This post was originally published at the Breakthrough Institute Blog.
Today the Department of Energy released the first Quadrennial Technology Review (QTR), a new report that recommends many of the same investment and competitiveness strategies presented by the Breakthrough Institute. Modeled after the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review, the QTR was commissioned last year by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and represents what Energy Secretary Steven Chu calls “the necessary first step of a multi-agency Quadrennial Energy Review that could dramatically improve the integration and effectiveness of the government’s energy policy.”
The QTR establishes six categories for modernizing and improving our energy portfolio:
- Deploy Clean Electricity
- Modernize the Grid
- Increase Building and Industrial Efficiency
- Deploy Alternative Hydrocarbon Fuels
- Electrify the Vehicle Fleet
- Increase Vehicle Efficiency
These are all sound strategies to address the three broad challenges imposed by our current energy systems: energy insecurity, environmental threats, and international competitiveness. The QTR makes it very clear that the DOE’s first imperative for addressing these challenges will be to invest in technology and research:
The Department’s core strength is its science and technology efforts, which have led to technology improvements and breakthroughs, and these efforts are the focus of this QTR report.
Underpinning that Nation’s high-tech economy, both basic scientific and fundamental engineering research increase knowledge of nature and integrate that knowledge in ways directly useful for practical engineering applications. In the course of their work, researchers develop new tools and techniques to discover and measure previously inaccessible physical phenomena.
The goal of achieving technological breakthroughs to deliver clean, affordable, and abundant energy is clear.
The United States energy economy needs more than basic research, however. Fortunately, the QTR does not omit strategies for commercialization, maturation, and deployment of innovative clean energy technologies. As the report clarifies in its section on international competitiveness, “US economic competitiveness is a growing challenge in a world made even more competitive by developing countries striving to create sustainable economic growth and establish themselves as technology leaders.”
As such, the report recommends advanced technology policy to address deployment, innovation, and manufacturing. These areas are much in line with the competitiveness strategy outlined in Breakthrough’s reports “Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant” and “Post-Partisan Power,” which have shown that the US needs a comprehensive and aggressive competitiveness policy in the face of increasing technology investment from China, Korea, Japan and other nations.
But there are also important elements missing from the QTR. While the report effectively covers the broad energy imperatives facing the United States, specific policies and funding mechanisms are glossed over. A multi-year technology policy from DOE will require flexibility, but some policy instruments will prove essential if the nation is to achieve any of the goals laid out in the report: Increasing federal funding for energy technology R&D, as recommended by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology last fall; creating a Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA) to build public-private partnerships and bridge technologies from demonstration to full maturation; and reformed subsidy policies that prioritize innovation over deployment. Alternative and additional policy instruments are available, and including them in these discussions is important for building an ambitious and fruitful policy dialogue.
The QTR is an encouraging step, and as Secretary Chu writes, hopefully one on the road to a comprehensive Quadrennial Energy Review. As was proposed in the American Energy Innovation Council’s recent report “Catalyzing American Ingenuity,” a QER would “serve as a strategic technology and policy roadmap.” The ability of the DOE and other federal agencies to drive substantial innovation and growth is increasingly apparent. Outlining and planning for a unified national energy policy will prove vital as we address economic growth, international competitiveness, and a changing climate.
To read DOE’s full report on the Quadrennial Technology Review, click here (PDF).