Bridging sustainability and innovation through policy

A rooftop solar panel system at Jim Winkle's Madison home collects solar energy on June 12, 2007. Winkle, a systems programmer with the Division of Information Technology (DoIT) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recently installed the solar panel system, designed to support his household's annual 2,000 kilowatt-hours energy need.<br />

June 23, 2015 | by Maija Inveiss

A group of researchers, professors and students gathered in the Wisconsin Energy Institute June 17 to hear energy policy expert Gary Radloff describe how a commitment to technology innovation can drive a stronger, cleaner energy system.

Radloff, the director of Midwest Energy Policy Analysis at the Wisconsin Energy Institute, says current state and national policies may be inadequate to achieve stated U.S. goals to reduce greenhouse gases and develop sustainable clean energy solutions. His work is exploring a way to identify policies that will best promote a more resilient electric power sector, a cleaner environment, and increased economic opportunity.

The project is supported by a Sustainability Innovation in Research and Education (SIRE) award from the UW–Madison Office of Sustainability.

Last week he presented a paper entitled “Policy Strategies to Catalyze the Energy Technology Innovation System in Wisconsin and the United States” that describes a systems approach to climate change, energy, and innovation policy.

Radloff says sustainable solutions will require linking the changing marketplace with innovation and policy. His work focuses on an approach known as energy technology innovation systems, which provides a framework for identifying the most promising trends and effective policies.

“Innovation systems are the elements and relationships which interact with production and diffusion in use of new and eventually useful knowledge,” Radloff says.

The research project was designed to combine innovation and sustainability in terms of policymaking. Radloff noted that the two concepts are often regarded separately and identified policy as a potential bridge.

“When observing policymaking, innovation and sustainability issues have typically been done in their silos and now they are starting to come together and be sort of one policy intervention,” Radloff says.

Radloff says an energy technology innovation system provides structure and lessons on how to achieve what is needed for innovation and policy in the future.

Throughout his presentation, Radloff highlighted seven functions of a successful energy technology innovation system, including entrepreneurial activity, knowledge development and diffusion through networks, market formation, and creation of legitimacy. These functions are a useful guide for policy and systems thinking because they help clarify and streamline the process for a range of audiences, he says.

He is now meeting with legislators, including the chairs of energy committees, and sees the message of encouraging technology innovation resonating with policymakers.

He next plans to move from qualitative analysis and case studies toward a more quantitative approach including modeling.

A full version of his research paper is available here.