The National Academies

The National Academies: What You Need To Know About Energy

What You Need To Know About Energy

Energy Research at DOE: Was It Worth It? Energy Efficiency and Fossil Energy Research 1978 to 2000 (2001)

In a comprehensive review of federal Research & Development (R&D) efforts to advance energy-efficient and fossil-fuel technologies, the National Academies' National Research Council (NRC) found that these programs have yielded significant economic, environmental, and national security benefits. Their examination included 17 R&D programs dating back as far as 1978. These programs yielded $40 billion from an investment of $13 billion. Three energy-efficiency programs, costing about $11 million, produced nearly three-quarters of this benefit. Significant advances were made in compressors for refrigerators and freezers, energy-efficient fluorescent lighting components, and heat-resistant window glass. Market incentives, such as new standards and regulations, ensured that they would be adopted nationwide, compounding their impact. Other benefits from DOE research were in the form of environmental gains, such as new technologies for a cleaner way to burn coal and controls to reduce emissions from nitrogen oxides. Other programs, however, were judged to have been costly failures in which large R&D expenditures did not result in a commercial energy technology. Based on these findings, the NRC recommended steps to improve the management and evaluation of DOE’s research program, including objectives to support economic, environmental, and national security goals and the identification of clear performance targets and milestones at the onset of each project as a way to measure its success.

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