The DOE Fossil Energy program already has in place a significant systems and engineering analysis activity at both its Morgantown Energy Technology Center (METC) and its Pittsburgh Energy Technology Center (PETC) and additional capabilities at DOE headquarters in Washington. Each of these offices is involved in analysis and evaluation of processes and programs within selected areas of DOE activity. Analytical approaches of varying sophistication are employed for process analysis and evaluation, often with reliance on outside contractors in addition to in-house staff.

A preliminary look at DOE's ongoing activity in systems analysis indicates a significant amount of activity spread among METC, PETC, and headquarters. A major shortcoming, however, appears to be a lack of systematic assumptions and design premises within and across the full suite of DOE's advanced energy conversion and environmental control research programs. Rather, it appears that different parts of the DOE organization, working with a variety of different contractors, employ different assumptions and approaches—circumstances that preclude rigorous comparisons or evaluations of technologies in a given category (e.g., advanced power systems or advanced fuel systems).

Communicating the results of analyses to interest groups within and outside DOE is another important contribution of systems studies (see, for example, NRC, 1992), a contribution that could be greatly improved by consistency and clarity in the assumptions and methods used for analysis. Similarly, greater efforts to incorporate feedback from industrial and other stakeholders, coupled with timely and systematic publication of results, are also needed. A more coherent approach to systems analysis could be of real value for strategic R&D planning.

Of substantial value are the advanced analytical and computer-based methods for analysis, synthesis, and design of complex processes that DOE has begun to develop in recent years. For example, new methods to address technical and economic uncertainties are especially critical to characterize advanced processes and designs properly at the early stages of development. Characterization and analysis of uncertainties are also critical to identifying robust system designs, risks, potential markets, and key problem areas that should be targeted for research to reduce technological risks. While DOE has supported the development of advanced modeling approaches for systems analysis and design and is beginning to adopt some of these methods for R&D management, more rapid implementation of a rigorous systems analysis methodology could be of significant value for long-term strategic planning.

  1. The growth in opportunities to use coal to produce electricity, fuels, chemicals, and coproducts calls for expanding and strengthening DOE's Office of FE systems analysis activity, which plays a critical role in coal-related RDD&C and strategic planning.

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