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Comments Requested on Important Review of DOE Energy Technology Activities

Richard M. Jones
Number 39 - March 24, 2011  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Individuals have until April 15 to file comments with the Department of Energy (DOE) about a new review of its energy technology activities.  First recommended by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), the resulting DOE Quadrennial Technology Review will “provide a content and framework for the Department’s energy programs, as well as principles by which to establish plans with a five-year horizon.”

In late November 2010, a PCAST working group released a “Report to the President on Accelerating the Pace of Change in Energy Technologies Though an Integrated Federal Policy.” This working group recommended that an interagency review be periodically conducted of the federal government’s energy policies and programs.  Modeled after the well-regarded Quadrennial Defense Review, the working group called for a Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), describing it as follows:

“A QER process would, in some sense, formulate an integrated energy policy for the twenty-first century.  It will span mission and vision definition, strategy, and tactics. The QER and the process leading to it would provide an effective tool for Administration-wide coherence on energy and for effective dialog with Congress on a coordinated legislative agenda. Presidential interest and engagement will be a necessary ingredient for success.”

Realizing that it would take time to ramp up this review across all agencies of the federal government, the working group recommended that DOE undertake its own QER as a first step.  That recommendation is now being implemented.

Several documents have been released.  The first is a 40-page “framing document.”  DOE explains that:

“This framing document is a principal means of facilitating stakeholder engagement in that process. It describes the nation’s energy landscape and challenges, identifies important research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) policy choices to be made, and summarizes the current status of selected energy technologies and DOE technology program goals. It is intended to serve as the common framework for stakeholder engagement through advisory committees, workshops, and expert discussion groups.”

Sections within this document review the “U.S. Energy Context,” “Challenges Posed by Today’s Energy Landscape” (with sections on energy security, competitiveness, and environmental impacts), “DOE Activities,” “Crosscutting Questions” (which includes a section on various components of technology policy) and “Six Strategies.”  Three of these strategies pertain to transportation; the other three to stationary systems.

Throughout this document are references to basic research, and the role of the Office of Science in supporting it.  Other DOE agencies support a broad array of research in different areas.  In all, approximately $4.3 billion is spent by the department on energy research. It is important to note that in discussing the DOE-QTR, the framing document explains that it will include a review of the roles of national laboratories and universities in energy system transformation, stating:

“The objective will be to include enough detail to enable the other objectives of the DOE-QTR, not to lay out detailed programmatic or technological roadmaps for wider application. The DOE-QTR will also establish principles by which the Department can judge the priority of various technology efforts. Rather than an ordered prioritization of technologies or activities, these principles will be useful to guide the budget process, which is the appropriate mechanism to set priorities.”  

Further information on the DOE-QTR can be found at this website.  It provides information on the QTR Team, led by Under Secretary for Science Steven Koonin, and links to the framing document and an announcement in the Federal Register with instructions on submitting comments.  Wrote Koonin in announcing the framing document:  “I solicit your involvement, beginning with a close reading of the framing document and your responses to the questions it poses.”

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095