About Us

Energy needs more money in U.S., says federal agency

Jan 24, 2007 Refocus Weekly

In 2005, the United States derived 6% of its energy from renewables, the same level as in 1973, according to an analysis by the Government Accountability Office.

The Department of Energy needs more money to find ways to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and mitigate environmental impacts from burning fossil fuels, the investigative arm of Congress says in ‘Key Challenges Remain for Developing & Deploying Advanced Energy Technologies to Meet Future Needs.’ Adjusting for inflation, DOE’s research budget for renewable, fossil and nuclear technologies fell by 85.6% between 1978 and 2005.

“It is unlikely that DOE's current level of R&D funding or the nation's current energy policies will be sufficient to deploy alternative energy sources in the next 25 years,” it warns. The challenge of reducing U.S. dependence on oil and carbon emissions in the next 25 years is similar to the challenge of putting a man on the moon in the 1960s.

“Without sustained high energy prices or concerted, high-profile federal government leadership, U.S. consumers are unlikely to change their energy-use patterns and the U.S. will continue to rely upon its current energy portfolio,” it states. Even with more funding, the challenges to develop alternative energy include expanding wind technology into low wind and offshore locations, and developing cost-effective technologies to produce ethanol using agricultural residues and other biomass materials, as well as the infrastructure for distributing ethanol.

Most states and some foreign governments have successfully established incentives for renewables to move away from fossil fuel sources, the report notes. Forty-five of the 50 U.S. states offer tax credits, grants or loans to deploy renewables.

“Despite periodic price shocks and related energy crises, the United States is even more dependent on crude oil and natural gas than it was almost 30 years ago and, without dramatic change, the nation will become ever more reliant on imported oil and natural gas with attendant threats to national security,” it explains. GAO examined the R&D funding trends and strategies for developing advanced energy technologies, key barriers to developing and deploying advanced energy technologies, and efforts of the states and six other countries to develop and deploy advanced energy technologies.

The agency reviewed DOE budget data and strategic plans, and interviewed DOE officials and scientists, industry executives, independent experts, and state and foreign government officials. DOE's total budget authority for energy research dropped by 85% in real terms from 1978 to 2005, peaking in the late 1970s but falling sharply when oil prices returned to lower levels in the mid-1980s. Its efforts have resulted in “steady incremental progress in reducing costs for renewable energy technologies, reducing harmful emissions of coal-fired power plants, and improving safety and efficiency for nuclear power plants.”

GAO suggests that the Congress consider further stimulating development and deployment of a diversified energy portfolio by focusing R&D funding on advanced energy technologies. DOE had no comment on this recommendation.