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 "Efficiency"

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 »

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) 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 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 »

Revisiting High Oil Prices and the U.S. Economy

by Daniel P. Ahn

Given how oil is back in the media spotlight and as oil markets brace for the implementation of the Iranian oil embargo, it seems as good a time as any to revisit the question of high oil prices and their impact on the U.S. economy (as well as revitalize my hitherto moribund blog output), discussed at length in this post. Read more »

Are the New CAFE Standards for Trucks Justified?

by Michael Levi

Megan McArdle and Mark Kleiman have been engaged in a little debate on their blogs over the merits of the new CAFE standards for medium and heavy duty vehicles that were announced last week. McArdle criticizes the standards by pointing out (correctly) that commercial trucking operations are pretty sophisticated and cost conscious, which means that unlike car consumers, they’re quite likely to already buy efficient vehicles when high fuel costs merits that. Kleiman replies in defense of the standards by asserting (also correctly) that there are externalities involved: even if no individual trucker benefits from increasing fuel efficiency, society can gain as a whole, since reducing aggregate oil consumption should cut the price of oil. McArdle responds in his comments with three basic claims. First, the rebound effect for heavy trucks should be large, i.e. truckers will drive more if they get more efficient trucks, which will deeply erode any claimed oil savings. Second, since truckers buy diesel rather than oil, the impact of higher fuel efficiency on oil prices will be limited. Third, there are other externalities arising from CAFE standards, some of which may be negative. Read more »

Mangling Energy Efficiency Economics

by Michael Levi

Switch to a more efficient car, and you’ll drive a bit more, since extra gasoline now costs you less. This well-known phenomenon is known as the “rebound effect”. In the case of cars, it eats up about ten percent of the fuel savings from greater fuel efficiency. But at the level of economies, many believe, it’s much worse. All the money saved through more efficient automobiles and better refrigerators doesn’t just mean more summer road trips and Sub-Zeros – it means more money pumped into the whole economy, and hence greater emissions overall. Read more »