Investment in Emerging Energy Technologies Shows Promise

Published December 1, 2006

Though it has been dismaying to see the recent increases in energy costs, the news is not all bad. As energy prices have increased, so has investment in next-generation energy technologies.

These technologies include innovative methods for producing and using conventional energy resources such as oil, natural gas, and coal, and to produce renewable energy such as wind and solar. Also in the works are highly experimental concepts that, while decades away from the marketplace, hold promise for supplying new energy capabilities in the future.

Government Involvement

Investment in the future of new energy technologies is already receiving government attention. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) intends to make cellulosic ethanol a top priority, with the goal of proving it an efficient alternative fuel by 2012 and with enough produced to displace 30 percent of the nation’s gasoline consumption by 2030.

Other, more long-term projects include the hydrogen “freedom car” initiative, clean-coal facilities, carbon sequestration methods, and research and development of “next-generation” nuclear power plants able to utilize reprocessed spent fuel.

Estimates of the future potential of emerging energy technologies vary widely. For example, full adoption of efficient buildings, vehicles, and industries, could in theory cut U.S. projected oil consumption in 2025 by half. New advances in wind power show potential–DOE has stated wind resources between 5 and 50 nautical miles of our coastline could support 900,000 megawatts of wind power capacity.

Big Potential Benefits

Development of these new technologies, and their delivery to the marketplace, could accomplish three important objectives.

First, they could make available new energy resources that are needed to ensure continued economic growth in the United States and globally.

Second, utilization of these technologies can achieve dramatic, long-term decreases in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that some scientists believe are required to avoid causing or contributing to climate change. Some studies on ethanol from corn show it has net GHG emissions of up to 20 percent less than oil. New nuclear facilities and carbon sequestration techniques also can significantly reduce GHG emissions.

Third, the intellectual property resulting from the development of next-generation energy technologies will bring substantial economic benefits to the businesses that develop them, as well as to the countries that are home to these businesses.

Encouraging New Technology

Attracting businesses capable of developing new energy technologies should be a top priority for the United States government.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005) contains more than 60 provisions that address emerging energy technologies and efficient energy use.

Recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce analyzed 64 EPAct 2005 provisions that are important for U.S. businesses. The provisions range from public-private partnerships to tax incentives and streamlined regulatory requirements, and are critical to encouraging the development of emerging energy technologies in the United States.

Of the initiatives highlighted in the report, most are progressing as scheduled, such as oil shale and tar sands development on federal lands and tax incentives designed to spur investment in advanced nuclear energy generation, clean-coal technologies, and alternative fuel vehicles.

Directives related to technology transfer, and in particular climate change and GHG intensity-reducing technologies, are behind schedule, or in some cases have not been launched.

U.S. Chamber Initiatives

The business community has moved ahead in the search for new energy technologies. On July 19, 2006, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its multi-industry business coalition, the Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth, hosted “An Open National Discussion on U.S. Energy Policy.” This summit featured Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, Deputy Secretary of Energy Clay Sell, Undersecretary of Energy David Garmin, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Joseph Kelliher, and many high-level representatives from the business community.

The summit featured a roundtable discussion with business leaders working on the front lines to develop the next generation of energy technologies, including coal-to-liquid processes, carbon-based solar panels, hydrogen fuel cells, and offshore wind energy applications.

Most recently, the U.S. Chamber formed the Emerging Technologies Committee to develop policies that support emerging technologies in the fields of materials, energy, and the environment. Specific examples include clean coal, biofuels, fuel cells, renewables, biotechnology and nanotechnology, and energy efficiency measures. The committee held its inaugural meeting in September.

William L. Kovacs ([email protected]) is vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Environment, Technology, & Regulatory Affairs Division.

For more information …

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s evaluation of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005), EPAct 2005 Enactment +1, is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to and search for document #20020.