Stable access to energy is a key factor in economic stability and growth; electric power is particularly important for advanced economies. Accordingly, as the U.S. economy has grown, particularly following World War II, demand for energy has increased almost in lock step. In addition to the many benefits energy brings, its production, use, and consumption often entail negative consequences, usually in the form of pollution, which society increasingly has sought to reduce or eliminate. Doing so essentially requires bringing to market technologies and practices that can provide the energy needed but with fewer or no harmful impacts from pollution. That is, society needs to develop increasingly clean energy sources and practices.
Several barriers challenge full market deployment of increasingly clean energy technologies, however. First, many of the negative impacts of pollution are not reflected in market prices for energy supplies or services. Second, newer, increasingly clean technologies frequently have different performance characteristics from those of incumbent technologies. They may not perform as well, or may just perform differently. For example, solar photovoltaic panels can generate electricity with little or no pollution and with no fuel cost, but only when enough light strikes them. Third, performance challenges can create difficulties with integrating these newer technologies into existing energy systems and infrastructure. The net result is that cleaner technologies almost universally continue to have higher market prices, and market adoption of many increasingly clean energy sources and technologies has proceeded slowly.
One way to address such barriers is through government action. Accordingly, the Department of Energy’s Offices of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, Fossil Energy, and Nuclear Energy tasked the Academies’ Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy and Board on Energy and Environmental Systems with examining what policies and actions could accelerate wide market adoption of increasingly clean electric power generation and end-use efficiency technologies.
In response to this request, the National Research Council appointed the Committee on Determinants of Market Adoption of Advanced Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy Technologies. The statement of task shown in Box 1-1 was developed and used as a departure point for the committee’s work.
The statement of task for this study included no guidance on how far upstream or downstream to account for the effects of pollution. Upstream pollution is certainly important. Estimates of its damages, however, entail much greater uncertainty than is the case with downstream pollution. In 2010 the National Research Council published a report currently considered the most authoritative reference regarding “unpriced consequences of energy production and use” from a life-cycle analysis perspective (NRC, 2010b). This study attempted to characterize all pollution associated with energy production and use; however, it was only able to monetize impacts due to emissions of particulate matter, oxides of sulfur, oxides of nitrogen, and greenhouse gases.
Given this lack of quantitative analysis of more upstream pollution and the large scope of its task, the committee focused its investigation on the downstream pollution caused by the emissions characterized in that earlier report. The committee still recognizes the importance of upstream pollution—for example, methane leaks during the production and delivery of natural gas that contribute to climate change—and hopes that future work will address the topic with the depth it deserves.
Electric power markets are not only fundamentally important but also enormously complex and complicated. A number of areas deserve further inquiry beyond what resources allowed during the course of this study. The magnitude and scope of climate change, for example, are global, and addressing the problem will require developing technologies that are affordable not only in the United States but also in the rest of the world, especially in rapidly growing economies. A full understanding of how technological developments in the United States will impact those countries and the climate would require analysis of intellectual property, trade, and other technology transfer matters beyond the scope of this study.
To gather evidence and augment its members’ knowledge of the industry, technologies, regulation, financing, and economics of electric power, the committee conducted an extensive search of the relevant literature and convened three workshops to elicit the perspectives of industry leaders, academics, and senior government officials. In addition, the committee conducted several site visits and held numerous consultations with regulators, industry leaders, and investors in electric power and energy-efficiency technologies and companies.
In the course of its work, the committee identified five key themes that underlie efforts to accelerate the market adoption of increasingly clean energy and energy-efficiency technologies:
- expanding the portfolio of increasingly clean energy technology options;
- leveraging the advantages of energy efficiency;
- facilitating the development of increasingly clean technologies, including nuclear power, cleaner fossil fuels, and renewables;
- improving existing technologies, systems, and infrastructure; and
- leveling the playing field for increasingly clean energy technologies.
These themes informed the basic structure of this report. Chapter 2 reviews the capabilities of currently available technologies to produce increasingly clean electric power and of current policies to encourage their market adoption, as well as the impact of their deployment on technology innovation. Chapter 3 analyzes challenges and barriers within the energy innovation system to expanding the portfolio of cleaner energy technology options. Chapter 4 examines opportunities to leverage the advantages of energy efficiency. Chapter 5 analyzes unique barriers to market adoption for the most well-developed technologies for increasingly clean power generation from nuclear power, fossil fuels, and renewables. Chapter 6 considers improvements to existing technologies, systems, and infrastructure needed to accommodate the market adoption of increasingly clean power generation and energy-efficiency technologies. Finally, Chapter 7 describes how existing institutions, infrastructure, and policies favor incumbent over innovative and cleaner technologies, as well as the challenges investors and firms face in financing the innovation, development, and deployment of increasingly clean power generation and energy-efficiency technologies. The report also includes five appendixes: Appendix A contains biographical information on members of the Committee on Determinants of Market Adoption of Advanced Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy Technologies; Appendix B details the underlying principles used to calculate the levelized cost of electricity; Appendix C describes recent developments in economic models used to estimate the effects of deployment on costs and technological improvement; Appendix D provides assessments of the technology readiness levels of a comprehensive suite of technologies; and Appendix E is a glossary of acronyms and abbreviations used in the report.