Event of Interest: Truth to Power: Reflections on America’s Energy Innovation Problem (and How to Fix It)

Professor Richard Lester

Head of the Department of Nuclear Science & Engineering at MIT and
Founder of the Industrial Performance Center

Truth to Power: Reflections on America’s Energy Innovation Problem (and How to Fix It)

October 6, 2011 | 4:00pm | ENG II 1519

Presented by ChE 290 Seminar Series


Richard Lester
Richard Lester

By most measures this has not been a good couple of years for attempts to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. The effort at Copenhagen to frame a successor to the Kyoto Protocol produced at best a fig leaf, with only modest advances at the recent Cancun climate conference. The Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, which had squeaked through the House, died in the Senate last summer. The Obama Administration’s stimulus package, which included unprecedented investments in energy efficiency and new energy technologies, has been largely spent. And as fiscal pressures mount, the source of funds to continue these investments is unclear. 

An effective energy transition strategy will require the exertion of public authority on a large scale, and will touch the lives of almost everyone. Without broad public support, such a strategy will be unsustainable. Yet no such support is yet in view.

A new way forward is needed, with the potential to build public support over time. In this endeavor the role of innovation in energy systems, products, and services will be central. The promise of innovation lies in its potential to reverse the politically unappealing logic of relying on a strategy of high prices to induce low-carbon substitution and conservation.  The alternative approach is to promote innovation so as to reduce the costs of low-carbon technologies – and thus the cost to society of the energy transition. There will be no free lunch; internalizing the societal cost of carbon emissions will be essential here too. But there is at least the prospect of a discount on the bill. This talk will assess the current state and future prospects for America’s energy innovation system.

Richard Lester is Japan Steel Industry Professor and Head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is also the founding Director of the Industrial Performance Center.  His research focuses on innovation management and policy, with an emphasis on the energy and manufacturing sectors. He is also active in research and teaching on the management and control of nuclear technology.

Professor Lester has led several major studies of national and regional productivity, competitiveness and innovation performance commissioned by governments and industrial groups around the world. His latest book on the sources of creativity and innovation in advanced economies, Innovation—The Missing Dimension, co-authored with Michael J. Piore, was published by Harvard University Press in 2005. Other recent books include Making Technology Work: Applications in Energy and the Environment (Cambridge University Press, 2004), jointly authored with John M. Deutch, and The Productive Edge: A New Strategy for Economic Growth (W.W. Norton, 2000.) Professor Lester is currently leading the Energy Innovation Project, an interdisciplinary MIT study of strategies for upgrading the U.S. energy innovation system.

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