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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Showing posts for "Clean Energy"

Budget Deal Oil-for-Renewables Trade Would Substantially Reduce Carbon Emissions

by Michael Levi and Varun Sivaram
Solar panels on top of a housing complex in National City, California (Reuters/Mike Blake)

This post is coauthored by Varun Sivaram and Michael Levi.

Congress is set to vote on a budget deal that would permanently end the long-standing ban on crude oil exports in exchange for temporary extensions of tax credits that support solar and wind energy. Michael wrote on Tuesday about the market, climate, and geopolitical impact of lifting the oil export ban. In this post we’re going to estimate the climate impact of the renewables tax credit extensions. We focus on 2016-2020 for three reasons: (a) it’s the period for which we have the best data; (b) beyond 2020, complex interactions with the Clean Power Plan make things much tougher to model; and (c) most important, beyond 2020, the primary effect of the ITC/PTC extension should be to make reducing emissions cheaper, and thus enable stronger policy, something that can’t be quantitatively modeled. Read more »

Lessons in Cleantech Success from Scandinavia (Pt. 2): The Importance of the Danish Manufacturing Revival

by Varun Sivaram
A eletricity pole transporting wind energy to Danish cities and industries in Valsgaard, northern Jutland (Reuters/Henning Bagger)

This post is co-written by Ben Armstrong and Varun Sivaram. Ben is a Ph.D. Candidate at MIT focused on Political Economy and a researcher at the MIT Governance Lab.

In Part 1 of this series, we posed a puzzle: why has Denmark had more success at clean tech innovation than its neighbor, Sweden? Neither demand-pull conditions, which provide a sales environment that invites innovation, nor technology-push factors, which directly support technology research, development, and demonstration, appears to favor Denmark over Sweden. Both countries have similar environmental policies and environmentally conscious populaces, and Sweden has actually been more successful than Denmark in inducing other forms of innovation, especially in information and communications technology (ICT). But Denmark leads by a substantial margin in patents for climate change mitigation and the commercialization of eco-friendly technology. What explains Denmark’s outperformance in cleantech? Read more »

How India Could Actually Reach Its Audacious Solar Targets

by Varun Sivaram
Woman installs off-grid solar in Tinginaput, India (UK Department for International Development)

PARIS—Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has set a dramatic target for solar power: 100 Gigawatts (GW) by 2022, or more than half of all solar installed to date globally by the end of 2014. Back in March, I questioned whether these targets were realistic, given that India currently has less than 5 GW installed today. But after digging into India’s progress to date, asking Modi administration officials about the sincerity of their target, and understanding the calculus of Indian and foreign solar developers who are pledging billions of dollars of solar investment, I am turning into a believer. India’s target, still aspirational, could actually materialize. Read more »

Lessons in Cleantech Success from Scandinavia (Pt. 1): The Puzzle

by Varun Sivaram
Department of NREL engineers review a simulation of the Lillgrund Wind Farm in Denmark (U.S. Department of Energy)

This post is co-written by Ben Armstrong and Varun Sivaram. Ben is a Ph.D. Candidate at MIT focused on Political Economy and a researcher at the MIT Governance Lab.

A global race is underway to dominate the clean technology (“cleantech”) sector. As international efforts to curb climate change intensify (the Paris climate talks kick off next week), demand for cleantech products that generate energy from renewable sources and reduce emissions will grow.  Countries that invent and scale such products will reap the economic benefits. For those seeking to understand why some countries are successful at building thriving cleantech sectors and others less so, a pair of Scandinavian neighbors—nearly twins in many economic and political respects—present a puzzle worth pondering. Read more »

CAFE Standards Protect Innovation From Low Oil Prices

by Varun Sivaram
The Tesla Model S is presented during the media day at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, Germany, September 15, 2015. (Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach)


Should the government require automakers to improve the fuel economy of new vehicles each year? If so, at what pace should such improvements proceed? Responding to those questions, this week Michael Levi and I released a peer-reviewed discussion paper urging the next administration to maintain President Obama’s planned Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. We argue: Read more »

Five Takeaways on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan

by Michael Levi

The final version of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (his carbon dioxide regulations for new and existing power plants) will be released later today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many details are already online. The new rules are an important step forward but certainly not without their flaws. Here are five important things, good and bad, that today’s dueling press releases might not tell you. Read more »

Five Things I Learned About the Future of Solar Power and the Electricity Grid

by Varun Sivaram
The entrance to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado The entrance to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado (U.S. Department of Energy)

Nestled in the foothills of the Rockies in Golden, Colorado, the Energy Department’s  National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was established in 1977 to help bring new energy technologies to market. Today it is one of seventeen national laboratories overseen by the Energy Department and the only one whose sole focus is renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. I spent a full day touring the facilities and interviewing researchers working on a range of solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies and on integration of clean energy into the electricity grids of the future. Here’s what I learned: Read more »

To Succeed, Solar Perovskites Need to Escape the Ivory Tower

by Varun Sivaram
Solar perovskite cells, patterned with gold electrodes, await tests that measure their efficiency at converting sunlight into electricity Solar perovskite cells, patterned with gold electrodes, await tests that measure their efficiency at converting sunlight into electricity (Plamen Petkov)

What will tomorrow’s solar panels look like? This week, along with colleagues from Oxford and MIT, I published a feature in Scientific American making the case for cheap and colorful solar coatings derived from a new class of solar materials: perovskites. In this post, I’ll critically examine prospects for commercialization of solar perovskites, building on our article’s claim that this technology could represent a significant improvement over current silicon solar panels. We argue: Read more »

A Clean Energy Revolution is Tougher than You Think

by Michael Levi
Flickr(CC)/Hiroo Yamagata

Had you asked most analysts a year ago what it would take to decarbonize the transportation system without aggressive new policy you’d have got an answer something like this: You need low-carbon technologies that can beat $100 oil on its own terms. And if you ask the same question today about electric power, you’ll usually hear that zero-carbon technologies need to come in at costs under the ever-rising cost of grid-distributed, fossil fuel generated electricity, a rather fat (and growing) target. Read more »

Do India’s Renewable Energy Targets Make Sense?

by Varun Sivaram
Flickr(CC)/Hiroo Yamagata

By way of introduction, I’m brand new to CFR and excited to contribute to this blog. I joined last week as a fellow in CFR’s Center for Geoeconomic Studies, and I plan to write about renewable energy technology, climate policy, and national security—with an eye toward emerging markets. Before CFR, I did stints at McKinsey’s cleantech practice and in municipal government, working on energy policy for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. I also studied physics at Stanford and Oxford—my group in Oxford researched third generation solar panels that we hope will one day make colorful coatings for skyscraper windows. Read more »