Energy Department Finds It’s Too Focused on Far-Off Technology

The Energy Department places too much emphasis on technologies that are “multiple generations away from practical use,” the agency said in a study of its technology research and development projects.

The department instead needs to focus on electric vehicles, building and industrial efficiency and technologies that can provide a more immediate payoff for the U.S. economy, according to the 168-page Quadrennial Technology Review report released today.

“During this time of hard budget choices and fiscal challenge, we must ensure that our work is impactful and efficient,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a message included in the report.

Half of the department’s $3 billion energy-technology budget for fiscal year 2011 is devoted to clean-energy production, not including loan guarantees or funding for the agency’s advanced research projects office. The Energy Department will put more resources into transportation, which this year accounted for about 26 percent of the budget, the report said.

The Energy Department will focus on expanding the fleet of hybrid vehicles as well as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, which are already served by a fueling network that includes 2,449 public stations, according to the report. There are only about 58 hydrogen fueling stations to support fuel-cell electric vehicles, creating an “extremely limited” network for those autos, the department said.

Modernizing the Grid

Modernizing the U.S. electric grid, increasing alternatives to petroleum and producing more “clean” electricity would also improve U.S. energy security and competitiveness, according to the report.

While the Energy Department will de-emphasize activities that overlap with the private sector, “the absence of private-sector funding should not be taken as evidence of the need for public funding,” the report said.

Republicans in Congress have criticized the department’s $535 million in loan guarantees to Solyndra LLC, a California maker of solar panels that filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 6.