As the NCPA (among others) has argued in a number of documents, a new report says that environmentalists’ push to rapidly deploy existing clean energy technology rather than focusing on innovation has been and will continue to be expensive and likely result in waste and failure.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation discovered that in the past three years, 71 percent of direct federal investments in clean energy went to deployment and public investment tripled in deployment and procurement, while R&D and demonstration projects were steady or declined. In critiquing the “deployment now,” policies embraced by the Obama administration, the report states:
“Achieving widespread renewable energy adoption with existing technologies is technically feasible — the United States achieved multiple moon landings over the course of the Apollo program — and given enough funding, a colony could conceivably be established. But the amount of investment required for realizing this future would be astronomical and the performance of such a colony would not meet high standards of health, food, water, and safety, similar to renewable energy intermittency not meeting the reliability standards of energy consumers.”
Earlier government studies found much the same thing. It would be better to economically and environmentally to deploy as yet undeveloped breakthrough technologies in the future when people are richer than to weigh down the economy by forcing the deployment of less effective, more costly technologies today.
According to Nobel Prize-winning economist and climate-change expert Thomas Schelling, the best climate change policy is to emphasize continuous economic growth for the least well-off. Adopting costly, short-term policies that seriously retard economic progress is terribly shortsighted because wealth dramatically increases resiliency, especially to the effects of climate change.
Furthermore, since the truly serious consequences of climate change will not appear for many decades, we should not worry so much about the welfare of future, wealthier and more technologically advanced generations while depriving today’s most destitute. Thus, the best climate change policy is to emphasize present economic growth, especially in the developing world.
One aspect of the ITIF study that is problematic, however, is that it assumes that government spending on R & D for clean energy will be more efficient or worthwhile than its investment in deployment. Government spending, using tax dollars directed at a single goal with n market measure of failure or sucussess, is very different than developing new technology for the private economy where there are a couple hundred million decision makers, most of whom care about cost. Glenn Schleede, an energy analysts points out that those pushing more tax dollars for energy R&D need to consider the fact that, from 1973 to 2012, the DOE and its predecessors spent $154.7 Billion (2012$) of our tax dollars on “Energy R&D”* and has yet to produce a significant energy technology that is commercially viable (i.e., without tax breaks and/or subsidies).