Electricity Supply:

Efforts Under Way to Develop Solar and Wind Energy

RCED-93-118: Published: Apr 16, 1993. Publicly Released: May 18, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on governmental and private industry's efforts to develop renewable energy technologies, focusing on: (1) barriers that discourage electric utilities from using wind and solar technologies; (2) public and private efforts to foster wind and solar energy use; and (3) ways the Department of Energy's (DOE) programs could assist in further development of wind and solar technologies.

GAO found that: (1) the major barriers that discourage wind, photovoltaic, and solar thermal technology development and use include the restricted availability of wind and solar technology in certain geographic regions due to weather conditions, its high cost in comparison with fossil fuels, and the utility companies' view that wind and solar technologies are risky investments; (2) wind energy developers have taken the lead in promoting and creating new markets for wind energy by addressing cost and technological questions and benefitting from federal and state financial assistance and environmental incentives; (3) DOE and photovoltaic industry groups have several efforts underway to lower its costs by advancing photovoltaic technology, expanding markets, and addressing regulatory barriers; (4) DOE has assumed leadership in developing solar thermal technology and has entered into joint ventures to develop central receivers and dish stirling technologies; and (5) DOE actions which could foster greater advancements in wind, photovoltaic, and solar thermal technologies include expanding DOE research and development funding for renewable energy technologies, developing methods to better evaluate cost and resource alternatives, and encouraging greater use of renewable energy by federal agencies.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help ensure effective use of DOE programs for encouraging wind and solar energy use, the Secretary of Energy should reassess DOE energy technology research and development funding for wind and solar energy technologies to ensure that it is commensurate with their potential to meet National Energy Strategy goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE commented that upon arrival of the new administration's management team it reassessed the wind and solar programs. This resulted in a 26-percent increase in the fiscal year 1994 budget request for wind and solar programs, to $141 million over fiscal year 1993 appropriations of $112 million. DOE also stated that it will continue to give these programs priority consideration in future budget planning cycles.

    Recommendation: To help ensure effective use of DOE programs for encouraging wind and solar energy use, the Secretary of Energy should accelerate the development of analytical tools to help utilities and regulators incorporate the costs and benefits, including environmental, of developing and using each energy resource into the utility planning process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE stated that it has increased the emphasis on its Integrated Resource Planning program, which is the principal program area aimed at the development of analytical tools that utilities use to consider energy from all sources in their planning processes. DOE's fiscal year 1994 budget request of $6.8 million for Integrated Resource Planning is a 38-percent increase over the fiscal year 1993 appropriation. DOE also stated that it will continue to emphasize this activity in future budget cycles.

    Recommendation: To help ensure effective use of DOE programs for encouraging wind and solar energy use, the Secretary of Energy should consider assigning a higher priority to: (1) identifying cost-effective applications of photovoltaics by federal agencies; and (2) efforts by the Bonneville and Western Area Power Marketing Administrations to assist customer utilities in identifying and installing renewable energy technologies where appropriate to help meet future energy needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE increased the fiscal year 1994 budget request for the photovoltaics by 24 percent, to $78 million. Included in this request are programs to identify opportunities for use of photovoltaics in both the commercial and federal sectors. The 1994 budget request also includes a 330-percent increase in the Federal Energy Management Program to $19.6 million which, according to DOE, will permit a commensurate increase in activities that could increase the utilization of photovoltaics by federal agencies. In addition, DOE stated that both the Bonneville and Western power marketing administrations initiated programs to encourage customer utilities to consider all options, including renewables, when meeting new demand. Increased funding was also requested for fiscal year 1994 for the integrated resources planning program, which promotes consideration of these options.

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