Challenging the Clean Energy Deployment Consensus

October 24, 2013

WASHINGTON (October 23, 2013) - Solving climate change requires widespread global adoption of low-carbon energy sources. Achieving this transformation depends on clean energy alternatives with the same or better cost and quality characteristics as fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, the consensus among leading climate advocates is that we have all the clean energy technology we need today and that the policy task at hand is to focus on deployment.  For them, the principal tools to accomplish this are regulatory mandates coupled with subsidies for clean energy and taxes on dirty energy. However, this "Clean Energy Deployment Consensus" is fundamentally flawed not only because clean energy technologies cost more than fossil fuels outside of niche markets, but because there is no evidence that the proposed mandates, subsidies and taxes have any chance of being adopted on a global basis.

To analyze the misconceptions of the Deployment Consensus and demonstrate the need for a comprehensive energy innovation strategy, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) has released Challenging the Clean Energy Deployment Consensus. The report argues only a determined and fully funded clean energy innovation policy strategy will put clean energy at cost and performance levels on par with dirty energy, allow it to displace dirty energy globally, and provide consumers with worldwide low-carbon energy options that allow them to voluntarily "go green."

"Since 2009, 71 percent of direct, annual federal investment for energy innovation has supported the deployment of existing energy technologies," notes Megan Nicholson, a policy analyst with ITIF and co-author of the report. "This overemphasis on one aspect of energy innovation fails to recognize the barriers to the widespread deployment of clean energy, which also involves research, development, demonstration, and smarter deployment policies."

The authors analyze the roots of the Consensus and its assumptions about existing technologies, including a critical review of the core studies deployment defenders rely on for their claims that we can make massive strides in clean energy adoption with existing technologies. They also assesse the innovation challenges pointed to by many of these studies, which holders of the Deployment Consensus usually gloss over, such as those related to full grid integration, the need for low-cost high capacity energy storage, and the challenges in renewable technology cost reductions. The report concludes by presenting an innovation-based policy framework for building a robust and global clean energy innovation ecosystem, including the use of smarter deployment policies to drive energy innovation.

"It is critical that we start taking the innovation challenges to a clean energy future seriously. It has to be a priority and more than just a buzzword used to sell any and all clean energy policy," adds Matthew Stepp, Senior Policy Analyst with ITIF and co-author of the report. "At the end of the day, if we want to address climate change, we need a strong innovation system, which requires consistent public investment and policy reform-much more than the subsidies, mandates, and carbon prices the Deployment Consensus typically prioritizes."

Read the report.


The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank whose mission is to formulate and promote public policies to advance technological innovation and productivity internationally, in Washington, and in the states. Recognizing the vital role of technology in ensuring prosperity, ITIF focuses on innovation, productivity, and digital economy issues. Learn more at

Contact: Samantha Greene
Phone: (202) 626 5744