DOE: New report paves way for energy future

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In its recently published 2015 Quadrennial Technology Review (QTR), the the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) takes stock of developments in the energy sector over the past four years.

It examines the status of science and technology as well as the research, development, demonstration and deployment (RDD&D) opportunities that have advanced them.

The report is aimed at supporting efforts by the U.S. government to develop the right strategy for the nation’s energy future. To that end, it examines the current state of the country’s energy sector and how technologies have developed over recent years.

The QTR focuses primarily on technologies with commercialization potential in the midterm and beyond. It looks at the various trade-offs that all energy technologies have to balance in terms of cost, security and reliability of supply, diversity, environmental impacts, land use and materials use. It provides data and analysis on RDD&D pathways to assist decision makers set priorities within budget constraints and develop more secure, affordable and sustainable energy services.

Among the QTR’s findings: Solar PV power in the U.S. has increased tenfold over the past four years, while wind power nearly double in the period.

“We are seeing increased diversification of energy sources, with biofuels and natural gas augmenting petroleum for vehicle use," says Drew Bittner of the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. "Building technologies have been tested in prototype homes and found to deliver tremendous energy savings, and advances in clean manufacturing promise a revolution in American industry.”

Indeed, “America is in the midst of an energy revolution,” says the DOE, adding that over the last decade, the U.S. has slashed net petroleum imports, dramatically increased shale gas production, scaled up wind and solar power and cut the growth in electricity consumption to nearly zero through widespread efficiency measures.

“Emerging advanced energy technologies provide a rich set of options to address our energy challenges, but their large-scale deployment requires continued improvements in cost and performance,” the DOE adds. “Technology is helping to drive this revolution, enabled by years to decades of research and development that underpin these advances in the energy system.”

The energy revolution is creating additional opportunities for technologies and systems with superior performance and reduced costs, the DOE points out. “The convergence of many energy sectors — such as the electric grid, electricity production, buildings, manufacturing, fuels and transportation –into systems linked through information and communications technologies (ICT), advanced modeling and simulation and controls, has the potential to revolutionize energy services throughout the economy at the component, device and system levels.”

One of the most important features of QTR is that the DOE has taken a systems analysis approach to establish where the country has been and where it needs to go, says Bittner. The report suggests directions RDD&D should take in the next decade to be able to fully develop the potential of the technologies reviewed and reported on in the QTR. “In that way, we reinforce how analysis helps shape policy recommendations and builds a foundation for tomorrow’s world of energy,” Bittner adds.