The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Office of Congressional and government Affairs
At A Glance
: National Energy Policy: Research and Development
: 07/18/2001
Session: 107th Congress (First Session)
: H.M. Hubbard

Independent Consultant; President and CEO, Pacific International Center for High Technology Research (PICHTR), retired, Golden Colorado; Director, Solar Energy Research Institute, retired; and Chair, Committee on the Programmatic Review of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Power Technologies, Board on Energy and Environmental Systems, Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems, National Research Council, The National Academies

: Senate
: Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Testimony of

Dr. H.M. Hubbard
Independent Consultant, Lee’s Summit, MO;
President and CEO (retired)
Pacific International Center for High Technology Research (PICHTR), Golden Colorado;
and Director (retired)
Solar Energy Research Institute


Committee on the Programmatic Review of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Power Technologies
Board on Energy and Environmental Systems
Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems
National Research Council
The National Academies

Before the

Energy and Natural Resources Committee
U.S. Senate

July 18,2001

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee thank you for inviting me to testify at this important hearing on legislative proposals related to energy and scientific research, development, technology deployment, education and training. I was specifically asked to testify on the condition and prospects for renewable energy.

In May of last year the National Research Council (NRC) issued a report, Renewable Power Pathways. The report is the result of a study carried out by the NRC`s Study Committee for the Programmatic Review of the Office of Power Technologies (OPT). this was followed, in late August, by a letter report of a follow- up study by the Committee on Recent Initiatives by the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy and The Office of Power Technologies.

The study committee which I had the privilege of chairing consisted of a group of energy experts coming from different sectors of the energy research community. The final reports were reviewed by a variety of reviewers according to the NRC`s usual procedures. A list of committee members and the reviewers is appended to this testimony.

The majority of the opinions and recommendations presented in this testimony are drawn from those reports and the discussions of the NRC Study Committee. In areas in which my testimony goes beyond the scope of the NRC study I have drawn on other sources and my own long experience in the energy and environmental research and development. While I believe that the opinions and conclusions presented here are consistent with the views and conclusions of the Committee, I take personal responsibility for the testimony as it stands.

Energy - a crisis or a chronic concern?

For the last three decades of the twentieth century energy has been a matter of continuing concern to the American public and hence to our elected representatives and business leaders. Will we have it - i.e. power and fuel - when we need it?

Will it continue to be cheap? What is it doing to our air and water? And more recently, what is all this noise about ``global warming"? Is it a myth promoted by over-zealous scientists and over-wrought environmentalists or do we need to be concerned about it?

Believe me, we do need to be concerned about it and the majority of the American public understands that. Occasionally our chronic concerns develop into acute anxiety for good and sufficient reasons. Witness the impact of electricity blackouts and high prices in California as well as the high gasoline prices in the Midwest. In the past as a problem abated public attitudes and political priorities settled down and energy issues took a back seat but the chronic concern lingered.

To date, energy concerns have rarely if ever reached a state that could be called a ``national crisis" but we cannot be sure that this will always be so. We are confronted by an increasing dependence on imported fuel, concerns about the environmental damage and health risks associated with energy production and use. Also there are concerns arising from questions about economic security and geopolitical stability. We as a nation have good reason for a continuing anxiety about our energy supply.

We face a promising but unpredictable future. In the face of these uncertainties and questions, we know that we need a more robust and flexible energy infrastructure with a diversity of fuel resources and energy conversion technologies.

We need a diverse energy portfolio! Where will renewable energy technologies (RET) fit? Almost all energy planers and analysts from those of international organizations like the World Bank to the forward looking energy companies, public and private thank tanks, and non-governmental (NGO) advocacy groups agree that renewable energy will play an increasing role over the next century in this portfolio. As the CEO of one of the world's largest natural gas producers and distributors remarked to me when we shared the platform at an Aspen Institute energy forum a decade ago: ``After sometime around 2025 the energy world will belong to you guys (renewable energy) but until then it belongs to us." That company is now busily engaged in developing renewable energy projects to complement its primary fossil energy business.

Renewable Energy Technologies - current status and promise

The federal government began a major R&D effort twenty- five years ago to develop the science and the advanced technologies necessary to provide electric power, transportation fuels and thermal energy from our domestic renewable resources. These resources include solar radiation, geothermal energy, hydropower, biomass, wind, and ocean energy. We have made remarkable progress and the result is a diverse set of renewable energy technologies several of which are already making a significant contribution to our energy supply and our economy.

Over this period substantial improvements have been made in the performance and reductions in cost of these technologies. In fact, most of DOE`s goals and objectives in performance and cost of production have been met or exceeded. The DOE technical managers and the laboratory researchers should take a bow. Photovoltaic and wind turbine technologies are outstanding examples of successful cooperation between industry and government research. There has been important progress in other areas as well, biomass conversion, hydrogen fuels, solar building design, and solar thermal systems, etc. In general the advantages and disadvantages associated with the different resources and conversion technologies are well understood.

On the other hand the renewable technologies have disappointed their supporters. The deployment goals set by DOE and the industry have not been met and the use of renewable technologies in the U.S. economy is still limited. There are several reasons for this. Most importantly, the energy market has changed. Our economy has become much more energy efficient and the market more competitive. Conventional energy prices have remained lower than expected. DOE in concert with the emerging industry has often set deployment goals based on unreasonable expectations and unrealistic promises.

Never the less as R&D continues to reduce costs and as conventional energy prices fluctuate up and down the new renewable technologies, i.e. those other than biomass combustion and conventional hydropower, are emerging in the market at a rapidly increasing rate. U.S. shipments of solar cell modules increased by 23 percent over the previous year. The approximately 2500 MW of wind energy capacity installed in the U.S. is expected to double by the end of this year. New wind farms are going up in southern California, west Texas, on the high plains of Kansas/Colorado, in Minnesota and in Iowa. In a related development, a third or more of U.S. consumers can now choose some type of “green power”, i.e. power from renewable sources, from either their regulated utility or in competitive markets.

What can we expect from renewable energy in the future? Energy projections and forecasts are notoriously uncertain. But within a broad uncertainty band there seems to be some consistency among the fearless experts. Ten years ago the five National Laboratories most involved in renewable energy were asked to develop a ``consensus" on the Potential of Renewable Energy. The resulting ``white paper" issued in March of 1990 projected a renewable energy contribution in 2030 of between 15 and 28 percent. The lower number in the case of a business as usual scenario and the higher number if federal policy supports and ``intensified" Research, Development, and Deployment (R,D&D) scenario. Other attempts to estimate the RET contribution run in the range of 20 to 50 per cent in the time period of 2025 to 2050.

The Report to the President on Federal Energy Research and Development for the Challenges of the Twenty-First Century was issued in November of 1997 by the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). In that report the Panel on Energy Research and Development stated that ``the Panel believes that with a strong R&D program coupled to appropriate demonstration and commercialization incentives that many of the renewable energy technologies in the (DOE) portfolio have good prospects of becoming fully competitive with conventional technologies in whole scale applications. The time to get there was projected at less than ten years for some (wind appears to be ahead of schedule), up to 20 to 25 for others, i.e. transportation fuels from energy crops. Shell International Petroleum Company has projected that by 2025 ``renewable energy sources could contribute to global energy one-half to two-thirds as much as fossil fuels do at present with new renewable sources (excluding hydropower and traditional biomass) accounting for one- third to one-half of the renewables total." The Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made similar statements concerning the energy contribution from rewnewables.

There is a problem! In fact a couple of them that make it difficult for the program planners and the emerging RET industry to know how to proceed. It also makes achieving the potential of renewables difficult. The current director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Admiral Truly, stated them clearly in a recent statement.

“Beginning in the 1970`s, every administration and Congress has had a different set of national goals, R&D investment levels and policy actions for developing these technologies" resulting in ``1) the erratic up-and-down nature of annual federal R&D investments for energy efficiency and renewable energy, and 2) the confusing and inconsistent array of national energy strategies, tax incentives, and regulatory policies (superimposed on the program) since the programs began”.

Hopefully this Committee can do something about these problems! We need more stability in the budget, and more consistency in policy direction. Under present conditions it is very difficult to develop and implement a coherent strategic plan for a long range research and development program. That however should not keep DOE from trying and recently they have begun to do so. Hopefully the process will be continued by the new administration.

Renewable Energy Program Management

The Study Committee was directed to do a ``programmatic" review of DOE`s office of renewable power technologies. The Office, a major unit of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) conducts R&D programs for the production and distribution of electricity from renewable energy resources. The individual program elements dealing with production include: photovoltaics, wind, solar thermal, geothermal, biopower, and hydroelectric technologies: Others deal with ``crosscutting" issues; storage, transmission (including superconductivity) hydrogen, and distributed power. We began with an examination of the individual programs but were rapidly lead into the broader issues of program management, planning, and coordination with other R&D units in the Department doing related work.

In the report there are recommendations for each of the individual Programs. I will not go into them here but in general the technical performance was excellent. The individual program plans varied in quality from nonexistent to well thought out.

While we did not attempt to give formal ratings to the programs my own opinion that they varied from ``not bad" to outstanding with the majority in the ``good to excellent" range. We were, however, concerned by the apparent lack of coherence and coordination among the program elements and with other governmental organizations doing related work. This is reflected in our recommendations for the overall program as indicated below.

• OPT should develop criteria and a systematic process for selecting specific research and development programs.

• OPT should focus more on integrating its programs, identifying common needs and opportunities for research, and clarifying how the individual programs can further their objective. Bench marking and other planning techniques used by industry could be adapted for measuring progress and selecting priorities.

• OPT should develop a robust rationale for its portfolio of renewable energy technology projects. OPT and its individual programs should de-emphasize short-term deployment goals (which have often been unrealistic, overly optimistic, and which are not within DOE control) as the metrics for defining success. The stated objectives should be the development of a sound science and engineering base. The metrics should be stated in terms of technical performance, decreasing costs and the development of technologies that meet the needs of industry and the marketplace.

• OPT should institute a process of regular external peer reviews (at least every two years) of its proposed and ongoing projects and programs as well as its overall goals. As part of the process OPT should report to the public and the Congress how it responds to the recommendation of the reviewers.

Review of Recent DOE Initiatives

First a note of explanation: The OPT programmatic review was proposed in discussions between EERE and the NRC in the summer of 1988. The scope work was approved and the study funded in the late fall. The committee was first convened in March of 1999. A draft report was produced by the Committee with the help of the study director and his staff in December for appropriate review resulting in the issue of the final report in May. As you have seen the Study found a lot of merit in the programs (along with some deficiencies) but was quite critical of the renewable energy management because of a lack of leadership in the areas of coordination, planning, monitoring process, setting realistic goals and metrics.

While the Study Committee was conducting it's review at the program level (a kind of bottom-up look at how OPT does it's work) DOE senior management under the leadership of the under secretary and the newly established DOE R&D Council was continuing its ``initiative to apply portfolio approaches to managing Departmental R&D". This lead to initiatives by OERE and OPT which in the opinion of OERE management addressed many of the deficiencies and responded to many of the recommendations of the Study Committee as well as those contained in a ``top-down" Review of Management in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA). As part of their response to the Study Committees report OPT asked the Study Committees to review those initiatives and recent managements steps. This review was conducted in June, July, and August during which time the Committee conducted a review of materials provided by EERE and OPT regarding those changes and initiatives and held a meeting to interact with DOE senior managers including the Under Secretary, the Assistant Secretary of EERE, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for OPT and the OPT Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary. An NRC letter report was issued in late August. The letter report should not be interpreted as a review of the findings, conclusions or recommendations of the earlier Committee report. Rather the letter report is strictly a consideration of recent action.

What did the Study Committee conclude? The documents submitted, ``taken together, are the major elements of a comprehensive management and planning system designed to identify R&D needs in EERE/OPT program areas, to establish visions, goals, and objectives, and to develop roadmaps and multi-year plans for achieving them. In addition, EERE and OPT have made numerous management changes to facilitate and promote communication, cooperation, coordination and collaboration across organizational lines, improve capabilities, and enhance management efficiency and effectiveness". . .. . .. . ...

``The Committee recognizes that the completion and implementation of strategic and program plans is a work in progress - as is the implementation of the recently developed concept of a Strategic Management System (SMS). The Committee encourages EERE/OPT to complete the process and believes that the results will address many of the concerns identified in the recent NAPA and NRC reports."

Successful long-term implementation depends on the acceptance by DOE senior career personnel. For the full potential on the initiatives and management changes to be realized, they must become embedded in the way DOE/EERE/OPT conduct their business. Among the challenges EERE/OPT now face is clearly and unambiguously presenting the system and goals to the Congress and to the new administration along with the benefits that are expected to result.

In the year 2001, if DOE/EERE/OPT can build on the encouraging start they made the previous year in improving their program planning they will clearly be ``moving in the right direction".

Final Remarks and Recommendations

In the conclusion there are several points that I would like to emphasize to the Committee:

• The first is the importance to our country's future of having the renewable energy option available. Renewable energy alone will not solve our energy concerns but without it our chances and the world's chances of creating the sustainable energy supply and distribution system are close to zero.

• The second is that in spite of its problems the cooperative Federal/Industry program has been remarkably successful in developing the science and technology base.

• The third is that renewable energy R&D is of necessity a long term effort. We are not there yet. The core program requires stable funding at reasonable levels tied to program objectives. Since the early 1980`s the program has been generally under- funded and subjected to erratic fluctuations.

• The fourth is that energy R&D in general and renewable energy programs in particular need stronger, more effective leadership than they have usually received, including better planning, metrics, clearer definition of program objectives and more effective coordination of program elements.

• The fifth is put the E back in DOE. It is often pointed out that only about twenty per cent of the DOE budget is devoted to energy R&D and that the attention of senior DOE officials is often directed to other responsibilities. In June of 1995 in the Final Report of the task Force on Strategic Energy Research and Development know as the Yergin report it was recommended that ``responsibility for energy R&D portfolio strategy, budgeting, management, and integration over existing programmatic division be given to a single person at the Under Secretary or Deputy Secretary level reporting directly to the Secretary of Energy." The Study Committee in its discussions endorsed that recommendation and urges its implementation.



Members of the Study Committee*

H.M. HUBBARD (CHAIR), Pacific International Center for High Technology Research (retired), Lee's Summit, Missouri
R. BRENT ALDERFER, consultant, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
DAN E. ARVIZU, CH2M Hill, Greenwood Village, Colorado
EVERETT H. BECKNER, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Bethesda, Maryland (until December 2, 1999)
PETER BLAIR, Sigma Xi, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
CHARLES GOODMAN, Southern Company Generation, Birmingham, Alabama
NATHANAEL GREENE, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York, New York
JEFFREY M. PETERSON, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, Albany, New York
RICHARD E. SCHULER, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
T.W. FRASER RUSSELL, NAE1, University of Delaware, Newark
JEFFERSON W. TESTER, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
1 National Academy of Engineering

*Committee on Programmatic Review of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Power Technology, Board on Energy and Environmental Systems, National Research Council, The National Academies

Report Reviewers

DAVID BODDE, University of Missouri, Kansas City
ELISABETH DRAKE, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
SETH DUNN, Worldwatch Institute
JOHN KASLOW, EPRI Consultants, Inc.
KARL RABAGO, Rocky Mountain Institute
MAXINE SAVITZ, Allied Signal, Inc.
RAYMOND VISKANTA, Purdue University
CARL WEINBERG, Weinberg Associates

While these individuals provided constructive comments and suggestions, responsibility for the final content of this report rests solely with the authoring committee and the NRC.