Energy systems are among the most complex and consequential technological systems. They have manifold impacts on both society and the environment, shaping economic and social opportunities and threatening harm on a planetary scale. Tracing the evolution of these systems and conceiving societal interventions that will nudge them in new directions is a crucial area of research.
Unlocking Energy Innovation: How America Can Build a Low-Cost, Low-Carbon Energy System (MIT Press 2011), written with Richard K. Lester, the head of the MIT nuclear science and engineering department, calls for a transformation of the U. S. energy innovation system to meet the challenge of climate change. Based on a three year study with colleagues at MIT’s Industrial Performance Center, supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the book envisions an energy innovation system that is not only larger than today’s, but also more diverse, more competitive, more entrepreneurial, and more deeply-rooted in the country’s regional strengths. It focuses particular attention on the electric power sector, which must be transformed, if the energy transition is to occur in time to limit the worst effects of climate change.
In the run-up to this book, I wrote a series of case studies across diverse sectors of the energy innovation landscape. The subjects include the LEED-NC green building rating system and energy efficiency, New Jersey’s policy for solar photovoltaic electricity generating capacity, and (with GMU Ph.D. student Kadri Kallas) federal R&D to support emissions control technology for coal-fired power plants. GMU Ph.D. student Neil Peretz contributed a paper on the relevance of the history of telecommunications standards for the “smart grid” to this effort as well.