The best science and engineering are no match for the whims of lawmakers, so policy and innovation need to work hand in hand, Obama administration officials said.

Even the best energy inventions in the world won’t make a difference to the climate unless nations acknowledge the problem and spend the resources to deploy the solutions, whether it’s cleaner energy production or pricing carbon in order to keep global warming below a 2-degree-Celsius threshold.

“If you think about that number, we’ve got a relatively short span of time in which we have to find the technologies and bring that price down to minimize those greenhouse gas emissions,” said Jonathan Pershing, a former climate change negotiator now serving as principal deputy director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis.

He spoke yesterday at the tail end of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s annual summit outside Washington, D.C., an event showcasing a buffet of new clean energy projects, ideas and optimism.

“A lot of the focus has been on the technologies and not all that much necessarily focused on the policy environment, which might shape some of those technologies,” Pershing said.

It’s a reality that U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy knows all too well, with the U.S. Supreme Court issuing a stay for her agency’s signature climate policy, the Clean Power Plan.

Nonetheless, McCarthy struck a defiant tone.

“Yes, I was disappointed in the Supreme Court’s stay decision, and we will respect that, but in no way does that change the direction of energy in this country, and no way does that signal that the Clean Power Plan is not legally defensible and will not in the end win,” she said.

In the international arena, McCarthy noted that there has been progress in bridging innovation and policy, citing the Mission Innovation agreement as an example of this in action. The program, forged during the Paris climate talks late last year, commits 20 countries to double their clean energy research and development funding over five years.

“I talked to, when I was in Paris, a lot of the countries that are participating in it, and for the first time, I feel like that they, instead of being bystanders, they have become integral to pushing this issue forward,” she said.

Anticipating new energy technologies like carbon capture and energy storage, McCarthy said EPA is making sure to leave room for innovation to help states meet obligations under the Clean Power Plan and other policies.

“We are looking closely at the technology developments that are happening, and we are making sure that we are taking advantage of those,” McCarthy said.

For its part, the Obama administration has requested funding increases from Congress for energy research, proposing that ARPA-E become a billion-dollar effort by 2020 (E&E Daily, Feb. 29).

Ellen Williams, the chemist who now leads ARPA-E, said that even though climate change is a global problem, investing in energy research in the United States might be the best policy for finding a solution, since the country has such a dominant position already in basic and applied science.

“I want to push our strengths out and help get our technologies into markets all across the globe, where they can have an impact, and we’re actually already seeing that happen,” Williams said.

Even as other clean energy programs like net metering have faced opposition and rollbacks in some parts of the country, ARPA-E—with its mission of reducing emissions, increasing economic security, curbing dependence on foreign oil and maintaining an international research advantage—enjoys more widespread political support.

“Those mission goals are basically good for all seasons,” Williams said.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500