CFR Presents

Energy, Security, and Climate

CFR experts examine the science and foreign policy surrounding climate change, energy, and nuclear security.

Why the Silicon Valley Model Failed Cleantech

by Varun Sivaram Tuesday, July 26, 2016
An organic solar cell is spin-coated onto a glass substrate (BASF SE) An organic solar cell is spin-coated onto a glass substrate (BASF SE)

It’s no secret that venture capital (VC) has fled from the clean energy technology (cleantech) sector, and as a result, new cleantech company formation has slowed. But why did this happen, and is there a future for cleantech?

To answer these questions, today I’m excited to release an MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) paper entitled, “Venture Capital and Cleantech: The Wrong Model for Energy Innovation,” with my colleagues Ben Gaddy at the Clean Energy Trust and Frank O’Sullivan at MITEI. Read more »

Securitization: The Next Big Thing in Solar Energy Financing

by Varun Sivaram Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Vivint Solar technicians install solar panels on the roof of a house in California (Reuters/Mario Anzuoni). Vivint Solar technicians install solar panels on the roof of a house in California (Reuters/Mario Anzuoni).

This post was co-written by Sagatom Saha, research associate for energy and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Recent headlines from the solar energy industry have been bleak. SunEdison—a solar developer which just a year ago aspired to join the ranks of multinational oil companies as an energy “supermajor”—declared bankruptcy in April, after wiping out $9 billion in market value. And the share prices of Yieldcos, the financial vehicles which promised to tap vast capital markets to finance renewable energy projects, have plummeted as well. Last year, I wrote that Yieldcos’ aggressive growth targets and financial model made them vulnerable to the vicious downward spiral that has played out. Read more »

Moving On

by Michael Levi Monday, July 18, 2016

This is my last post on this blog. I start a job on Tuesday on the National Economic Council Staff; blogging isn’t part of the portfolio.

When I started this blog six years ago, I never imagined it would become such an important part of my professional life. It’s been gratifying to know that there’s an audience for analysis-driven blogging on energy and climate from an independent point of view. And it’s been a treat to engage with readers. Read more »

Why the United States Should Respond to Oil Price Volatility By Reducing Oil Consumption

by Varun Sivaram Thursday, June 16, 2016
A service truck drives past an oil well on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota (REUTERS/Andrew Cullen). A service truck drives past an oil well on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota (REUTERS/Andrew Cullen).

This post is co-authored by Sagatom Saha, research associate for energy and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Read the report from a recent CFR workshop on oil price volatility. The workshop, hosted by Michael Levi and Varun Sivaram, was made possible by the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Read more »

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve: A Policy Response to Oil Price Volatility?

by Guest blogger for Varun Sivaram Wednesday, June 15, 2016
A maze of crude oil pipes and valves at the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in Freeport, Texas (REUTERS/Richard Carson). A maze of crude oil pipes and valves at the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in Freeport, Texas (REUTERS/Richard Carson).

This guest post is authored by Jason Bordoff, professor of professional practice and founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. For more on the causes, consequences, and policy implications of oil price volatility, read the report from a recent CFR workshop. Read more »

Beyond Climate Confusion: Why Both Energy Innovation and Deployment Matter

by Varun Sivaram Wednesday, May 4, 2016
A simulation of an advanced nuclear reactor design (Idaho National Laboratory) A simulation of an advanced nuclear reactor design (Idaho National Laboratory)

I have a new essay in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs—“The Clean Energy Revolution: Fighting Climate Change with Innovation”—which I co-authored with Teryn Norris, a former advisor at the Department of Energy (DOE). We are grateful for the positive and constructive comments we’ve received, but I do want to respond to a pair of critical posts by Joseph Romm, formerly an acting Assistant Secretary at the DOE under President Clinton. I hope we can put to rest an unhelpful debate among those passionate about confronting climate change, or, at the very least, respectfully agree to disagree. Read more »

Liberal Bias and Climate Science

by Michael Levi Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Nuclear_Power_Plant_Cattenom

Eduardo Porter has a column in the New York Times today arguing that “Liberal Biases, Too, May Block Progress on Climate Change”. (Yes, that’s a headline that he didn’t write, but it’s a good summary of the column’s message.) I’m on board with that bottom line. But his central example of liberal hostility to the “the scientific consensus” unintentionally highlights a different problem: conflation of science with values and judgment. Read more »

Why Solar Will Need to Cost 25¢ Per Watt by 2050, And How the Industry Might Get There

by Varun Sivaram Thursday, April 7, 2016
An operator inspects equipment used to fabricate the most efficient solar cells in the world, jointly developed by SolarJunction and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Daniel Derkacs/SolarJunction). An operator inspects equipment used to fabricate the most efficient solar cells in the world, jointly developed by SolarJunction and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Daniel Derkacs/SolarJunction).

This post is co-written with Shayle Kann, senior vice president of research at Greentech Media.

For solar power to become truly mainstream, how much should it cost? And is the industry on track to meet that target? We tackle each of those questions in an article released today in the journal Nature Energy. In a nutshell, our answers are: for solar power to supply nearly a third of the world’s electricity by 2050, it will ultimately need to cost around 25 cents per watt (in today’s dollars), fully installed. And that target may be out of reach without a major technological shift. Read more »

Japan Should Increase Its Target for Renewable Energy, In Case Nuclear Restarts Stall

by Varun Sivaram Monday, April 4, 2016
An aerial view shows the No.1 and No.2 reactor buildings at Kyushu Electric Power's Sendai nuclear power station, the only two units operating in Japan (Reuters/Kyodo TPX). An aerial view shows the No.1 and No.2 reactor buildings at Kyushu Electric Power's Sendai nuclear power station, the only two units operating in Japan (Reuters/Kyodo TPX).

I’ve been traveling in Japan, meeting with government officials, power sector executives, and energy policy scholars. I thank CFR life member Bill Martin, Washington Policy and Analysis, and the Japanese Federation of Electric Power Companies for generously hosting me. Read more »