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Economic analysis of scientific publications and implications for energy research and development


The mix of public and private funding in alternative energy research makes isolating the effect of government funding challenging. Factors such as energy prices and environmental policy influence both private and public R&D decisions, and it may take several years for public R&D’s effect on technology to be realized. Here, by combining data on scientific publications for alternative energy technologies with data on government R&D support, I provide information on the lags between research funding and new publications and link these articles to citations in US energy patents. I find that US$1 million in additional government funding leads to one to two additional publications, but with lags as long as ten years between initial funding and publication. Finally, I show that adjustment costs associated with large increases in research funding are of little concern at current levels of public energy R&D support. These results suggest that there is room to expand public R&D budgets for renewable energy, but that the impact of any such expansion may not be realized for some time.

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Figure 1: Trends in energy R&D and publications for all countries.
Figure 2: Cumulative effect of energy R&D on publications.
Figure 3: Increased probability of patent citation from additional energy R&D.


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This work was supported by NSF grant # SMA-1064161. J. E. Kim, Q. Miao and T. Tang all provided excellent research assistance on this project. I thank A. Toole and seminar participants at Syracuse University, Resources for the Future, and the London School of Economics for helpful comments on earlier versions of this research. Finally, I thank A. Kushmerick and L. Seltzer of Thomson Reuters for their assistance in obtaining the publication data used in this paper. Certain data included herein are derived from the Web of Science prepared by THOMSON REUTERS, Inc. (Thomson), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA: Copyright THOMSON REUTERS 2012. All rights reserved. Thomson Reuters reserves the right to review the paper before dissemination to ensure that the confidentiality of the data is not unintentionally compromised.

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Correspondence to David Popp.

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The author declares no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1-9, Supplementary Tables 1-15, Supplementary Notes 1-7, Supplementary References (PDF 2159 kb)

Supplementary Data 1

Stata and Excel data files containing aggregate publication counts, R&D data, and all control variables used for Figures 1 and 2 and Table 2. Both files contain the same variables. (ZIP 643 kb)

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Popp, D. Economic analysis of scientific publications and implications for energy research and development. Nat Energy 1, 16020 (2016).

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