The President's blue-ribbon panel on accelerating change in energy technology put out its big report today. At first glance, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology plan looks solid, if unsurprising. That makes sense, though, because the basics of an energy technology program are simple: put more money into all phases of energy innovation and provide that money over longer time periods, so ideas have a chance to work.
The Council wants to increase research, development, demonstration, and deployment funding to $16 billion a year, authorized on a 4-year cycle to promote longer term investments. This "Quadrennial Energy Review" (QER) could "establish government-wide goals, coordinate actions across agencies, and identify the resources needed for the invention, translation, adoption, and diffusion of energy technologies."
Here's the nut from the executive summary (emphasis is original):
A complete and integrated QER will take longer to mature. While a good start should be made in 2011, the full government-wide QER should be targeted for delivery in early 2015. PCAST encourages Congress to use the QER as a basis for a 4-year authorization process that guides annual appropriations. The Federal investment in energy research, development, demonstration, and deployment (RDD&D) is incommensurate with the objective of leadership in energy technology innovation. We recommend a substantial increase - to $16 billion per year - in Federal support for energy RDD&D. Given the difficulty of increasing appropriated funds to this level and the importance of "frontloading" the required investment to jump start innovation, we recommend an alternative approach. The President should engage the private sector and Congress so as to generate about $10 billion per year of additional RDD&D funding through new revenue streams. This increase will provide the U.S. with the potential to leapfrog to development and deployment of the advanced energy technologies that will define a robust 21st century energy system.
Literally dozens of reports like this have been made to presidents stretching all the way back to Harry Truman's Materials Policy Commission. That commission's report, titled "Resources for Freedom," called on the government to support research into solar energy.