DOE seeks Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency

Closing date: 04/06/2021
For more information and to apply

This position will lead an organization which assists in reducing the Nation’s dependence on foreign energy resources, the energy intensity of our economy, and the environmental impact of our industrial processes, while achieving cost-effective product quality enhancements and improving our competitiveness in the global marketplace.

As the “Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) for Energy Efficiency (EE)” you will:

  • Serve as the most senior official within EERE focused exclusively on energy efficiency programs, policies, and initiatives. Advise the Assistant Secretary and senior Department officials on the technical monitoring, evaluation and implementation of initiatives related to EERE’s Building Technologies Office, Advanced Manufacturing Office, Federal Energy Management Programs Office, and Weatherization and Intergovernmental Office. Advise senior DOE management, administration, executive branch, and industry leadership.
  • Oversee and direct subordinate Offices under the purview of EE. Direct organizational activities and frame strategic plans. Set internal control standards for effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity and assess all organizational policy, program, and project viability. Determine financial and personnel resources needed to achieve mission objectives and support mission operations.
  • Oversee and direct internal organization, staffing, policies, and personnel authorities required to carry out the responsibilities of EE. Provide administrative and technical direction of EE and its program offices including supervision of a large group of professional and administrative employees. Direct the development and implementation of the strategic allocation of human resources across EE Offices.
  • Represents the Assistant Secretary with other Federal and State Government Agencies, Congress, private industry, and associations to identify, analyze, and resolve technical institutional, public policy, programmatic and managerial issues impacting the Office’s programs and develops Departmental positions concerning these issues.
  • Oversee the assessments of current program performance, technologies, deliverables, and input from stakeholders in industry, National Laboratories, and other external constituencies.
  • Direct the coordination and review of EE programs’ utilization of agencies, national research laboratories, and other government facilities and equipment to develop centers of research excellence in support of the EERE mission and assure the integration and coordination of all program activities across EERE, DOE and the government.
  • Oversee the development and implementation of multi-year program plans and annual operating plans and manage the application of assigned resources to effectively achieve planned objectives. Develop annual program budget requirements, approve and manage the use and distribution of funds, and provide interpretive guidance to research performing organizations.

Get ready, Corporate America: The carbon disclosure mandates are coming

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

A slew of announcements earlier this month point to new regulations on carbon disclosure. Corporate America better get ready.

Climate-Tech VC Investing Tops $17bn in 2020

Read the full story at BloombergNEF.

`Climate tech’ is a label for the emergence of technologies addressing the climate crisis, usually targeting both mitigation and adaptation. With lessons learned from the clean-tech boom and bust, venture capitalists believe climate tech can be profitable while helping the environment. A record $17 billion of capital was poured into climate-tech startups last year.

BloombergNEF categorizes climate-tech investment into six key technology themes: energy transition, transport and new mobility, agriculture and land-use, climate and forests, decarbonizing industry and buildings, and the circular economy and new materials.

In this piece we profile Total Carbon Neutrality Ventures, which has shifted its investment thesis to focus exclusively on climate tech as its parent company Total SE moves more toward sustainability. We also include our regular news and VCPE funding sections.

House Democrats introduce carbon pricing measure

Read the full story in The Hill.

Four House Democrats on Thursday reintroduced legislation to establish a carbon pricing system in the U.S.

The bill would price carbon at $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent, with the price increasing $10 a year. The measure’s sponsors wrote that it would reduce carbon pollution by as much as 45 percent by 2030 and net zero by 2050.

Weather Service Internet systems are crumbling as key platforms are taxed and failing

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Most of the agency’s online systems went down Tuesday, and during last week’s tornado outbreak in the South, a vital resource for relaying information crashed

EPA dismisses dozens of key science advisers picked under Trump

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan will purge more than 40 outside experts appointed by President Donald Trump from two key advisory panels, a move he says will help restore the role of science at the agency and reduce the heavy influence of industry over environmental regulations.

The unusual decision, announced Wednesday, will sweep away outside researchers picked under the previous administration whose expert advice helped the agency craft regulations related to air pollution, fracking and other issues.

Critics say that under Trump, membership of the two panels — the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) — tilted too heavily toward regulated industries and their positions sometimes contradicted scientific consensus.

The Biden administration said the move is one of several to reestablish scientific integrity across the federal government after what it characterizes as a concerted effort under the previous president to sideline or interfere with research on climate change, the novel coronavirus and other issues.

Patent system often stifles the innovation it was designed to encourage

Attorneys for Apple heading to court during the so-called smartphone patent wars. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

by Michael J. Meurer (Boston University) and Janet Freilich (Fordham University)

Over his career Thomas Edison garnered more U.S. patents than anyone in his time. Edison profited from his patents, but he was also exposed to the dark side of the patent system. He had to contend with lawsuits by other patentees who sought – and sometimes won – a piece of his success. While the patent system is designed to spur innovation like Edison’s, it also hampers it.

Easy copying and imitation discourage innovation, because why make the effort if someone else will profit from it? The patent system works by enabling inventors to block unauthorized use of patented technology.

Most technologies are developed by many inventors over many years, a process called “cumulative” innovation. Too often, however, early inventors get a patent on a small and perhaps insignificant piece of the technological puzzle, yet their patent covers the entire puzzle. Inventors who solve subsequent parts of the puzzle may need to pay royalties to the patentee, even if their contributions are larger.

As legal experts who focus on technology law and policy, we suggest that the problem boils down to two issues: too many patents and too little accurate information about them.

Too many patents

The U.S. is awash in patents. Over 350,000 U.S. patents were granted in 2019, four times the per capita rate in 1980. From the perspective of research managers at big firms, patents are cheap and easy to get. For example, in the early 2000s Bill Gates decided that Microsoft was patent-poor, and within a few years the company increased annual patent applications by 50%.

Patents are easy to get because the standards of patentability are low and because the burden is on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to prove an invention is not patentable. Patent examination is slow. It often takes three years or more. Despite increased staffing, the backlog of patent applications has continued to grow, and examiners spend on average only 20 hours reviewing each application. The patent examiner is required to read and understand the invention in an application, determine whether the invention meets the claims of the application, search existing technology to see if the invention already exists and write a response to the application.

Helter-skelter examination causes errors – many patents are too broad, or they cover obvious inventions. To draw attention to problems caused by the flood of low-quality patents, billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban endowed a chair at the Electronic Frontier Foundation dedicated to elimination of “stupid patents.”

Innovative firms that succeed in assembling many pieces of a technology puzzle into a finished product must consult with a patent lawyer to learn whether their new technology is covered by one or more patents owned by others. Ideally an innovator will get permission to use patented technology, usually for a fee, or redesign its technology to steer clear of relevant patents.

In practice this patent “clearance” process is difficult, costly and sometimes impossible. For technologies like smartphones, a patent attorney likely would need to review hundreds of patents, including many patents that are not granted until long after the new product is launched. Failure to license relevant patents creates a risk of litigation and the threat the new technology could be forced out of the marketplace.

Screenshot of an iPod showing an image of the earth and the slide-to-unlock bar
Apple secured a patent on slide-to-unlock despite earlier work that set the stage for the feature. Angelo Su/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

As a result, smartphone patent litigation is far too common. Apple – a smartphone pioneer – has participated in scores of lawsuits around the globe as both a defendant and plaintiff. As a plaintiff, Apple sometimes uses its patents opportunistically to hinder innovation by its rivals.

For example, Apple sued Samsung using a patent that claimed the slide-to-unlock feature on a phone as Apple’s invention. Despite strong evidence that inventors before Apple had already accomplished the key steps to implement this feature, Apple convinced the courts that their version of this feature was patentable, and after seven years Samsung agreed to pay license fees to Apple to settle the case.

Economic research suggests that these litigation costs and license fees burden innovative firms to such a degree that on balance the patent system discourages innovation. In other words, innovative firms gain a benefit from their patents on their new technology, but that benefit is more than offset by the many patents owned by others that might be asserted against the new technology.

Too little information

When an inventor gets a patent, she is supposed to reveal the secret sauce behind the invention in the patent, a public document. This allows scientists and engineers to learn about the invention and use that information to improve the technology.

Or at least, that’s the theory. In practice, many inventors make shoddy disclosures. Experiments reported in patents are sometimes fictional and often rely on dubious methodology. For instance, patent law permits an inventor to disclose the fictional finding that a drug treats cancer as evidence that she deserves a patent on that drug.

Inventors applying for patents are allowed to include predicted experimental results. The intent is to allow for earlier disclosure and to help smaller companies secure funding. But when evidence in patents is wrong, other innovators can be misled. Further, if other innovators want to figure out if the patented drug really treats cancer – or any other disease – they need a license from the patentee.

A graphical representation of an early electric incandescent lightbulb
Edison was the victim of a broad light bulb patent that covered one of his subsequent inventions. Edison Electric Light Company

Sometimes key pieces of evidence are missing entirely from patents. This happens when a patent covers aspects of a technology that the patentee didn’t actually invent. Imagine discovering that paper is a mediocre incandescent conductor in light bulbs and using that discovery to get a patent covering thousands of other conductors, including ones that, unbeknownst to you, work much better. Later innovators might want to figure out whether other substances are better conductors than paper, but they can’t even start experiments without a license.

This happened to Edison. He was sued for patent infringement after discovering a far better conductor than that discovered by the patentee – but because the patent was written broadly, it nevertheless covered Edison’s invention.

There is also too little information about the boundaries of patents. When an inventor gets a patent, she is also supposed to provide clear boundary information – what a patent application covers and what it doesn’t – to the public about her patent rights. The patent system fails to ensure this, however.

The boundary information in patent applications is hidden for 18 months until the application is published, and even longer if the boundaries change later during examination. Once the patent is granted, lawyers, judges and the public often have difficulty reaching agreement on the meaning of boundary language that may be intentionally vague or ambiguous.

How to fix the system

Inventors who come up with new chemicals, including pharmaceuticals, tend to benefit from the patent system. Unfortunately, the system appears to impose a net cost on most other technologies, especially in high-tech industries.
Opportunistic patent owners, often called patent trolls, surprise inventors with patent claims about inventions that are minor or distantly related to the technology that is the target of the suit. Economics research shows such trolling activity slows innovation.

The patent system can be improved to deliver a net gain to all inventors even without being drastically reworked. A good start would be to rigorously enforce existing standards about information disclosure. Courts should push inventors to clearly describe and explain their inventions.

The flood of patents on minor technical advances could be ended if patent fees were increased and if the nonobviousness standard, which screens out minor advances, was made stronger. Reducing the number of patents and increasing the amount of information about each patent would go a long way toward making the patent system work the way it was intended.

Michael J. Meurer, Professor of Law, Boston University and Janet Freilich, Associate Professor of Law, Fordham University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Nearly half of Pennsylvania government electricity to come from solar power by 2023

Read the full story at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Gov. Tom Wolf sees a bright future for solar power in Pennsylvania and Monday announced a new clean energy initiative that will build seven new solar arrays, enough to supply about half of state government electricity.

The project, touted by the governor’s office as the largest solar commitment by any state government in the U.S., is projected to produce a total of 191 megawatts of electricity for government buildings, and is scheduled to go into operation on Jan. 1, 2023.

Nestlé launches bio-based lids and scoops for infant formula

Read the full story at Food Navigator.

Nestlé is introducing bio-based lids and scoops made from sugar cane and its by-product for a range of its nutrition products for infants and children.

A Systematic Literature Review of the IT-Based Supply Chain Management System: Towards a Sustainable Supply Chain Management Model

Chiang C-T, Kou T-C, Koo T-L. (2021). “A Systematic Literature Review of the IT-Based Supply Chain Management System: Towards a Sustainable Supply Chain Management Model.” Sustainability. 13(5):2547.

Abstract: The concept of sustainability has been highly valued by all aspects of life, while the supply chain plays a critical role in production and logistics. Supply chain management (SCM) is continuously transformed by information technology (IT). The purpose of this study is to review and discuss the effect of information technology-based SCM on sustainability. This paper conducted a systematic literature review by collecting author-anchored keywords from peer-reviewed articles on IT-based supply chain management. A total of 1264 articles and 2575 keywords from eleven supply chain-related journals were analysed with social network analysis. A knowledge map with ten research hot topics was identified. Additionally, a sustainable supply chain management (SSCM) model is developed not only to guide researchers to further understand IT-based SCM topical and structural meanings but also to contribute to enlightening a coherent and rigorous body of theories relevant to academics and supply chain and logistics managers interested in SSCM.