Stories by Varun Sivaram

Expert Voices

Updating clean energy tax credits could help commercialize new tech

tanks of a redox flow battery
Electrolyte tanks of a redox flow battery, which can store electricty generated by renewables. Photo: Uli Deck/picture alliance via Getty Images

From December 2019 into the next several years, a slate of federal tax credits for solar and wind power are set to expire, allowing Congress a chance to revisit this valuable plank of clean energy policy.

The big picture: Under current incentives, wind and solar power have come to produce over 8% of U.S. electricity, up from less than 1% a decade agoBut the credits have ballooned in cost — from under $1 billion in 2008 to $5.5 billion in 2018 — while doing little to promote other new energy technologies that will play a vital role in decarbonizing the economy.

Expert Voices

Where blockchain will really matter in energy

Adapted from Livingston et al., 2018, "Applying Blockchain Technology to Electric Power Systems"; Chart: Axios Visuals

In 2017, startups raised over $300 million to apply blockchain technology to energy, and deal flow has only ballooned in 2018. Although evangelists herald blockchain as the new internet, capable of upending mainstays of the energy sector like the centralized power grid, many applications have created more hype than value.

The big picture: There has been a dearth of straightforward, publicly accessible data on blockchain experiments in the energy sector, but that’s starting to change. What we’ve seen so far makes clear that some of the humbler initiatives — those that work within the existing system and partner with incumbent utilities and regulators — are likely to have the greatest impact.

Expert Voices

How to align the digital revolution with a clean energy transition

autonomous vehicle at consumer electronics show in Shanghai
A Baidu apollo self-driving vehicle on display at the June 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Asia in Shanghai. Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

The digital revolution sweeping the energy sector would seem poised to help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Progress in artificial intelligence and computing power, the plunging cost of sensors and other digital equipment, and rising connectivity could all make it easier to use clean energy sources and cut wasteful energy use.

Yes, but: Digitalization is a double-edged sword. Unless policymakers around the world act quickly, it could make the global energy system dirtier. Policies such as carbon pricing are needed to steer the energy industry toward digital technologies that reduce emissions rather than raise them.