Virulent Word of Mouse

November 9, 2009

Lessons from many Industries for Innovation in Energy?


Let me plug a recent paper I wrote, and, at the same time, publicize the larger and very significant project in which it is embedded.

On October 23, 2009 I participated in a conference with the title, Accelerating Energy Innovation: Lessons from Multiple Sectors. It was held at the National Press Club in Washington DC. It was sponsored by the NBER. Here is a link. Check out the videos, as well as the links to slides and book chapters.

The conference presented the findings of a forthcoming book edited by Professor Rebecca Henderson, Harvard University and NBER and Richard G. Newell, Duke University (on leave).

Here is a summary of that book: Significantly increasing the rate of innovation in the energy sector is a critical part of a cost effective response to the threat of climate change. How might such acceleration best be accomplished? What role should public policy play in general? The federal government in particular?

The conference explored the histories of innovation in four particularly innovative sectors of the U.S. economy: agriculture, chemicals, life sciences, and information technology. The authors set out to explore the roots of accelerated innovation in their sector. These authors focus particularly on the role that public policy has played in kick starting rapid innovation and in sustaining it once in motion.

The focus here is largely on the United States and almost overwhelmingly on the last fifty years, but the contributors to this volume nonetheless believe that there is much here that may help to inform policymaking going forward.

I was fifth presenter. I had a challenging task, summarizing the government’s role in kick-starting the Internet. Here is a synopsis:

The Internet began as a government sponsored operation in the 1970s and 1980s and grew into a commercial industry in the 1990s. As the Internet diffused, it touched a wide breadth of economic activities. The diffusion transformed the use of information technology throughout the economy.

What economic lessons can we learn from the Internet for large innovative efforts, such as in major energy innovation? The study divides the Internet’s development into a pre-commercial and commercial era.

The pre-commercial era illustrates the operation of several useful non-market institutional arrangements. It also illustrates a potential drawback to government sponsorship – in this instance, truncation of exploratory activity.

The commercial era illustrates a rather different set of lessons. It highlights the extraordinary power of market-oriented and widely distributed investment and adoption, which illustrates the power of market experimentation to foster innovative activity. It also illustrates a few of the conditions necessary to unleash such growth, such as standards development and competition, and nurturing legal and regulatory policies.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "Nurturing the Accumulation of Innovat…", posted with vodpod

If the conference link is down, here are other copies of the paper and slides on my page for working papers.

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