Alternative Energy

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Field definition

Basic Definition

"According to New Energy Finance, the clean energy sector grew to over $148 billion in 2007, up forty-one percent from 2006 despite the last summer’s credit crunch."(Ward et all, 2008)

Alternative energy technologies produce energy while causing less environmental damage than traditional means of energy production like the fossil fuels, coal, oil, and natural gas. Alternative energy technologies are also referred to as clean technology (Cleantech) or renewable energy technology. Alternative energies are an array of distinct technologies, services, and products that are designed to reduced greenhouse gas emissions while promoting efficient energy use and the conservation of natural resources. These technologies vary immensely in type, innovation cycles, maturity and technoeconomic readiness. They can also be divided into energy supply and energy end-use innovations. Energy supply technologies are those that produce energy for use by consumers, while energy end-use technologies are those that promote efficient use of that energy. Alternative energy supply technologies include wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, biofuels, tidal, wave & ocean energy, nuclear, hydropower, fuel cells, clean coal, and certain types of high-efficiency, low emissions combined cycle natural gas turbines. Energy end-use technologies include energy efficient lightbulbs, home appliances, and fuel efficient, hybrid, or plug-in automobiles. Our research is focused on three energy supply technologies, solar, wind, and tidal/wave.

The importance of alternative energy technologies is not only environmental, but also geopolitical. The US goal of energy security - a deeper politicized issue - is motivated by the objectives of reducing the dependency on foreign sources of oil, controlling prices, and achieving a diversity of energy supplies.

The primary barriers to a wide adoption of alternative energy technologies are their higher cost relative to fossil fuels, the resistance to their adoption from the incumbent fossil technologies that hold great power in the industry and with the government, and the inconsistent and often ineffectual government subsidy programs that help bridge the price gap between alternative technologies and the incumbents. Due to these barriers, alternative energy technologies have not gained the widespread use to compete with fossil fuel technologies, and have generally gained very limited market share. Greater R&D funding, both public and private, and government subsidies to stimulate the demand for these technologies, will be needed to bring the costs of the technologies down and encourage their adoption at levels that can reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and therefore reduce the US’s carbon emissions.

A wide variety of actors are involved in the alternative energy sector including government agencies, universities, and Alternative Energy Companies. Additionally, venture capitalists, nonprofit organizations, environmental advocates, and attorneys all play important supporting roles.

Conferences and State Task Forces provide important collaboration opportunities. Identification of challenges and opportunities for projects may be established at these meetings and collaboration continues through email contact and conference calls. Government agencies and universities appear to be more eager to participate in data sharing than energy companies who are less consistent in sharing their data. While there may be differences between the main actors when it comes to data and research sharing, collaboration on policy appears to be strong from all the actors in this sector.

An example of industry collaboration can be seen in the “Iowa Alliance for Wind Innovation and Novel Development” which is a partnership between “state and local governments, the community colleges, universities, the private sector, associations and community organizations, and the federal government.”

The information above is largely the result of impressions of the alternative energy sector collected through research and experience.

Focus Market Segments

  • Wind
    • Wind energy refers generally to the utilization of wind for generating power with turbine technology. Effective wind power generation is related to the performance of wind turbines, which are capable of adjusting the blade angles and orientation such that the angle of attack with respect to the wind direction is changed to increase energy capture. Following the recent push for wind power to be a mainstream player in the world’s energy markets, there is an increasing need to improve reliability and turbine performance, and to develop technologies for effective largescale wind plants. It is certain that increased development efforts and innovation will be required to expand the wind energy industry. See: Wind Energy Multiyear Program Plan For 2007-2012 and other reports
  • Solar
    • "solar energy development is moving solar technologies on a path toward full competitiveness with conventional power generation. One example of solar technologies is photovoltaic cells, which convert sunlight directly into electricity and are made of semiconductors such as crystalline silicon or various other thin-film materials. Another example is concentrating solar power technologies, which use reflective materials to concentrate the sun’s heat energy, ultimately driving a generator to produce electricity. These technologies include dish/engine systems, parabolic troughs, and central power towers. To overcome the cost-effective challenges of solar energy, there is an intense interest in developing new materials, photovoltaic cell designs, and large-scale solar energy systems." (Ward et al, 2008)
  • Tidal
    • "The development technology that generates electricity from ocean waves, tides, and river currents is still in its infancy." (Lane et al. 2007)
    • "Because the development and application of these technologies are in the precommercial stage, the regulatory requirements governing their implementation are not always clear." (Lane et al. 2007)
    • "Ocean energy comes in a variety of forms such as geothermal vents, and ocean currents and waves. The most commercially viable resources studied so far are ocean currents and waves which have both undergone limited commercial development." (Muetze & Vining n.d.)
    • "Most importantly, waves are a regular source of power with an intensity that can be accurately predicted several days before their arrival [4], more predictable than wind or solar energy." (Muetze & Vining n.d.)

Deprioritized Market Segments

  • Geothermal energy generation
  • Biofuels
  • Nuclear
  • Clean coal
  • Other Water technologies, such as Hydropower

Excluded From Field Definition

  • Energy storage
  • New pollution-pollution abatement
  • Recycling
  • Cleaning technologies
  • Carbon control technologies



See: Alternative Energy Paper

Possible journal or working paper submission sites

Essay on EFRC Survey

See: EFRC Survey

Based on this Survey


See: The Political Economy of Intellectual Property in the Emerging Alternative Energy Market
By Carolina Rossini and Silas Bauer

Background Research and Resources for Publications

Study of the field

Analysis of the field with basis on ICP Main Questions

  1. Overview of Economics of Intellectual Property in AE
  2. Give an overall picture of the AE field
  3. Country AE Profiles
  4. Innovations in Wind, Solar and Tidal
  5. Legal tools available for and in use by the actors of AE field: IP in AE
  6. competitive advantages in AE
  7. IP Profile of Biggest for-profit companies in AE
  8. IP Profile of non-profit companies in AE
  9. IP Profile of Universities working in AE
  10. IP Profile of Associations in AE
  11. Commons based cases in AE


Bibliography by Research Question

Bibliography by Resource Type

Survey with EFRCs

We assembled a questionnaire that was sent to a number the Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRC). The EFRCs are new US Department of Energy centers tasked with particular areas of alternative energy research. Our goal was to determine how their government R&D funds are being allocated and how intellectual property is treated in theses centers, and if there is any knowldge governance structured which spur openness and cooperation.

Additionally, we wanted to capture if and how the government is suggesting or mandating specific knowledge governance arrangements that favor openness and cooperation. Thus, we developed a series of questions and, after trying to perform the interview by phone, we sent them to Dr. Robin Hayes, a AAAS Fellow working with the EFRC management team. See: Questions posed to the DOE-Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

Possible Special Case Studies in AE

Under this section we will explore possible special case studies that will later be transformed into papers under the AE Field Intellectual Property Profile.

Spring Conference