PCAST Report – Energy R&D in 21st Century

Federal Energy R&D in the 21st Century

The famous “PCAST” report is now available in hard copy and on-line.

This presidential panel, operating under the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the White House, reviewed all federal government energy R&D, in the context of restructuring and declining industry R&D budgets.

It concludes that R&D can accomplish a lot to reduce the cost of supply, increase productivity and support diversification of export. The recommendations emphasize efficiency, renewables, and public education.

Hardcopies can be obtained directly from OSTP
–contact N. Kelly by email at kellyn@nrel.gov, or fax 202-651-7502

The entire report is online at

The first part of the executive summary, and the cover letter to the President are included here:




EXECUTIVE SUMMARY (introduction)
The United States faces major energy-related challenges as it enters the twenty-first century. Our economic well-being depends on reliable, affordable supplies of energy. Our environmental well-being—from improving urban air quality to abating the risk of global warming —requires a mix of energy sources that emits less carbon dioxide and other pollutants than today’ mix does. Our national security requires secure supplies of oil or alternatives to it, as well as prevention of nuclear proliferation. And for reasons of economy, environment, security, and stature as a world power alike, the United States must maintain its leadership in the science and technology of energy supply and use.

All of these energy-related challenges to the well-being of this country are made more acute by what is happening elsewhere in the world. The combination of population growth and economic development in Asia, Africa, and Latin America is driving a rapid expansion of world energy use, which is beginning to augment significantly the worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion, increasing pressures on world oil supplies, and exacerbating nuclear proliferation concerns. Means must be found to meet the economic aspirations and associated energy needs of all the world’s people while protecting the environment and preserving peace, stability, and opportunity.

Improvements in energy technologies, attainable through energy research and development, are the key to the capacity of the United States to address—and to help the rest of the world address —these challenges.

Many of the energy R&D programs of the Federal government, which are primarily conducted by the Department of Energy (DOE), have been well focused and effective within the limits of available funding. But these programs, taken as a whole, are not commensurate in scope and scale with the energy challenges and opportunities the twenty-first century will present. (This judgment takes into account the contributions to energy R&D that can reasonably be expected to be made by the private sector under market conditions similar to today’s.) The inadequacy of curren energy R&D is especially acute in relation to the challenge of responding prudently and cost-effectively to the risk of global climatic change from society’s greenhuse-gas emissions, of which the most important is carbon dioxide from combustion of fossil fuels. Much of the new R&D needed to respond to this challenge would also be responsive to the other challenges.

To close the gap between the current energy R&D program and the one that the challenges require, the Panel recommends strengthening the DOE applied energy-technology R&D portfolio by increasing funding for four of its major elements (energy end-use efficiency, nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, and renewable energy technologies) and restructuring part of the fifth (fossil fuel technologies). We also recommend better coordination between the Department’s applied energy-technology programs and the fundamental research carried out in the program on Basic Energy Sciences; increased Department efforts in integrated analysis of its entire energy R&D portfolio and the leverage the portfolio offers against the energy challenges of the next century; targeted efforts to improve the prospects of commercialization of the fruits of publicly funded energy R&D in specific areas; increased attention to certain international aspects of energy R&D; and changes in the prominence given to energy R&D in relation to the Department’s other missions, coupled with changes in how this R&D is managed.


November 4, 1997

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

PCAST endorses the report’s findings that this country’s economic prosperity, environmental quality, national security, and world leadership in science and technology all require improving our energy technologies, and that an enhanced national R&D effort is needed to provide these improvements. The inadequacy of current energy R&D is especially acute in relation to the challenge of responding responsibly and cost-effectively to the risk of global climatic change from society’s greenhouse gas emissions, in particular, carbon dioxide from combustion of fossil fuels.

PCAST recommends focusing the government’s energy R&D on projects where high potential payoffs for society as a whole justify bigger R&D investments than industry would be likely to make on the basis of expected private returns and where modest government investments can effectively complement, leverage, or catalyze work in the private sector.

The report recommends an increase, over a five-year period, of $1 billion in the Department of Energy’s annual budget for applied energy-technology R&D. The largest shares of such an increase would go to R&D in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, but nuclear fusion and fission would also receive increases. The composition of the R&D supported on advanced fossil-fuel technologies would change in favor of longer-term opportunities, including fuel cells and carbon-sequestration technologies, but the overall spending level for fossil-fuel technologies would stay roughly constant in real terms.

The proposed total for FY 2003 would return the DOE’s real level of effort in applied energy-technology R&D in that year to about where it was in FY 1991 and FY 1992. In constant dollars, the average real growth rate would be 8.3 percent per year.

PCAST respectfully urges that you increase your efforts to communicate clearly to the public the importance of energy and energy R&D to the nation’s future, and PCAST recommends that you clearly designate the Secretary of Energy as the national leader and coordinator for developing and carrying out the national energy strategy.

The report also makes recommendations for improving the Department of Energy’s management of its energy R&D portfolio, including the naming of a single individual with responsibility for the whole portfolio and reporting directly to the Secretary.

The energy R&D portfolio PCAST proposes will be of crucial importance in meeting that challenge. Many of the energy-technologies that will help with the problem of climate change, moreover, will also help address other energy-related challenges, including reducing dependence on imported oil, diversifying the U.S. domestic fuel- and electricity-supply systems, expanding U.S. exports of energy technologies, reducing air and water pollution, and reducing the cost, safety and security risks of nuclear energy systems around the world.


John H. Gibbons
President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology

cc: Vice President Al Gore

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