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Reproduced from Columbia's Center on Global Energy Policy; Note: The budget for FY21 is not yet finalized. Budgets for FY22-FY26 are the author's proposed funding; Chart: Axios Visuals 

A pair of new reports argue for greatly expanding American research and development into climate-friendly energy tech at a time when the political terrain for big spending increases could soon become more fertile.

Why it matters: Joe Biden is vowing a major investment push if elected and the report could influence the scope and specifics of those research, development and demonstration plans.

  • Also, congressional Republicans are generally more open to R&D funding increases than new climate standards and fossil fuel restrictions (though Biden's platform has those too).

Driving the news: A Columbia University energy think tank is out with a detailed proposal for tripling U.S. "innovation" investment over the next five years to $25 billion and restructuring federal oversight.

  • "U.S. research institutions and private firms are capable of absorbing this scale of federal support and translating it into rapid technological progress — delivering economic returns that far outstrip public investments," it states.
  • However, the U.S. has "neglected energy innovation," per the report from Columbia's Center on Global Energy Policy and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
  • The U.S. spends under $9 billion per year on energy innovation, far less than federal investments in advances in health and defense tech, it says.

How it works: The plan delves into specific agencies and program areas that should receive more money. (The chart above is a highly condensed summary.)

  • Overall, it groups the proposal around 10 "technology pillars," such as clean electricity, advanced transportation, industrial decarbonization, and clean agriculture.
  • It also recommends a presidential directive creating a "National Energy Innovation Mission" and setting up a new White House-led task force to coordinate the increased funding.
  • The Washington Examiner has more on the plan and the political landscape here.

Separately, the Bill Gates-led group Breakthrough Energy commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to look at the economic spillover effects of federal R&D investments.

  • Their new analysis examined R&D in health, defense and energy and found substantial economic benefits.
  • "In 2018, public R&D investment directly and indirectly supported more than 1.6 million U.S. jobs, $126 billion in labor income, $197 billion in added economic value, and $39 billion in federal and state tax revenue," it states in calling for higher levels.

Threat level: "Unfortunately, we are falling behind on developing the clean energy technologies we need to get to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century," it warns.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Dec 19, 2019 - Energy & Environment

Electric vehicles are coming, but no one is sure how fast

Data: Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy; Chart: Axios Visuals

A new study helps to show that experts are all over the map when it comes to gaming out the rise of electric vehicles in the global marketplace.

Why it matters: The speed at which EVs become truly mainstream is one variable affecting the future of oil demand and carbon emissions. Passenger cars account for roughly a fourth of world oil demand.

Sep 25, 2020 - Economy & Business

Eyeing the end of gas-powered cars

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Gasoline-powered cars may be going the way of the woolly mammoth, even if it will take decades to replace them and seems hard to fathom today.

The big picture: Internal combustion engines (ICEs) have powered automobiles for more than 100 years. But the shift to electric vehicles, slow to materialize at first, is now accelerating due to tightening government policies, falling costs and a societal reckoning about climate change.

Kids’ screen time up 50% during pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When the coronavirus lockdowns started in March, kidstech firm SuperAwesome found that screen time was up 50%. Nearly a year later, that percentage hasn't budged, according to new figures from the firm.

Why it matters: For most parents, pre-pandemic expectations around screen time are no longer realistic. The concern now has shifted from the number of hours in front of screens to the quality of screen time.