Varun Sivaram

Energy, Security, and Climate

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

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Curious About Clean Energy Innovation? Take This Class

by Varun Sivaram
Fabrication of an organic solar photovoltaic cell in the lab (BASF) Fabrication of an organic solar photovoltaic cell in the lab (BASF)

This fall, I created and taught a course at Georgetown University called “Clean Energy Innovation.” The course, offered to undergraduates studying Science, Technology, and International Affairs (STIA) in the School of Foreign Service (SFS), introduced the science, economics, and public policies related to breakthrough technologies that could jumpstart the U.S. economy and are the world’s best hope to confront climate change. Read more »

An Energy Innovation Agenda for the Trump Administration

by Varun Sivaram
Secretary of Energy nominee Rick Perry speaks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio Reuters/Mike Segar) Secretary of Energy nominee Rick Perry speaks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio Reuters/Mike Segar)

Democrats and Republicans are girding for battle over energy policy. The two parties are far apart on most issues, like the future of the Clean Power Plan and federal restrictions on oil and gas drilling. But with the Presidential election in the rearview mirror, Donald Trump and the 115th Congress have a chance to embrace a mainstream energy agenda with support from both sides of the aisle and deliver on campaign promises to create manufacturing jobs and boost exports. Read more »

Sustaining Fuel Subsidy Reform Should Be a Top U.S. Priority

by Varun Sivaram
People jostle for a pump nozzle at a petrol station during a fuel shortage in Cairo (Reuters/Abd El Ghany) People jostle for a pump nozzle at a petrol station during a fuel shortage in Cairo (Reuters/Abd El Ghany)

Last week, I released a new CFR discussion paper entitled, “Sustaining Fuel Subsidy Reform,” with my colleague Jennifer Harris. Over the last two years, governments around the world have taken advantage of the plunge in global oil prices to reduce or eliminate consumer subsidies for fuels like gasoline or natural gas. However, these reforms are often unpopular and crumble under political pressure despite their economic, security, and environmental benefits. Read more »

Four Things I Learned from Visiting Argonne National Laboratory

by Varun Sivaram
Simulation of charging the Chevrolet Volt’s lithium-ion battery, developed jointly with Argonne National Laboratory (General Motors) Simulation of charging the Chevrolet Volt’s lithium-ion battery, developed jointly with Argonne National Laboratory (General Motors)

For seventy years, Argonne has hosted cutting-edge scientific research. The first national laboratory in the United States, Argonne was created in 1946 as an extension of the Manhattan Project to develop nuclear technology. Today, its research spans high-energy physics, supercomputing, and advanced materials, but I paid a visit to Argonne last month for one reason in particular: the Laboratory has established itself as a thriving hub for research on battery energy storage. Read more »

Pairing Push and Pull Policies: A Heavy-Duty Model for Innovation

by Varun Sivaram
The Peterbilt SuperTruck makes a stop as its tests in fuel efficiency on the road (U.S. Department of Energy) The Peterbilt SuperTruck makes a stop as it tests its fuel efficiency on the road (U.S. Department of Energy)

This post is co-authored by Sagatom Saha, research associate for energy and U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

When policymakers mandate adoption of a particular technology, they run the risk that the technology may not yet exist or is too expensive for consumers. Similarly, when the government funds research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) of new technologies, it can’t be sure that any advances it underwrites will get picked up by the private sector and successfully taken to market. Even if the government pursues both activities separately—“pulling” technologies into the market through mandates or standards and “pushing” the development of new technologies through RD&D funding—these risks don’t go away. Read more »

Time to Repeal U.S. Oil and Gas Tax Breaks

by Varun Sivaram

This post is co-authored by Sagatom Saha, research associate for energy and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Read “The Impact of Removing Tax Preferences for U.S. Oil and Gas Production,” a Discussion Paper from CFR’s Program on Energy Security and Climate Change in the Center for Geoeconomic Studies. Read more »

Why the Silicon Valley Model Failed Cleantech

by Varun Sivaram
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
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 »

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

by Varun Sivaram
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 »

Beyond Climate Confusion: Why Both Energy Innovation and Deployment Matter

by Varun Sivaram
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 »