NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Should We Give Up After Solyndra? Optimal Technology R&D Portfolios under Uncertainty

Mort Webster, Karen Fisher-Vanden, David Popp, Nidhi Santen

NBER Working Paper No. 21396
Issued in July 2015
NBER Program(s):Environment and Energy Economics, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

Global climate change and other environmental challenges require the development of new energy technologies with lower emissions. In the near-term, R&D investments, either by government or the private sector, can bring down the costs of these lower emission technologies. However, the results of R&D are uncertain, and there are many potential technologies that may turn out to play an effective role in the future energy mix. In this paper, we address the problem of allocating R&D across technologies under uncertainty. Specifically, given two technologies, one with lower costs at present, but the other with greater uncertainty in the returns to R&D, how should one allocate the R&D budget? We develop a multi-stage stochastic dynamic programming version of an integrated assessment model of climate and economy that represents endogenous technological change through R&D decisions for two substitutable non-carbon backstop technologies. Using the model, we demonstrate that near-term R&D into the higher cost technology is justified, and that the amount of R&D into the high cost technology increases with both the variance in the uncertainty in returns to R&D and with the skewness of the uncertainty. We also present an illustrative case study of wind and solar photovoltaic technologies, and show that poor R&D results in early periods do not necessarily mean that investment should not continue.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from SSRN.com ($5) for electronic delivery.

Access to NBER Papers

You are eligible for a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.

E-mail:

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21396

Published: Mort Webster & Karen Fisher-Vanden & David Popp & Nidhi Santen, 2017. "Should We Give Up after Solyndra? Optimal Technology R&D Portfolios under Uncertainty," Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol 4(S1), pages S123-S151.

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Popp w21415 Using Scientific Publications to Evaluate Government R&D Spending: The Case of Energy
Scheuer and Werning w21323 The Taxation of Superstars
Kotchen w21398 Do Building Energy Codes Have a Lasting Effect on Energy Consumption? New Evidence From Residential Billing Data in Florida
Jones w21391 The Economics of Exclusion Restrictions in IV Models
Reinhart and Santos w21333 From Financial Repression to External Distress: The Case of Venezuela
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
NBER Videos
Themes
Data
People
About

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us