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MIT to review U.S. energy technology innovation

A two-year, $2-million grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) will enable researchers at the MIT Industrial Performance Center to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the energy technology innovation system in the United States.

Using the DDCF grant, MIT researchers will assess the strengths and weaknesses of this system, and will consider the entire complex of incentives, regulations, markets, and public and private institutions within which the development, demonstration, adoption and diffusion of new energy technologies takes place. Their work will eventually lead to recommendations for improvements to federal and state research, development and demonstration policies, as well as mechanisms for early adoption and large-scale deployment of supply- and demand-side innovations.

Richard Lester, professor of nuclear science and engineering and director of the MIT Industrial Performance Center, and the principal investigator on the project, said there is an urgent need to think creatively and rigorously about how to improve the way in which new energy technologies are developed and rolled out.

"Massive changes in the way energy is supplied and used will be needed over the next few decades if the world is to have a realistic chance of avoiding the worst environmental and economic consequences of global climate change," Lester said. "The U.S. role will be critical. While technological ingenuity will be essential, it will be equally important to have an institutional setup capable of supporting commercial demonstration, early adoption and large-scale deployment of new energy technologies and services."

"MIT researchers can play a critical role by providing an analytical basis for the development of national energy and environmental policies. This grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation will enable the Industrial Performance Center to focus expert knowledge from across the Institute on the crucial question of how to strengthen the nation's energy innovation system. We are very grateful to the foundation for giving us this opportunity," said MIT Vice President for Research Claude Canizares.

Ernest J. Moniz, director of the MIT Energy Initiative, said the global energy supply and delivery system has considerable inertia.

"We need to introduce clean technologies at large scale and in a relatively short time to adequately mitigate climate change risk. DDCF's support for research into how energy technology innovation and deployment really works will pay major dividends for meeting the clean energy challenge. This is an essential complement to the work being advanced across campus through the MIT Energy Initiative to develop transformational energy technology and policy," Moniz said.

The grant is part of DDCF's $100-million Climate Change Initiative, launched last year with the goal of building a clean-energy economy. The DDCF award to the MIT Industrial Performance Center, announced Thursday, Feb. 7, was one of five new grants--totaling $6,632,000 over three years--to accelerate the development of clean-energy technologies. The grants will enable leading universities and nonprofit organizations to analyze and recommend policy options to stimulate the technological innovation needed for society to meet its energy demands while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The initial round of grants from the Climate Change Initiative, announced last summer, focused on ways to speed the adoption of existing clean-energy technologies, including through the design of optimal domestic and international pricing policies for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. In that round, MIT received a two-year, $500,000 grant to enable researchers at MIT's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research to conduct research and analysis that will help inform the U.S. policy process on climate change.

The mission of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is to improve the quality of people's lives through grants supporting the performing arts, environmental conservation, medical research and the prevention of child maltreatment, and through preservation of the cultural and environmental legacy of Doris Duke's properties.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 13, 2008 (download PDF).

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