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Before the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, Committee on 
Appropriations, House of Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 


For Release on Delivery Expected at 10:00 a.m. EST: 

Wednesday, February 28, 2007: 

Advanced Energy Technologies: 

Key Challenges to Their Development and Deployment: 

Statement of Jim Wells, Director: 
Natural Resources and Environment: 


GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-07-550T, a testimony to Subcommittee on Energy and 
Water Development, Committee on Appropriations, House of 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

For decades, the nation has benefited from relatively inexpensive 
energy, but it has also grown reliant on fossil fuels—oil, natural gas, 
and coal. Periodic imported oil supply disruptions have led to price 
shocks, yet the nation’s dependence on imported energy is greater than 
ever. Fossil fuel emissions of carbon dioxide—linked to global 
warming—have also raised environmental concerns. The Department of 
Energy (DOE) has funded research and development (R&D) on advanced 
renewable, fossil, and nuclear energy technologies. GAO’s report 
entitled DOE: Key Challenges Remain for Developing and Deploying 
Advanced Energy Technologies to Meet Future Needs examined the (1) R&D 
funding trends and strategies for developing advanced energy 
technologies; (2) key barriers to developing and deploying advanced 
energy technologies; and (3) efforts of the states and six selected 
countries to develop and deploy advanced energy technologies. GAO 
reviewed DOE R&D budget data and strategic plans and obtained the views 
of experts in DOE, industry, and academia, as well as state and foreign 
government officials. 

What GAO Found: 

DOE’s budget authority for energy R&D, when adjusted for inflation, 
fell 85 percent from its peak in fiscal year 1978 to fiscal year 2005. 
Energy R&D funding in the late 1970s was robust in response to 
constricted oil supplies and an ensuing energy crisis, but R&D funding 
plunged when oil prices returned to their historic levels in the mid-
1980s. DOE’s R&D efforts have resulted in steady incremental progress 
in reducing costs for renewable energy, reducing harmful emissions of 
coal-fired power plants, and improving safety and efficiency for 
nuclear energy. Nevertheless, the nation’s dependence on conventional 
fossil fuels remains virtually the same as 30 years ago. 

Further development and deployment of advanced renewable, fossil, and 
nuclear energy technologies face several key challenges:
* High Capital Costs. The high capital costs of advanced energy 
technologies worry risk-averse investors. For example, solar cells made 
to convert solar energy into electricity for homeowners and businesses 
have been typically too expensive to compete with fossil fuels. DOE’s 
R&D efforts include developing new materials for solar cells that could 
decrease manufacturing costs. 
* Environmental Concerns. Advanced energy technologies need to address 
harmful environmental effects, including bird and bat fatalities cause 
by wind turbines, carbon dioxide and mercury emissions by coal-fired 
power plants, and spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power reactors. 
* Technology-Specific Challenges. Challenges that are unique to each 
technology also create barriers to development and deployment. Ethanol, 
for example, will need to be manufactured with more cost-competitive 
technologies using agricultural residues or other cellulosic materials 
in order to expand beyond corn. Other challenges include developing new 
wind technologies to expand into low-wind and offshore locations; 
developing advanced coal gasification technologies to further reduce 
harmful emissions and high capital costs; and working with the nuclear 
power industry to deploy a new generation of reactors and develop the 
next generation to enable reactors to reprocess highly radioactive 
spent nuclear fuel or produce hydrogen. 

Many states and foreign countries have forged ahead of the federal 
government by successfully stimulating the deployment of renewable 
energy technologies. For example, renewable energy accounts for 3 
percent of Texas’ electricity consumption because Texas enacted 
legislation in 1999 and 2005 requiring its electric utilities to meet 
renewable energy capacity standards. Similarly, Denmark has used 
mandates and financial incentives to promote wind energy, which 
provided 19 percent of its electricity in 2005. 

What GAO Recommends: 

GAO’s report recommended that the Congress consider further stimulating 
the development and deployment of a diversified energy portfolio by 
focusing R&D funding on advanced energy technologies. 


To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
the link above. For more information, contact Jim Wells, at (202) 512-
6877 or 

[End of section] 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

I am pleased to be here today to discuss the challenges that our nation 
faces in meeting its future energy needs. The United States has 
primarily relied on market forces to determine its energy portfolio. 
These market forces have generally succeeded in providing us with 
plentiful, reliable, and generally inexpensive gasoline to power our 
vehicles and electricity to run our homes and businesses. However, most 
of this energy comes from conventional fossil fuels--oil, natural gas, 
and coal--the dependence on which has brought increased economic and 
national security risks and adverse environmental impacts. In 1973, 
1979, 1991, and 2005, the nation's crude oil supplies were constricted 
contributing to major energy price shocks. Despite these price shocks 
and related energy crises, the United States is even more dependent on 
imported crude oil and natural gas today than it was 30 years ago. And, 
without dramatic change, the nation will become ever more reliant on 
imported oil and natural gas with corresponding threats to the U.S. 
economy and national security. Perhaps equally important, the growing 
recognition that global warming is linked to carbon dioxide emissions 
from burning coal and oil will need to be addressed. Given these 
threats, the nation will almost certainly need to make much more 
tangible progress than has been achieved to date to diversify our 
energy portfolio by reducing conventional fossil fuel usage and 
developing and deploying advanced energy technologies. 

Since its inception in 1977, the Department of Energy (DOE) has had 
leadership responsibility for energy research, development, and 
demonstration (R&D) that enable the nation to deploy advanced energy 
technologies for meeting future demands and diversify its energy 
portfolio.[Footnote 1] During the past 29 years, the Congress has 
provided DOE about $50 billion for R&D in renewable, fossil, and 
nuclear energy technologies.[Footnote 2] Regrettably, however, the 
nation is still not currently positioned to deploy alternative energy 
technologies in the next 25 years that will reverse our growing 
dependence on conventional fossil energy. 

My testimony today is based on our December 2006 report on key 
challenges to developing and deploying advanced energy 
technologies.[Footnote 3] Specifically, my testimony will address (1) 
funding trends for DOE's energy R&D program, (2) key barriers to 
developing and deploying advanced energy technologies, and (3) efforts 
of the states and six selected countries to develop and deploy advanced 
energy technologies. 


DOE's budget authority for renewable, fossil, and nuclear energy R&D 
declined by over 85 percent (in inflation-adjusted terms) from 1978 
through 2005, dropping from about $5.5 billion in fiscal year 1978 to 
$793 million in fiscal year 2005. 

Figure 1: DOE's Budget Authority for Renewable, Fossil, and Nuclear 
R&D, Fiscal Years 1978-2005: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO analysis of DOE data. 

Note: Budget authority is in real terms, adjusted to fiscal year 2005 
dollars to account for inflation. 

[End of figure] 

DOE's R&D efforts have made renewable technologies more cost 
competitive, reduced harmful sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide 
pollution by coal-fired power plants, and improved the safety and 
operating efficiency for nuclear reactors. However, DOE and the energy 
industry still need to overcome enormous technological and financial 
challenges before advanced energy technologies are likely to supplant 
fossil fuels on a national scale. For example, because many high-wind 
sites have been developed, for the wind industry to expand, it will 
need to develop low-wind and offshore sites that require new designs, 
technologies, and materials, and will face higher upfront capital 
costs. Similarly, development and use of advanced coal gasification and 
carbon sequestration and storage technologies to control harmful carbon 
dioxide emissions is dependent upon additional technological 
breakthroughs and lowered costs. 

While federal R&D funding has declined and the government has relied on 
the market to make advanced energy technology deployment decisions, 
many states have assumed higher profile roles by enacting standards, 
mandates, and financial incentives primarily to stimulate renewable 
energy technologies that address their growing energy needs and 
environmental concerns. For example, in Texas over 1,900 megawatts of 
new renewable capacity was installed and renewable energy now accounts 
for 3 percent of electricity consumption because legislation enacted in 
1999 and 2005 requires Texas' utilities to meet renewable energy 
capacity standards. In addition, each of the six countries we reviewed-
-Brazil, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Spain, and France--has used mandates 
and/or financial incentives to deploy advanced energy technologies that 
are providing, or are expected in the future to provide, significant 
amounts of energy. For example, Brazil has replaced all of its imported 
oil with ethanol, wind energy provides 19 percent of Denmark's 
electricity, and Germany's renewable energy technologies generate 10 
percent of its electricity. 


For the past several decades, the United States has enjoyed relatively 
inexpensive and plentiful energy supplies, relying primarily on market 
forces to determine the energy mix that provides the most reliable and 
least expensive sources of energy--primarily oil, natural gas, and 
coal. In 1973, oil cost about $15 per barrel (in inflation-adjusted 
terms) and accounted for 96 percent of the energy used in the 
transportation sector and 17 percent of the energy used to generate 
electricity. As shown in figure 2, the 2004 U.S. energy portfolio is 
similar to the 1973 energy portfolio. In 2004, oil accounted for 98 
percent of energy consumed for transportation, and coal and natural gas 
accounted for about 71 percent of the energy used to generate 
electricity. Renewable energy--primarily hydropower--remains at 6 
percent of U.S. energy consumption. 

Figure 2: Comparison of the U.S. Energy Portfolio in 1973 and 2004: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO analysis of EIA data. 

[End of figure] 

However, since 1973, U.S. crude oil imports have grown from 36 percent 
of consumption to 66 percent of consumption today, and crude oil prices 
have jumped particularly in recent years to today's $60 per barrel 

DOE's Budget Authority for Renewable, Fossil, and Nuclear Energy R&D 
Has Declined by Over 85 Percent in Real Terms Since 1978: 

Despite growing dependence on foreign energy sources, DOE's budget 
authority for renewable, fossil, and nuclear energy R&D dropped from 
$5.5 billion (in real terms) in fiscal year 1978 to $793 million in 
fiscal year 2005--a decline of over 85 percent. As shown in figure 3, 
renewable, fossil, and nuclear energy R&D budget authority each peaked 
in the late 1970s before falling sharply in the 1980s. Total budget 
authority for the three energy R&D programs has risen after bottoming 
out in fiscal year 1998. 

Figure 3: DOE's Budget Authority for Renewable, Fossil, and Nuclear 
R&D, Fiscal Years 1978 through 2005: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO analysis of DOE data. 

Note: Budget authority is in real terms, adjusted to fiscal year 2005 
dollars to account for inflation. Excludes DOE program management costs 
and indirect facilities costs of DOE laboratories. 

[End of figure] 

DOE's renewable R&D program has focused on ethanol, wind, and solar 
technologies, making steady incremental progress over the past 29 years 
in reducing their costs. DOE's goal is for biofuels production in 2030 
to replace 30 percent of current gasoline demand, or about 60 billion 
gallons per year. In 2005, ethanol refiners produced 3.9 billion 
gallons of ethanol, primarily from corn, that was used (1) as a 
substitute for methyl tertiary-butyl ether, known as MTBE, which oil 
refineries have used to oxygenate gasoline and (2) to make E85, a blend 
of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline for use in flex fuel 
vehicles. To achieve its production goal, DOE is developing additional 
sources of cellulosic biomass--such as agricultural residues, energy 
crops, and forest wastes--to minimize adverse effects on food prices. 
In recent years, DOE's wind program shifted from high-wind sites to low-
wind and offshore sites. Low-wind sites are far more plentiful than 
high-wind sites and are located closer to electricity load centers, 
which can substantially reduce the cost of connecting to the 
electricity transmission grid. Low-wind and offshore-wind energy must 
address design and upfront capital costs to be competitive. DOE's solar 
R&D program focuses on improving photovoltaic systems, heat and light 
production, and utility-size solar power plants. DOE is exploring thin- 
film technologies to reduce the manufacturing costs of photovoltaic 
cells, which convert sunlight into electricity. Similarly, DOE's solar 
heating and lighting R&D program is developing technologies that use 
sunlight for various thermal applications, particularly space heating 
and cooling. DOE is also working with industry and states to develop 
utility-size solar power plants to convert the sun's energy into high 
temperature heat that is used to generate electricity. 

Beginning in the mid-1980s, DOE's fossil energy R&D provided funding 
through the Clean Coal Technology Program to demonstrate technologies 
for reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. DOE also has 
focused on developing and demonstrating advanced integrated 
gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technologies. More recently, DOE 
proposed a $1 billion advanced coal-based power plant R&D project 
called FutureGen--cost-shared between DOE (76 percent) and industry (24 
percent)--which will demonstrate how IGCC technology can both reduce 
harmful emissions and improve efficiency by integrating IGCC with 
carbon capture and sequestration technologies for the long-term storage 
of carbon dioxide. According to DOE, FutureGen is designed to be the 
first "zero-emissions" coal-based power plant and is expected to be 
operational by 2015. 

Beginning in fiscal year 1999, DOE's nuclear energy R&D program shifted 
from improving safety and efficiency of nuclear power reactors to 
developing advanced reactor technologies by focusing on (1) the Nuclear 
Power 2010 initiative in an effort to stimulate electric power 
companies to construct and operate new reactors; (2) the Global Nuclear 
Energy Partnership, or GNEP, to develop and demonstrate technologies 
for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel that could recover the fuel for 
reuse, reduce radioactive waste, and minimize proliferation threats; 
and (3) the Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems Initiative, or Gen IV, 
to develop new fourth generation advanced reactor technologies intended 
to reduce disposal requirements and manufacture hydrogen by about 2020 
to 2030. 

Advanced Renewable, Fossil, and Nuclear Energy Technologies Face Key 
Barriers to Market Deployment: 

Advanced renewable, fossil, and nuclear energy technologies all face 
key challenges to their deployment into the market. The primary 
renewable energy technologies with the potential to substantially 
expand their existing production capacity during the next 25 years are 
ethanol, a partial substitute for gasoline in transportation, and wind 
and solar energy technologies for generating electricity. For advanced 
fossil technologies, the primary challenge is controlling emissions of 
mercury and carbon dioxide generated by conventional coal-fired plants 
by using coal gasification technologies that cost about 20 percent more 
to construct than conventional coal-fired plants and demonstrating the 
technological feasibility of the long-term storage of carbon dioxide 
captured by a large-scale coal-fired power plant. For advanced nuclear 
technologies, investors face substantial risk because of nuclear 
reactors' high capital costs and long construction time frames and 
uncertainty about the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) review of 
license applications for new reactors. 

One of ethanol's biggest challenges is to cost-effectively produce 
ethanol while diversifying the biomass energy sources so it can grow 
from its current 3-percent market share. DOE is exploring technologies 
to use cellulosic biomass from, for example, agricultural residues or 
fast-growing grasses and trees. In addition, ethanol requires an 
independent transportation, storage, and distribution infrastructure 
because its corrosive qualities and water solubility prevent it from 
using, for example, existing oil pipelines to transport the product 
from the Midwest to the east or west coasts. As a result, fewer than 
1,000 fueling stations nationwide provide E85 compared with 176,000 
stations that dispense gasoline. Ethanol also needs to become more cost 
competitive. Even with the recent spikes in gasoline prices, ethanol 
producers rely on federal tax incentives to compete. In October 2006, 
Consumer Reports estimated that drivers paying $2.91 per gallon for E85 
actually paid about $3.99 for the energy equivalent amount of a gallon 
of gasoline because the distance vehicles traveled per gallon declined 
by 27 percent. Finally, congressional earmarks of DOE's biomass R&D 
funding rose from 14 percent of the fiscal year 2000 funds to 57 
percent ($52 million) of the fiscal year 2006 funds, according to a DOE 
program official. 

Both wind and solar technologies have experienced substantial growth in 
recent years, but both wind and solar technologies face important 
challenges for future growth. In particular, wind investors pay 
substantial upfront capital costs to build a wind farm and connect the 
farm to the power transmission grid, which can cost $100,000 or more 
per mile on average, according to DOE officials. Because both wind 
energy and solar energy are intermittent, utilities have been skeptical 
about using them, relying instead on large baseload power plants that 
operate full time and are more accessible to the transmission grid. In 
contrast, wind turbines operate the equivalent of less than 40 percent 
of the hours in a year because of the intermittency of wind. In 
addition, the electricity that is generated must be immediately used or 
transmitted to the grid because it cannot be cost effectively stored. 

For the wind industry to expand from high-wind sites to low-wind and 
offshore locations, DOE needs to also develop bigger wind turbines with 
longer blades mounted on taller towers, requiring improved designs and 
materials for blade and drive train components. In addition, offshore 
wind development faces such technical challenges as understanding the 
effects of wave and ocean current loads on the base of the structures. 
The wind industry also faces concerns about environmental impacts, 
including bird and bat fatalities caused by wind turbines. Finally, 
investors interested in developing wind energy have relied on the 
federal production tax credit as a financial incentive to construct 
wind farms. The credit has periodically expired, resulting in a boom- 
and-bust cycle for the wind power industry. 

Solar energy also faces a challenge of developing inexpensive 
photovoltaic solar cells. As a result of R&D efforts, photovoltaic 
cells, consisting mostly of crystalline-silicone materials, are 
becoming increasingly efficient, converting nearly 40 percent of 
sunlight into electricity for some applications, but the cells are 
expensive for the typical homeowner. DOE is exploring how to reduce 
manufacturing costs through thin-film technologies, but at a cost of 
efficiency. DOE's challenge is to increase efficiency and reduce costs 
in the thin-film technologies. 

Reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants continues to be the 
priority for DOE's fossil energy R&D. Having significantly reduced 
sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, DOE is now focusing on reducing 
mercury and carbon dioxide emissions. Gasification technologies, such 
as the IGCC configuration, holds the most promise, but at a 20 percent 
higher cost than conventional coal-fired power plants. To address 
global warming concerns, DOE's challenge is to reduce the cost of 
gasification technologies and demonstrate the large-scale sequestration 
and long-term storage of carbon dioxide. 

A significant obstacle facing nuclear power is the high upfront capital 
costs. No electric power company has applied for a NRC license to 
construct a new nuclear power plants in almost 30 years in large part 
because of a long legacy of cost over-runs, schedule delays, and 
cancellations. Industry officials report that new nuclear power plants 
can cost between $1.5 billion and $4 billion to construct, assuming no 
problems in the licensing and construction process, with additional 
expenses for connecting the plant to transmission lines. In addition, 
investors have grown concerned about the disposal of a legacy of spent 
nuclear fuel. While NRC has revised its licensing process to address 
past concerns over licensing delays and added costs because of 
requirements to retrofit plants, investors are uncertain of the 
effectiveness of the revised regulations. Recently, the Massachusetts 
Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Chicago issued 
studies comparing nuclear power's costs with other forms of generating 
electricity.[Footnote 4] Both studies concluded that, assuming no 
unexpected costs or delays in licensing and construction, nuclear power 
is only marginally competitive with conventional coal and natural gas 
and, even then, only if the nuclear power industry significantly 
reduces anticipated construction times. MIT also reported, however, 
that if carbon were to be regulated, nuclear energy would be much more 
competitive with coal and natural gas. 

The States and Countries We Reviewed Have Implemented a Variety of 
Initiatives to Encourage the Development and Deployment of Advanced 
Energy Technologies: 

While federal R&D has declined in recent years, the states have enacted 
legislation or developed initiatives to stimulate the deployment of 
renewable energy technologies, primarily to address their growing 
energy demands, adverse environmental impacts, and their concern for a 
reliable, diversified energy portfolio. As of 2006, (1) 39 states have 
established interconnection and net metering rules that require 
electric power companies to connect renewable energy sources to the 
power transmission grid and credit, for example, the monthly 
electricity bill of residents with solar-electric systems when they 
generate more power than they use; (2) 22 states have established 
renewable portfolio standards requiring or encouraging that a fixed 
percentage of the state's electricity be generated from renewable 
energy sources; and (3) 45 states offer various tax credits, grants, or 
loans. For example, renewable energy accounts for 3 percent of Texas' 
electricity consumption because Texas enacted legislation in 1999 and 
2005 that created a renewable portfolio standard requiring electric 
utilities to meet renewable energy capacity standards. 

We identified six countries--Brazil, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Spain, 
and France--that illustrate a range of financial initiatives and 
mandates to stimulate the development and deployment of advanced 
renewable, fossil, and nuclear energy technologies. Through mandates 
and incentives, Brazil initiated an ethanol program in 1975 that 
eventually led to an end to Brazil's dependence on imported oil. 
Denmark focused on wind energy and, in 2005, derived 19 percent of its 
electricity from wind energy. Germany began a more diversified 
renewable energy approach in 2000 and has a goal to increase the share 
of renewable energy consumption to at least 50 percent by 2050. Japan 
subsidized the cost of residential solar systems for 10 years, 
resulting in the installation of solar systems on over 253,000 homes 
and the price of residential solar systems falling by more than half. 
Spain hopes to lead the way for European Union investments in an IGCC 
coal power plant, improving efficiency and generating fewer emissions 
than conventional coal-fired plants. Finally, France has led Europe in 
nuclear energy and plans to deploy new nuclear power plants within the 
next decade. 

Concluding Observations: 

The United States remains the world's largest oil consumer. In the wake 
of increasing energy costs with the attendant threat to national 
security and the growing recognition that fossil fuel consumption is 
contributing to global climate change, the nation is once again 
assessing how best to stimulate the deployment of advanced energy 
technologies. However, it is unlikely that DOE's current level of R&D 
funding or the nation's current energy policies will be sufficient to 
deploy advanced energy technologies in the next 25 years. Without 
sustained high energy prices or concerted, high-profile federal 
government leadership, U.S. consumers are unlikely to change their 
energy-use patterns, and the United States will continue to rely upon 
its current energy portfolio. Specifically, government leadership is 
needed to overcome technological and market barriers to deploying 
advanced energy technologies that would reduce the nation's 
vulnerability to oil supply disruptions and adverse environmental 
effects of burning fossil fuels. 

To meet the nation's rising demand for energy, reduce its economic and 
national security vulnerability to crude oil supply disruptions, and 
minimize adverse environmental effects, our December 2006 report 
recommended that the Congress consider further stimulating the 
development and deployment of a diversified energy portfolio by 
focusing R&D funding on advanced energy technologies. 

Contacts and Acknowledgments: 

For further information about this testimony, please contact me at 
(202) 512-3841 or Contact points for our Offices of 
Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last 
page of this report. Richard Cheston, Robert Sanchez, and Kerry Lipsitz 
made key contributions to this statement. 


[1] DOE is also responsible for energy efficiency programs, which are 
integral to addressing future energy challenges by reducing demand. 

[2] All historical DOE R&D budget authority totals are presented in 
real terms by adjusting them to fiscal year 2005 dollars to account for 

[3] GAO, Department of Energy: Key Challenges Remain for Developing and 
Deploying Advanced Energy Technologies to Meet Future Needs, GAO-07-106 
(Washington, D.C.: Dec. 20, 2006). 

[4] MIT. The Future of Nuclear Power (Cambridge, MA: July 2003); 
University of Chicago, The Economic Future of Nuclear Power (Chicago, 
IL: August 2004). 

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