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Innovation in breakthrough energy technologies is notoriously challenging, despite having potentially large rewards. Individual innovations are embedded in larger systems where change is very hard. These innovations often carry significant capital costs to demonstrate, commercialize, or reach economies of scale. Unlike the latest cell phone, consumers are often unwilling to pay more for a new energy innovation, especially when the rewards are in the future.

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In his annual State of the Union address, President Obama declared: “I will not walk away from clean energy.” His words were a sharp rebuttal to critics harping on the Solyndra bankruptcy and others making dire predictions about the downfall of the renewable energy industry. So, who is right? Will 2012 be a breakthrough year for renewable, or will it collapse?

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This post was written with Sara-Katherine Coxon, Objective Coordinator at the World Resources Institute.

“Smog was a daily occurrence, something you could taste and see.”

This reflection came from William Ruckelshaus, the first U.S. EPA administrator, recalling the early 1970’s when he worked in the Nixon administration to pass the historic Clean Air Act.

He continued: “The result of this was a public deeply concerned about the environment, and a Congress which gave into public demand by setting federal laws to regulate emission levels.” Ruckelshaus was speaking at a roundtable discussion this week hosted by the World Resources Institute, moderated by Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). The event featured Ruckelshaus and former EPA Administrator William Reilly, as well as business and public health experts.

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On January 23, WRI will host a high-profile roundtable discussion on “The State of the Clean Air Act: Past, Present and Future.” The event will be moderated by Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), and will feature former EPA Administrators William Ruckelshaus and William Reilly, and other speakers.

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As we enter a new year, the world continues to be in the grips of dual crises. A stubborn economic downturn with widespread job losses combined with accelerating global warming threatening vulnerable communities. Many argue that dealing with climate change in the midst of an economic slump will hurt recovery efforts. The underlying reality, however, is quite the opposite. Not only can preparing for climate change offer opportunities for economic growth, it would be unwise to pursue one without the other.

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As the year winds down, it’s a good time to take stock of climate policy in the United States. Here’s a quick round up of what happened -- or didn’t happen -- in 2011.

The year began with big questions about what the Obama Administration and states would do to address climate change and clean energy, absent a comprehensive federal climate policy. This year’s record was decidedly mixed. Not as much happened as some would have liked, but it was in total better than many feared as the year began.

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This post was written with Sarah Lupberger, Project Coordinator with WRI's Electricity Governance Initiative.

A year and a half has passed since a political uprising rocked the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. The violent protests in April 2010 were in part a response to mismanagement of the energy sector and a loss of public trust in the government’s ability to provide essential services like electricity. These protests eventually grew into a revolution that ousted President Bakiyev.

Today, electricity sector reforms and engagement with civil society groups have begun to show signs of progress, according to WRI’s partners in the Electricity Governance Initiative (EGI).

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