Research into new energy technologies is dangerously underfunded, according to a new report from the American Energy Innovation Council. The group, which notably includes Bill Gates and GE’s CEO, expressed dismay at the seemingly low priority the U.S. government has placed on funding next-generation energy research in recent years, and described the issue as one that mattered both for the environment and America’s ability to compete internationally. The New York Times reports:
The leaders pointed out that the United States had fallen behind a slew of other countries in the percentage of economic output being spent on energy research, among them China, Japan, France and South Korea. Their report urged leaders of both political parties to start increasing funds to ultimately triple today’s level of research spending, about $5 billion a year. […]At stake, Mr. Gates said in an interview, are not just long-term goals like reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, but also American leadership in industries of the future, including advanced nuclear reactors and coal-burning power plants that could capture and bury their emissions.“Our universities, our national labs are the best in the world,” Mr. Gates said, but he added that a chronic funding shortfall was holding back the pace of their work.
The AEIC is identifying an issue of critical importance, and it naturally leads one to question why this isn’t a higher national priority. Unfortunately, the research and development of potentially game-changing technologies is less politically expedient for legislators than is the creation of a subsidy regime that can help prop up current-generation technologies (like wind and solar) that will create jobs and start producing power on a much shorter time scale.But renewables in their current form aren’t good enough to compete with fossil fuels on their own merit, which makes their deployment costly, something that’s often borne out in higher electricity bills replete with “green” surcharges. These subsidies also carry with them an opportunity cost—much of the money spent incentivizing producers to install inefficient solar panels and wind turbines could be going to labs working on developing something better.The green movement justifies its policy prescriptions by begging the public to think about the fate of future generations, yet hypocritically supports short-sighted solutions. The truly forward-looking solution would be to more fully fund the research into and development of what comes next.