentalism — what must we do now?

In this provocative collection of essays edited by the authors of “The Death of Environmentalism,” leading ecological thinkers put forward a vision of postenvironmentalism for the Anthropocene, the age of humans. Over the next century it is within our reach to create a world where all 10 billion humans achieve a standard of living that will allow them to pursue their dreams. But this world is only possible if we embrace human development, modernization, and technological innovation.

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Bridging the Clean Energy Valleys of Death

In a new report from the Breakthrough Institute Energy and Climate Program, we document the challenges facing American energy entrepreneurs seeking to commercialize advanced energy technologies to enhance US energy, economic, and environmental security. Innovative public policy solutions are needed to support private sector innovation and overcome the "valleys of death" that trap too many promising advanced energy ventures.

Download the full report, "Bridging the Clean Energy Valleys of Death" (pdf) here, and read on for the introduction to the report.

See two related reports, also out today:

  • "A Clean Energy Deployment Administration: Unlocking Advanced Energy Innovation and Commercialization"

    "A National Clean Energy Testbeds Program: Using Public Lands to Accelerate Advanced Energy Innovation and Commercialization"



The United States faces an urgent national imperative to modernize and diversify its energy system by developing and deploying clean, and affordable advanced energy technologies. Domestically, developing new energy supplies and ensuring affordable energy prices will bolster American competitiveness and economic growth. Reducing the cost of advanced energy technologies is the key to finally ending a dependence on volatile global oil markets that holds the American economy hostage, compromises our foreign policy, and bleeds more than a billion dollars a day out of the US economy.

Abroad, the military has already begun deploying innovative clean energy technologies to reduce the high cost, paid in both lives and money, associated with transporting fossil fuels across war zones. Moreover, the impending risks posed by climate change compel the accelerated improvement and widespread deployment of low-carbon energy technologies. Countries around the world are already recognizing the critical need for new advanced energy technologies and are positioning themselves to lead the next wave of energy innovation.

Global energy demand is rising steadily, straining the ability of conventional energy systems to keep pace. For security, economic, and environmental reasons, the global energy system is thus modernizing and diversifying. Developing and developed nations alike are seeking new forms of advanced energy technologies that reduce dependence on foreign nations, insulate economies from volatile energy markets, and are cleaner and thus less costly from a public health perspective. Supplying this $5 trillion global energy market with reliable and affordable clean energy technologies thus represents one of the most significant market opportunities of the 21st century.

Despite this clear energy innovation imperative, the United States and the world remain overly reliant on conventional fuels and exposed to the price volatility and persistent public health impacts that reliance entails. The necessary course of energy modernization remains impeded by the high cost and barriers to scalability of today's clean energy technologies. These are barriers that only innovation can overcome.

However, two obstacles currently block the progress of energy innovation, obstacles which can only be addressed through effective public policy. Due to pervasive market barriers, private sector financing is typically unavailable to bring new energy innovations from early-stage laboratory research to proof-of-concept prototype and on to full commercial scale. This leads to two market gaps that kill off too many promising new energy technologies in the cradle. These gaps are known as the early-stage "Technological Valley of Death" and the later-stage "Commercialization Valley of Death." This pair of barriers is endemic to most innovative technologies yet is particularly acute in the energy sector. As a result, many innovative energy prototypes never make it to the marketplace and never have a chance to compete with established energy technologies. These valleys of death particularly plague capital-starved start-ups and entrepreneurial small and medium-sized firms, the very same innovators that are so often at the heart of American economic vitality.

In effect, the current lack of public policy to address this pair of barriers acts to protect today's well entrenched incumbent technologies from full market competition, while hamstringing American entrepreneurs and innovative ventures seeking to develop and deploy advanced energy technologies. The implementation of creative policies to effectively deal with the Technological and Commercialization Valleys of Death will foster vibrant competition in the energy sector and help drive technological innovation and job creation throughout the economy as a whole.

In the past, the United States has driven immense and far-reaching technological transformations. As the pioneering global innovator of the 20th century, the United States built the world's largest economy because of the ingenuity and creative enterprise of its entrepreneurs and citizens. Each step of the way, proactive public policy has played a crucial role in driving American innovations, from railroads and jet engines to microchips, biotechnology, and the Internet, unleashing long waves of economic growth and shared prosperity. New and advanced clean energy technologies afford the same opportunities to the United States today--if public policy is shaped in a way that allows American innovators to thrive once again.




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Manufacturing Growth: Advanced Manufacturing and the Future of the American Economy

Stagnant and out-dated policy debates in Washington are the reason that advanced, high-tech products are mostly manufactured outside of the United States, according to a new paper jointly issued by two think tanks. The report, from the Breakthrough Institute and leading moderate think tank Third Way, argues that American manufacturing could experience a resurgence with a focus on complicated and technology-intensive manufacturing products.

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Weighing in on the Gas Tax Debate

Kevin Drum's recent post on the low price elasticity of demand for oil has reignited an old debate over gas taxes and energy innovation.

Drum draws our attention to some "eye popping" figures for price elasticity of demand for oil from the IMF. According to Drum, these elasticities mean that, in the short term, a 50 percent increase in price leads to a 1.2 percent decrease in consumption. In the long term, it leads to a 4.7 percent decrease.

Conservative blogger Jim Manzi rightly points out that, with elasticities as low as these, a gas tax at any politically realistic level is not going to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Specifically, to the extent that we continue to progress in making non-fossil-fuels technology cheaper and more effective for an ever wider array of applications, we can accelerate the ongoing de-carbonization of our economy. The idea of economists to use artificial scarcity pricing to do this is aggressively marketed in blogs, magazines and TV shows, but is extremely unlikely to work, because the current price elasticity of oil is so low. The work of engineers and physical scientists, however, is likely to be determinative.

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Where Good Technologies Come From: Case Studies in American Innovation

The following is the introduction to a new Breakthrough report, "Where Good Technologies Come From: Case Studies in American Innovation." Download the full report here.

Driving directions from your iPhone. The cancer treatments that save countless lives. The seed hybrids that have slashed global hunger. A Skype conversation while flying on a Virgin Airlines jet across the continent in just five hours.

Where did these everyday miracles come from?

As soon as the question is asked we know to suspect that the answer is not as simple as Apple, Amgen, or General Electric. We might recall something about microchips and the Space Race, or know that the National Institutes of Health funds research into new drugs and treatments.

But most of us remain unaware of the depth and breadth of American government support for technology and innovation. Our gratitude at being able to video chat with our children from halfway around the world (if we feel gratitude at all) is directed at Apple, not the Defense Department. When our mother's Neupogen works to fight her cancer, we thank Amgen, not NIH or NSF.

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