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DoE Science Review Boosts Transport, Grid, Quicker Payoffs

Chevrolet Volt and battery replica (Photo by John F. Martin for General Motors)

A Chevrolet Volt and replica of the t-shaped battery pack (Photo by John F. Martin for General Motors)

The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) today released its first Quadrennial Technology Review report, an assessment of the Department’s technology research and development portfolios. The report urges the department to focus its R&D more on transportation than stationary energy production, grid modernization, and technologies closer to fruition than is now often the case.

The report outlined six major strategies to address the nation’s energy challenges, three each under stationary and transportation technologies:

– Stationary: Increase building and industrial efficiency, Modernize the grid, Deploy clean energy

– Transport: Increase vehicle efficiency, Electrify the vehicle fleet, Deploy alternative hydrocarbon fuels.

The report notes that DoE is under-invested in transportation compared to stationary technologies. It sees increasing vehicle efficiency as the most promising short-term opportunity in transportation, followed by electrification of the light vehicle fleet. DoE plans to develop separate technology plans for light and heavy-duty vehicles, but the report notes that the department will support biofuels where electrification is not feasible: heavy-duty vehicles, marine, and air transport.

The review emphasizes the role stationary energy sources play in the nation’s economic standing, and points out the potential payoff in economic competitiveness from greater efficiency of homes and businesses. DoE likewise plans to focus on reducing the costs of low-carbon energy, with policies such as a federal clean energy standard.

The report says DoE has under-invested in grid modernization, specifying potential targets such as data communications, modeling, sensing, power electronics, and storage technologies. The department intends to use its central convening authority to achieve greater coherence in what it calls “highly fragmented regulatory framework comprised of states, local governments, utilities, and grid operators.”

The reviewers acknowledge the difficulty in finding a balance between R&D to answer questions with an immediate payoff and research on issues with returns that can stretch over decades. The report notes, however, that DoE has put too much research effort into “technologies that are multiple generations away from practical use” instead of relevant research that can influence the private sector in the nearer term.

The quadrennial technology review, says DoE, was designed as a step toward a multi-year overall energy review that covers all federal agencies and bringing in economic and policy perspectives. It also should serve as a guide for annual budget planners.

Read more: ARPA-E to Fund $130 Million for New Energy R&D

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