Energy Transition: Mapping an Appropriate Role for Government

Many organizations and key members of government believe that US energy markets need to embark on an accelerated transition off of oil.  Some focus on diversification away from oil imports in order to stop funding countries that don't like us much.  Others focus on climate change worries, working to transition from all fossil fuels.  Both groups push for bold, new, and often very expensive plans to alter the nation's energy path.  Usually, these plans call for large new government agencies, along with mandates, to implement the changes. 

The attached slides examine many of the implicit assumptions behind these plans, and calls attention to some of the key steps and trade-offs they fail to incorporate.  For example, many initiatives focus on technology development, ignoring the equally important roles that market structure and business models play in being able to move intriguing laboratory ideas into products and services that are actually being used and modifying our energy footprint.  Created for a joint Rocky Mountain Institute/Brookings Institute meeting on getting the US off of oil, and modified for an NPEC/Heritage Foundation meeting earlier in 2009, the slides do not aim to identify the nation's single energy "silver bullet".  Rather, they lay out an approach to broadly evaluate options and likelihood of success.  The final slide in particular provides a useful set of criteria against which to vet big, expensive energy ideas in order to more effectively tailor program structures.  (March 2009).