Laura Diaz Anadon presents findings from the "Transforming U.S. Energy Innovation" study she led as director of the Belfer Center’s Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group. ETIP released the report at an event in Washington, D.C.
Q&A Laura Diaz Anadon
Newsletter Article, Belfer Center Newsletter, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Laura Diaz Anadon (LDA) is the associate director of the Belfer Center’s Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, director of the Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group, and adjunct lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. She investigates the patterns and processes of technology innovation, and especially the role of government policy in the development and deployment of advanced and cleaner energy technologies.
Q: For the past three years, you have led the ETIP research team in a major investigation of opportunities for expanding energy innovation in the United States, concluding with the release in November of your final report: Transforming U.S. Energy Innovation. In your judgment, what are the most important findings from the study?
LDA: I would highlight four main findings. First, our study showed that increased investments in energy research, development, and demonstration (ERD&D) from $5-$10 billion/year could yield large economic and environmental benefits to the United States. We found that, given the information we have today, it is difficult to justify really large ERD&D increases in the short term and that the optimal allocation of funds to different technologies is sensitive to the policy environment. Second, energy prices, which can be affected through taxes or carbon prices among other tools, are significant drivers of innovation in the private sector. Third, while the U.S. National Laboratories (a major part of the U.S. Department of Energy) have played an important role over the years, several factors are limiting their effectiveness. And fourth, the United States is facing increased competition in energy technology markets from other countries, increasing the need to treat international cooperation strategically.
In our research we also came across several cross-cutting issues that are hindering the U.S. innovation system as a whole. These are the lack of stable and coherent policies, the need for a strengthened interaction between the government and the private sector, the need for a portfolio of mechanisms supporting “different types innovation,” and the lack of a strategic approach to improving the effectiveness in government programs by learning from experience.
Q: Since the release of your report, you’ve received significant attention from Congressional members and committees, the Department of Energy, and other policymakers. What are your highest hopes for impact from this study?
LDA: We hope that our research will help make the case that, even in times of budget difficulties, strategic investments in ERD&D are extremely important and should not be sacrificed. In many areas, businesses have short investment horizons and only the government can help fill the gap. In so far as our study will help build support for gradual increases in investments, we will have been successful. In addition, few studies had pointed to the need to rethink the management of the National Laboratories, and to improve data collection and evaluation funding partnerships with the private sector and other countries. By calling attention to this issue, we hope to increase the bang-for-the-buck of government efforts.
Q: What lies ahead for ETIP now that you’ve concluded this major energy innovation study?
LDA: We have been working on a few other projects in parallel. I am particularly excited about our work on: (1) understanding the suitability of different organizational models and policies to promote different types of innovation; (2) performing quantitative systems-level analysis of the water energy-nexus and its policy implications (e.g., one important case is the development of shale gas resources in the United States); and (3) developing methods for incorporating technological and other uncertainties in decisions about policies affecting innovation in energy systems. ETIP will continue to undertake comparative studies across different countries wherever possible to enrich our conclusions and to increase their applicability to other contexts.
Q: As director of ETIP, you have hired an impressive team of researchers from around the world. What do you look for when you’re seeking research fellows for your team?
LDA: We look for a record of academic excellence and scholarship, and also for a deep interest in solving current or future policy questions related to energy and its impacts on the environment. Most of our researchers are very knowledgeable about how different technologies work, allowing our work to consider the technological detail, as well as the prospects for technical change. We look for pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellows who are extremely motivated and we encourage them to engage with policy makers and other actors to ensure that our findings reach those who may benefit from them. In addition to our pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellows, we always have a few experienced practitioners in the energy sector that enrich the group and improve our understanding of issues on the ground.
Q: You have a doctorate and a master's degree in chemical engineering from the UK, a master's degree in public policy from Harvard Kennedy School, and work experience that includes engineering research for large private companies and consulting for banks on credit risk models for financing technology projects. What are some of the catalysts that propelled you from your hometown in Spain to the Belfer Center?
LDA: I grew up in a family of natural scientists and engineers. On weekends, we would drive up into the mountains surrounding my hometown to go hiking. On these trips, I learned not only about the flora, fauna, and geology of my region, but also about its power plants, dairy farms, and water treatment plants. I became interested in sustainable development, so decided to study chemical engineering in order to contribute to the technical development of better industrial practices. Over time, however, I realized that I was even more interested in the bigger picture -- in how governments and other institutions drive the direction and speed of technological innovation, and how they can minimize its unintended consequences. I came to the Belfer Center because it is one of the best places in the world to pursue research on the processes that drive technological change and their interaction with public policy.
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