Department of Energy Funding Priorities: An Expert Discussion

Apr 21, 2011

15 experts from industry, academia, government and non-governmental organizations first discussed different factors that the Department of Energy should consider in allocating RD&D resources among energy technologies of disparate maturity and potential time to impact, and then evaluated specific technologies.

On March 22, 2011, Near Zero invited 64 experts from industry, academia, government and non-governmental organizations to participate in an email discussion of DOE funding priorities, with reference to the Department of Energy (DOE) Quadrennial Technology Review (QTR) Framing Document. As we explained to the expert invitees, “Our goal [was] to provide an efficient and fun way for you to leverage your expertise to advance decision makers’ understanding of important energy issues.”

We first asked for answers to the following question: “What are the factors that DOE should consider in allocating RD&D resources among technologies of disparate maturity and potential time to impact?” Our instructions continued, “At this point we are simply asking for factors that should be considered, such as ‘today’s cost per unit output’, or ‘achieved thermodynamic efficiency relative to maximum theoretical thermodynamic efficiency’, ‘social acceptability’, etc.”

DOE should be in the business of developing options. —Jane Long, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Over the course of 24 days, we received more than 30 responses from 15 energy experts. Here, we organize and summarize the responses. A complete transcript of the emails we received is included as Appendix I. The experts discussed factors of materiality, cost-effectiveness, and maturity, as well as the necessity of DOE support, potential to reduce energy demand, the effect on U.S. competitiveness and energy security, and technology lock-in. In addition to investment criteria, experts offered general recommendations for improving the informational basis for decisions, the importance of stable and increased funding, and the need to invest in diffusion of what is already known.

Each expert was also invited to address the merits of specific technologies in the context of different factors. Several emphasized the need to reduce demand through efficiency gains at both the device and system levels. In considering the major categories of clean electricity, materiality, maturity and the necessity of DOE funding were common considerations. Cost-effectiveness was also raised several times.

a Near Zero white paper

Steven J. Davis *† and Ken Caldeira †

* Near Zero

† Carnegie Institution for Science, Department of Global Ecology


Expert participants

15 experts participated in the discussion and elicitation for this report:

Arnulf Grubler

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Christopher Green

McGill University

Dale Simbeck

SFA Pacific, Inc.

GianCarlo Tosato

International Energy Agency

Hal Harvey

Climate Works

Jane Long

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Jay Apt

Carnegie Mellon University

Lee Lane

Hudson Institute

Lee Schipper

Stanford University

Martin Hoffert

New York University

Max Henrion

Lumina Decision Systems

Nate Lewis

California Institute of Technology

Steven Hamburg

Environmental Defense Fund

Vaclav Smil

University of Manitoba

William Moomaw

Tufts University

photo credit: Department of Energy