Breakthrough Institute: Energy and Climate Program

The Nathan Cummings Foundation


Breakthrough Institute: Energy and Climate Program

Breakthrough Institute's Energy and Climate Program is dedicated to building a future where all the world's inhabitants have access to the clean, cheap, and plentiful energy needed to enjoy secure, prosperous, and fulfilling lives on an ecologically vibrant planet.

Through paradigm-shifting research, policy, and outreach, Breakthrough's Energy and Climate Program has done more than anyone to shape the national debate over the need for radical innovation to ensure that clean energy technologies become affordable, reliable, and scalable enough to sustainably power the planet.


 Ensuring Energy Access For All

 Global energy demand is projected to double or even triple by mid-century, as seven going on nine billion people seek to enjoy the fruits of modernity.

This rapid growth in energy demand should come as no surprise. Roughly 1.4 billion people worldwide still lack any access to electricity and a full third of the global population burns dung and wood for their primary energy needs.

The human toll of this energy poverty is enormous. Indoor air pollution, which is primarily caused by burning primitive fuels, kills 1.5 to 2 million people worldwide every year, and more than half of those fatalities occur among children under five years of age. In developing nations, only malnutrition, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and lack of clean water kill more people than pollution resulting from energy poverty.

Lack of energy access also impedes human and economic development. In energy poor regions, children cannot study once night falls, doctors must treat sick patients with only tenuous access to electricity, and women often walk for hours just to acquire firewood for cooking. Without modern energy, economic security and modern living standards are out of reach for billions of the global poor. While we may wish to reduce our energy use through efficiency in the world's rich economies, for the vast majority of the global population, the imperative is to efficiently expand access to affordable modern energy supplies and services. Ensuring universal access to energy that is cheap, clean, and abundant is a necessary precondition for any effort to materially improve the lives of the global poor.

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Meeting the Energy Innovation Imperative

 Even as we work to provide universal access to affordable energy for a growing and modernizing global population, we must recognize that fueling this growth with fossil fuels is patently unsustainable.

To avert the potentially disastrous consequences of climate change, global emissions of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases must fall by half or more by mid-century, even as energy use grows.

Meanwhile, global oil markets are already strained by rapidly rising global demand, resulting in higher prices and dangerous market volatility. Despite decades of talk about energy independence in America, oil imports still bleed more than $1.4 billion out of the US economy each and every day, while our continued reliance on volatile oil markets compromises economic and national security and our basic values.

Unfortunately, sustained progress towards a clean, secure, and affordable energy system is constrained by the high cost and relative immaturity of today's clean energy alternatives. In the face of a persistent cost gap between cleaner alternatives and incumbent fossil fuels, low-carbon advanced energy sources remain dependent on public support anywhere they are being adopted at scale. Both incremental and radical innovations are required across a full portfolio of low-carbon technology options to eventually free clean energy from perpetual policy support. This central energy innovation imperative must be tackled directly and proactively to make clean energy cheap.

The United States can lead the way with a limited but direct set of public innovation investments and policies that can jumpstart a clean energy revolution with a proactive partnership between America's intrepid innovators and a public sector willing to invest in cutting edge technology. This strategy can harness the same forces that brought us successive revolutions in transportation and communications technologies, put a man on the moon, and launched the world into the Silicon Age. If we once again invest the resources necessary to support our best and brightest, these are the same forces that will give us the clean, cheap, and scalable energy sources needed to sustainably power the planet for generations to come.

            Related Content:

·      Bridging the Clean Energy Valleys of Death: Helping American Entrepreneurs Meet the Nation's Energy Innovation Imperative
(November 2011 report)

·      How to Change the Global Energy Conversation
(November 2010 Wall Street Journal essay)

·      Post-Partisan Power: How a Limited and Direct Approach to Energy Innovation Can Deliver Clean, Cheap Energy
(October 2010 report)

Building a Globally Competitive Clean Economy

With virtually all of global energy demand growth occurring in emerging economies, the nations that invent, manufacture, and export clean and cost-competitive advanced energy technologies will harness a multi-trillion dollar export market. But America already lags behind global competitors in Asia and Europe in the race to develop these key energy technologies.

Without its own proactive clean energy competitiveness strategy, America will continue to fall behind. To secure the nation's long-term economic prosperity, create good jobs in this major growth sector, and boost exports to close America's large and persistent trade deficit, the United States must make targeted investments and policy reforms to restore leadership in clean energy innovation, manufacturing, and markets alike.

            Related Content:

·      A Clean Energy Competitiveness Strategy for America
(April 2010 video presentation)

·      Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant: Asian Nations Set to Dominate Clean Energy Race By Out-Investing the United States
(November 2009 report)