Department of Energy

Should We Start a Solar Panel Trade War with China?
September 09, 2010

These days I do believe we're supposed to hail China as our clean-energy overlords. The country now produces half the world's wind turbines and half its solar panels. How did the Chinese do it? Partly through aggressive renewable-energy laws and various incentives for budding tech industries. And that's to be expected—as long as fossil-fuel externalities go unpriced, renewables are always going to need a little boost. But, according to Keith Bradsher of The New York Times, there's another side to this story.

Energy (and Economic) Transformation Come to the Philadelphia Navy Yard
August 27, 2010

We’ve long liked the Department of Energy’s new Energy Innovation Hubs program, with its resemblances to our energy discovery-innovation institutes idea.

Light Bulbs Defy Right-Wing Doom Predictions Again
August 12, 2010

Two years ago, President Bush signed an energy bill raising energy efficiency standards for light bulbs, to take effect in 2012. Libertarians like Andrew Ferguson bemoaned the consumer disaster that would be created by this big government overreach: The quality of the light given off by CFLs is quite different from what we're used to from incandescents. The old bulb concentrates its light through a small surface area. CFLs don't shine in beams; they glow all the way around, diffusing their illumination. They're terrible reading lights.

Yes, Biochar Really Might Be That Magical
August 11, 2010

Biochar has always sounded like a whimsical climate solution that's too good to be true. Simply stir a little charcoal into the soil and—voila—it's supposedly possible to suck thousands of tons of carbon-dioxide out of the air. Sounds suspicious, no? And yet it just might work. A new study in Nature Communications finds that the world could, in theory, sustainably offset a whopping 12 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions by producing biochar. The basic idea is easy enough to follow.

Senate Energy Bill Drops--And Electric Cars Get A Surprise Jolt
July 27, 2010

On a press call this afternoon, Senate staffers walked through the details of the minimalist energy bill that's hitting the floor this week. As expected, the bill will tighten up oversight on offshore drilling and lift the ceiling on the amount of damages oil companies are liable for in the event of a spill. (Naturally, the unlimited liability would apply retroactively to BP.) Plus, there's some money for the Home Star program, which will give owners rebates for making their homes more efficient, as well as various incentives for natural gas and electric vehicles.

How the States and EPA Can Save Climate Policy
July 23, 2010

The Senate has basically given up on passing a climate bill. So where does that leave us? Yesterday, I noted on Twitter that the action is going to shift to the states and federal agencies. Remember, the EPA is obligated to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, and Lisa Jackson is moving ahead with those rules. (Here's my primer on that.) Meanwhile, as I've reported before, plenty of states are moving ahead with their own climate policies. There's already a (modest) cap-and-trade system for utilities in the Northeast called RGGI.

Add Cleantech Innovation Consortiums to America COMPETES
July 20, 2010

The reauthorization of America COMPETES--America’s signature innovation law--now in the Senate contains a few innovations in its own text, such as a regional industry cluster program. Such a program--informed by an important Metro Program paper and similar to the one inserted into the House's recently passed America COMPETES reauthorization bill--represents an important recognition that technological innovation in 2010 entails much more than annually pouring R&D money into the system and waiting for job-creating high-growth companies to spin magically out.

Scenes from a Recovery, Such That It Is
July 15, 2010

Holland, Michigan, is a city of about 34,000 people in the state's southwestern corner, right on the lakeshore and close enough to Chicago to receive its radio broadcasts. Dutch immigrants established the city, as the name suggests, and many of their descendants remain. Lots of people go by the name Vander-something and the annual tulip festival attracts thousands visitors every May, helping to buoy an upscale downtown shopping area that, at least on Thursday, was bustling with activity. But the appearance is misleading.

Hold It Right There
July 10, 2010

The most amazing thing happened in Washington this week: A confirmation process moved forward. It happened when Elena Kagan, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. There were opening statements, first by the senators and then by Kagan. Next, there were questions. Republicans frequently indicated their displeasure with Kagan; many hinted at their intention to vote against her.

Sharron Angle And Party Suicide
June 09, 2010

It's not very often you see a political party shoot itself in the foot by nominating an obviously terrible candidate when better alternatives are available. One exception is the Illinois Democrats, who turned what should be a safe seat into a competitive one by nominating Alex Giannoulias, whose family bank went under, for Senate. (Giannoulias hilariously said he would answer questions about the bank only after the primary, and Democratic voters even more hilariously decided to nominate him anyway.) But the nomination of Republican Sharron Angle for Senate in Nevada stands on its own.