Solar Tribune

Climate Change Policy: Technological Solutions

The ability to even have a conversation about climate change policy is thanks to the impressive advancement that’s taken place in recent years in the technological sphere. By having new technologies available as tools that can prevent the future of greenhouse gas emissions that persist in the status quo, we’re able to shift the focus into how policy measures can be used to put those tools to work in the most optimal manner. That said, we’ve not yet exhausted all the technological opportunities out there that can shepherd in even greater carbon reductions and allow us to tackle climate change in newer and more innovative ways.

When focusing on climate change policies that can bring about new and improved technological solutions, some of the key areas include these:


Energy Storage Support

energy storage climate change technology policy

What is it: As intermittent renewable energy sources, namely solar and wind, become more concentrated on the grid, it becomes imperative that energy storage capacity is built out to allow for power generated during the time of peak generation (e.g., mid-afternoon when solar panels are receiving the most sunlight) to be used during times of peak demand (i.e., in the early evening hours when the sun isn’t shining but families are using energy-intensive devices). Public support for energy storage, such as R&D funding, tax incentives, and energy storage prescriptions for utilities, can push the use of energy storage to be more of a pervasive clean energy solution.

Is it enacted anywhere: The Union of Concerned Scientists notes that the U.S. government, specifically through the Department of Energy and Department of Defense, is funding advancement of electricity storage R&D.

In Favor of Energy Storage Support:

“A joint demonstration program between DOD and DOE will also be able to utilize existing test-bed infrastructure and provide key field data at both agencies that will help accelerate commercial deployment of long-duration energy storage technologies to increase energy resilience and security”- Senator Angus King of Maine

Against Energy Storage Support:

“Many implausible technological changes would have to happen before batteries will be capable of doing what clean-energy visionaries hope.”- Ross Marchand, policy director at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance

Read more:

U.S. Grid Energy Storage Factsheets – University of Michigan

Managing the Future of Energy Storage – Institute for Policy Integrity

Energy Storage for the Grid: Policy Options for Sustaining Innovation – MIT Energy Initiative


Distributed Energy Resources on the Grid

What is it: For many decades, the structure of the utility sector has been one of large-scale utility power generation at central locations that would then get transported over miles and miles of transmission and distribution wires until it reached its ultimate destination. But now, the saying in the industry commonly goes, the 21st century utility sector deserves a 21st century grid, and one of the key ways the grid is being reimagined and modernized is by adapting to a paradigm of more distributed energy resources (DERs). DERs can take many forms, such as smaller scale wind farms, solar panels installed on-site, or even non-generation sources like demand side management practices (where reducing energy use can be incentivized to supply can meet demand) or energy storage. By linking these various distributed assets together in a more complex, multi-nodal, and two-way grid system, clean energy use can be most efficiently spread across the grid to where and when it’s most needed.  But that comes with numerous policy and market considerations, including how and where DER asset owners can participate in wholesale markets, what responsibilities utilities and the wholesale providers who have to play, and more.

Is it enacted anywhere: In 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) to allow for the aggregation of DERs to participate in their wholesale markets as any other energy generation source would.

In Favor of Distributed Energy Resources on the Grid:

“To fully optimize our investments in clean energy, distributed energy resources need to respond to the needs of the grid within a few seconds, if not milliseconds. This will allow distributed energy resources to perform like a virtual power plant that can be ramped up and down and that, unlike traditional power plants, can provide smart grid services like voltage stabilization. All of this is critical for phasing out fossil fuels on the timescale required to avoid the worst effects of climate change.” –Suzanne Russo, CEO, Pecan Street Inc. 

“With the way technology is evolving especially around clean electricity (battery storage technology etc), it’s beautiful. Comparing using combustion engines for power generation in Nigerian(and African ) against using solar technology to energize households, the tax aspects of diesel fuel are not worth it making solar a more efficient means of power.  Solar SYSTEMS simplifies electricity usage eradicating the need of buying diesel, handling the fueling logistics, the pollutants and CO2 emissions, and much more. More people should be embracing solar technology as a solution to their various energy needs.” – Ken Nwarache

Against Distributed Energy Resources on the Grid:

“Any contract that gives DER aggregation responsibilities to the private sector or to third-parties will inherently threaten the system and local reliability.” Mark Esguerra, head of electric asset management at PG&E

Read more:

Distributed Energy Resources 101: Required Reading for a Modern Grid: Advanced Energy Economy

How Distributed Energy Resources Can Improve Resilience in Public Buildings: Three Case Studies and a Step-by-Step Guide—U.S. Department of Energy

Coordinating Distributed Energy Resources for Grid Services: A Case Study of Pacific Gas and Electric – National Renewable Energy Laboratory


Smart Grid Technologies

Free Images : technology, cable, steel, wire, high, mast, industrial, blue, electricity, generator, energy, volt, bright, grid, distribution, electric, network, wiring, voltage, low angle shot, utility pole, transmission tower, insulation, outdoor ...

What is it: A smart grid is is the term used for integrating the power grid with technology that allows for two-way flow of communication and energy between grid and consumer, along with sensors that can keep track of what’s going on across the grid infrastructure. Utilizing controls, automation, artificial intelligence, and more is a hallmark of a smarter grid, which can more efficiently and effectively ensure power and grid services are delivered where they’re needed at the right moment, which helps to optimize the renewable energy sources connected to the grid to prevent curtailment and other negative outcomes.

Is it enacted anywhere: California is home to some of the most successfully implemented smart grids, according to global benchmarking that ranks PG&E, SDG&E, and SCE as three of the world’s eight best smart grids.

In Favor of Smart Grid Technologies:

“One of the biggest areas that would help renewable energy would be to upgrade and make smarter the power grid. The grid is like a patchwork in the United States, it was put together haphazardly back in the day. It’s very expensive to try to upgrade, but if you look holistically for an entire state, you can see the counties that aren’t currently digitized, so if I’m a governor trying to put resources towards innovative help towards clean energy it would be to put funding to digitize as much of the state as possible.” – Alysia Helming

Against Smart Grid Technologies:

“A challenge of installing a smart grid is that utilizing the internet to provide real time grid data increases the risk of privacy and security breaches. One simulation found that malware experts could infiltrate one smart meter and spread the virus to 15,000 meters within a day, enabling hackers to remotely shut off power with the click of a button.” – Blog on

Read more:

Smart Grid Legislative and Regulatory Policies and Case Studies – U.S. Energy Information Administration

Connecting Smart Grid & Climate Change – Silver Spring Networks

The Smart Grid: An Introduction – U.S. Department of Energy



Carbon Capture and Storage

carbon capture pollution technology climate change policy

What is it: The goal of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is to harness the emissions that are emitted at the source (such as when coal is burned or oil is refined but before those emissions are able to leave the plant) and is then stored permanently in underground geological rock formations, typically. Policies to encourage the innovation and use of CCS mainly includes financial incentives through loan guarantees, tax credits, and other similar measures.

Is it enacted anywhere: According to the Brookings Institute, CCS has been incentivized by the U.S. federal government in both the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008.

In Favor of Carbon Capture and Storage:

“If coal is to be used, the only response- because it is the dirtiest of all fuels- is that we have to learn how to do carbon capture and storage and we have to learn how to do it quickly on a commercial scale.”- Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank

Against Carbon Capture and Storage:

“The beguiling appeal of relying on future negative emission technologies is that they delay the need for stringent and politically challenging policies today – they pass the buck for reducing carbon on to future generations. But if these Dr. Strangelove technologies fail to deliver at the planetary scale envisaged, our own children will be forced to endure the consequences of rapidly rising temperatures and a highly unstable climate.”- Professor Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

Read more:

Development of a Policy Framework for CO2 Carbon Capture and Storage in the States – Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

Policies to commercialize carbon capture and storage in the United States – Brookings Institute

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) in the United States – Congressional Research Service


Solar Radiation Modification (SRM) Geoengineering Research

File:Geoengineering 02.JPG - Wikimedia Commons

What is it: If we can’t stop emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, another tool many are advocating for is geoengineering to reverse or mitigate the impacts of climate change and global warming. If the damage from greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is raising temperatures, various strategies have been floated as ways to then artificially cool the Earth, reflect portions of the solar heat back away from Earth to offset global warming, and similar strategies. Particularly, the method of solar radiation modification (SRM) would “aim to reflect sunlight back into space, or allow more heat to escape Earth’s atmosphere, in order to reduce the global temperature.​

Is it enacted anywhere: Because of the immense and global implications of any geoengineering strategy, these options are still being studied and debated rather than seeing implementation anywhere in the world.

In Favor of SRM Research:

“I spend a lot of my time doing research on solar geoengineering, and the idea is to emulate a volcanic eruption by creating a cloud in the atmosphere that would reflect sunlight and cool earth to counteract global warming. We run climate models to see the potential benefits and risks of doing so. The technology doesn’t exist today, but if we could develop it then we know it would cool Earth because that’s what happens after big volcanic eruptions. There are unknowns and potential risks, so we’re studying those to see if it’s a route we may consider going in the future.” – Alan Robock, Rutgers University

Against SRM Research:

“One would assume that an initiative that affects everyone on the planet would come under some form of democratic control, but that would be to ignore the realities of capitalism. Instead there is no public control, which is particularly a problem for countries (and neighbouring oceans) that are not only the hardest hit by climate change but most likely to be the subject of geoengineering experiments. So far their scientists have been largely ignored.”- ETC Group

Read more:

Geoengineering the Planet? More Scientists Say It Must Be an Option – Yale Environment 360

What is geoengineering– and why should you care? – MIT Technology Review

What is Solar Geoengineering? – Union of Concerned Scientists


General R&D Funding

department of energy scientists research and development R&D

What is it: Generally speaking, one of the most important policy mechanisms the government is able to support is financially through research and development (R&D). R&D support can include funding development of clean energy technology, new and innovative business cases, and moon-shot attempts to provide leaps in the energy industry.

Is it enacted anywhere: The U.S. federal government has long supported R&D in the energy industry, going back to the early days of the U.S. Department of Energy (then the Atomic Energy Commission) and through to today via ARPA-E, the network of National Laboratories, and across individual offices of DOE.

In Favor of R&D Support:

“This is undoubtedly a tough problem. It is not obvious what the big breakthroughs will look like. Most likely we will need several solutions to each challenge. That is why we need to invest in lots of research and development, across all five areas, now”- Bill Gates, Iconic businessman, philanthropist, and climate change advocate

“In rural western Alaska, we do not have an interconnected electrical grid, so microgrids are the way to go. Each town has its own generators so we burn a lot of diesel to make electricity and it’d be nice to get off the petroleum market. The funding for tax kickbacks and support for research and implementation of microgrids and renewables is currently being slashed by the State. There are a lot of great ideas out here because we’re paying way more for electricity, but the Governor is pulling back the funds so we’re struggling to get it done.” – Todd Radenbaugh, Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

“Hydrogen is a central pillar of the energy transformation needed to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius. The ambitious yet realistic approach of harnessing hydrogen energy would enable a deep decarbonisation of transport, industry, and buildings, as well as a renewable energy production and distribution system. To achieve this vision, investors, industry, and government will need to intensify and coordinate their efforts.” – Guy Delbaen, Professor at Université libre de Bruxelles

“The development of renewable and sustainable energy sources, along with the necessary energy storage to go along with it, is still in the research field. They don’t have enough research funds, though, and the climate outcomes won’t be resolved without more and proper funding.” – Yahya Alqahtani, Howard University – Department of Physics and Astronomy

“We spend most of our time in innovation policy seeking out how to make clean energy cheaper and more reliable. The SunShot Initiative at the Department of Energy was a great example of innovation policy for solar, as it provided a terrific demonstration of the power of an aggressive time-bound goal to drive down the costs for that technology. Now we need to take that approach to other clean energy technologies, which includes advanced solar, advanced nuclear, long-duration energy storage, enhanced geothermal,  fossil fuels with carbon capture and other additional technologies that will be necessary to get to a decarbonized grid.” – Rich Power, Executive Director at ClearPath

Against R&D Support:

Ryan’s website calls for “getting Washington out of the business of picking winners and losers in the economy,” including the energy sector.- Paul Ryan, Former Speaker of the House, 2012 Republican candidate for Vice President

Read more:

Impact of Clean Energy R&D on the U.S. Power Sector – National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Renewable Energy R&D Funding History: A Comparison with Funding for Nuclear Energy, Fossil Energy, Energy Efficiency, and Electric Systems R&D – Congressional Research Service

Renewable Energy Technology Innovation Policy – International Renewable Energy Agency


This page is a part of the Solar Tribune Series on how individuals and policymakers can tackle climate change. Click here to see the overview of this series and see the other categories of action.

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