Paper - Energy Technology Innovation Policy Project, Belfer Center

Institutions for Energy Innovation: A Transformational Challenge

"The United States must change the way it produces and uses energy by shifting away from its dependence on imported oil and coal-fired electricity and by increasing the efficiency with which energy is extracted/captured, converted, and utilized if it is to meet the urgent challenges facing the energy system, of which climate change and energy security are the most pressing.  This will require the improvement of current technologies, and the development of new transformative ones, particularly if the transition to a new energy paradigm is going to be timely and cost-effective.

The Obama administration and the Secretary of Energy understand that the status quo will not deliver the results that are needed and have significantly increased funding for energy research, development, demonstration, and deployment and are putting in place new institutional structures. But policymakers must also pay much more attention to improving the management and coordination of the public energy technology innovation enterprise.  For too long a focus on design and management elements necessary to allow government-funded innovation institutions to work effectively has largely been absent in policy debates-although not from many analysts minds and reports.

The United States is, in fact, at a historical point where the nation's energy innovation system is being examined, significantly expanded, and reshaped.  As the country does this, it not only has a rare opportunity, but indeed a responsibility, to ensure that it improves the efficiency and effectiveness of this system to make sure that the country is getting the maximum payoff from its investments.  In this context, the importance of improving and better aligning the management and structure of existing and new energy innovation institutions to enhance the coordination, integration, and overall performance of the federal energy-technology innovation effort (from basic research to deployment) cannot be over-emphasized.  The technology-led transformation of the U.S. energy system that the administration is seeking is unlikely to succeed without a transformation of energy innovation institutions and of the way in which policymakers think about their design."

With this article, the authors wanted to present their principles as a starting point of a much-needed conversation among analysts, managers, scientists, and policymakers on how to enhance the effectiveness of these institutions.

Comments are welcome and may be directed to Venkatesh Narayanamurti at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, 79 John F. Kennedy Street, Mailbox 53, Cambridge, MA 02138.


The authors are grateful to the Climate Change Initiative of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for supporting the work of the Energy Research, Development, Demonstration, and Deployment (ERD3) Policy Project and the Science Technology and Public Policy Program, both at the Belfer Center of Science and International Affairs of the Harvard Kennedy School.

All responsibility for any errors or misjudgments rests solely with the authors.

A version of "Institutions for Energy Innovation: A Transformational Challenge" was  published in Issues in Science and Technology in Fall 2009 — available here courtesy of the publisher.

For more information on this publication: Please contact Energy Technology Innovation Policy
For Academic Citation: Narayanamurti, Venkatesh, Laura D. Anadon, and Ambuj D. Sagar. “Institutions for Energy Innovation: A Transformational Challenge.” Paper, Energy Technology Innovation Policy Project, Belfer Center, September 2009.