The Importance of Neutrality in Technology-Forcing

By: VeJay Vicino

Concerns about the ways countries generate their energy have grown steadily over the second half of the 20th and continued to grow in the 21st century. The United States legislature attempted to assuage a number of these concerns in the 1970’s with the passage of the Clean Air Act.[1] The Clean Air Act is a piece of legislation that requires industries to meet emission standards that technology has not yet made possible.[2] Setting goals or requirements that are not yet possible is referred to as “technology-forcing”. The establishing of industry standard emission limits has allowed members of various industries a great deal of freedom in developing and licensing new technology to meet these requirements.[3] Limits on emissions as well as cap and trade taxation schemes are examples of “technology-neutral” forms of technology-forcing. These schemes are referred to as being technology neutral because they do not prescribe any specific ways in which emissions should be reduced. Technology-neutral legislation establishes an economic incentive to have a smaller environmental impact through any available means.[4]
While emission limits and taxing schemes are generally technologically neutral, other there exists other forms of technology-forcing legislations that are not.[5] When Obama was running for office in 2008, he made campaign promises to pass legislation that would require 25 percent of American electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2025.[6] This proposed legislation would be an example of legislation that is not technology-neutral, as it prescribes exactly what kind of technologies must be developed in order to generate our country’s electricity. The issue with non-neutral approaches to technology forcing is that is that it forces the industries to invest their time and resources into developing technology in specific areas that may be less efficient than others. This may be a problem for developing or rapidly industrializing countries as they attempt to develop infrastructure that allows their people to be more productive.
An example of the issues non-neutral policies can produce is readily observed with the current energy situation in China. China is a rapidly industrializing country that began technology-forcing policies in areas such as auto-emissions and energy production in 2010. China has aggressively pursued these technologies to reduce urban smog and increase industrial development.[7] Chinese success in technology-neutral emissions standards led to massive joint ventures between Chinese and American companies. An example of this success is the $765 million dollars that Ford has recently committed towards building electric vehicles alongside a Chinese based partner.[8] However, China’s attempts to use non-neutral technology-forcing policy to generate increased reliance on solar and wind have been far less successful.[9]
The amount of power generated from coal in the first 7 years of China’s reliance on industrialized coal consumption far outgrew the amount of energy generated from wind and solar in the same span of time over a decade later.[10] China’s rapid growth as a world power was largely reliant on the energy coal produced during this span. However, despite massive investments China’s wind and solar energy efforts have been largely unsuccessful. An example of this can be seein in the Xinjiang Uighur region, where issues resulting from grid constraints have led to large amount of the energy generated by the windfarms in this region being wasted.[11] Thus, while technology-forcing as a way to cut emissions has lead to advancements in technology in the various areas industries see promise in has been quite effective, the mandatory focus on renewable sources of energy for a percentage of a countries power seems to be an less effective solution for a majority of the world’s countries.
  1. Ann Johnson, Environmental regulations and the technological development in the U.S. auto industry, Washington Center for Equitable Growth (May 2016), https://equitablegrowth.org/research-paper/environmental-regulation-technological-development-u-s-auto-industry/
  2. Id.
  3. Id.
  4. Schalk Cloete, The dangers of green technology-forcing, Energy Post (May 3,2018), http://energypost.eu/the-dangers-of-green-technology-forcing/
  5. Id.
  6. Louis Jacobson, Cap-and-trade bill died, though other trenchers may achieve goal without a law, Politifact (November 8th, 2012), https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/obameter/promise/444/require-25-percent-renewable-energy-by-2025/
  7. Greg Dotson, Why EPA’s U-Turn on Auto Efficiency Rules Gives China the Upper Hand, EcoWatch (March 29th, 2018), https://www.ecowatch.com/epa-automobiles-pollution-china-2554480585.html
  8. Id.
  9. Cloete, supra note 3
  10. Id.
  11. Coco Liu, Facing Grid Constraints, China Puts a Chill on New Wind Energy Projects, Inside Climate News (March 28, 2016), https://insideclimatenews.org/news/28032016/china-wind-energy-projects-suspends-clean-energy-climate-change

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