For Energy Department, More Green Cars, Less Next-Next-Generation Technology

The Department of Energy did a little soul-searching and found it was focusing too much on futuristic ideas.

The Department of Energy today released its first Quadrennial Technology Review, a future-looking document that required the department to go through the bureaucratic equivalent of cleaning out its closet and rethinking its wardrobe. It found was that it had been spending too much money on clothes it might never actually wear (like forward-thinking clean energy technology) and not enough on practical shoes (like transportation). In government speak, the Department of Energy thinks the country has “underinvested in the transportation sector.”

The department’s new strategy is to focus on technologies that have a strong chance of jumping over the “valley of death”—the time between a pilot project and commercial demonstrations when new technologies tend to suffocate from lack of funding—within the next 10 years. Fuel efficiency technologies and electric vehicles have a greater likelihood of clearing the hump than ambitious clean energy or building efficiency projects, according to the department’s analysis. For starters, the Department argues, “buildings last longer than vehicles.” Cars spend an average of about 15 years in active use; buildings and power plants live for decades. If the government wants to change energy use quickly, it should focus on changing it in the sector where people are going to need new products, the department said.

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