Stanford On Renewables Policy: Get Real

With the untimely demise of Fremont, Calif.-based Solyndra adding fuel to the fire of public debate on what, exactly, the federal government’s role should be in supporting the growth of renewables, two researchers from Stanford University says the U.S. and the world at large need a reality check on renewable energy policies.

Jeffrey Ball and Kassia Yanosek, both based at Stanford University’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, are the authors of two new articles calling for government policies that drive cost-effective renewable energy technologies, along with a greater acceptance of the simple realities of transitioning to a clean energy economy.

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Ball, a scholar-in-residence at the Stanford center and former energy reporter and environment editor for the Wall Street Journal, calls the world’s renewable-energy push, so far, “sloppy.” In his latest article for Foreign Affairs, entitled “Tough Love for Renewable Energy,” he holds that this can be addressed via a new approach that forces these technologies to become more economically efficient.

On the other hand, Kassia Yanosek, entrepreneur-in-residence at the Stanford center and a private-equity investor, believes that, even as we get smarter about how we pursue the commercialization of renewable energy, we need to accept that attempting to accelerate a transition to a low-carbon economy is expensive and risky. In her article in Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Yanosek says that policymakers need to realize that achieving a transition with government-aided commercialization programs will require putting billions of taxpayer dollars at risk, often in a high-profile way.

“If government officials wish to accelerate the next energy transition, they will need a different strategy to develop an industry that can survive without major subsidies, one that prioritizes funding to commercialize decarbonized energy technologies that can compete dollar-for-dollar against carbon-based energy,” Yanosek writes.

Dan Reichler, the executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center, says that these two articles argue for driving down the costs of key technologies and speeding up their deployment. “This will require the right mix of targeted government policy and hard-nosed private sector investment,” said Reicher, also a Stanford law professor and business school lecturer, and formerly an assistant U.S. energy secretary and private-equity investor.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

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