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Renewable Power Pathways: A Review of the U.S. Department of Energy's Renewable Energy Programs
awareness of the effects of these changes on the nation's energy future and on R&D into renewable energy technologies.
The DOE was formed in the late 1970s in the wake of the oil embargo of 1973–1974, the resulting energy crisis, and sharp increases in energy prices. The focus of federal energy programs at that time was on reducing dependence on foreign supplies of oil and conserving the limited supplies of domestic oil and natural gas. These national security considerations led to a drive for energy reliability and security through increases in supply and control or reductions in demand. As the contributions of the energy sector to the U.S economy have become more apparent and the international market for U.S. energy technologies has grown, economic competitiveness has become a major goal. At the same time, environmental concerns, such as air quality and global climate change, have also emerged. R&D on renewable energy technology is now part of an overall approach to providing for clean, affordable energy, which is vital to the current and future well-being of the United States.
Substantial improvements in performance and reductions in cost of renewable energy technologies have been made. In fact, most of DOE's goals and objectives for cost and technical performance for renewable energy technologies have been met or exceeded, and the advantages and disadvantages of the various technologies are now well understood. However, renewable energy technologies have not met DOE' s deployment goals. As a result, the use of renewable energy technologies in the U.S. economy is still limited.
Overall, the OPT's deployment goals for renewable technologies are based on unreasonable expectations and unrealistic promises. OPT has not developed the policies or resources needed to achieve its goals in an increasingly competitive electricity market, in which electricity can be generated relatively cheaply from conventional sources, such as natural gas and coal. Significant challenges will have to be overcome for renewable energy technologies to be competitive in a market in which the traditional customer (the utility industry) for the technologies under development is rapidly disappearing and is being replaced by diverse agents building and operating their own facilities.
Many experts believe that this distributed power generation will create opportunities for generating electricity in small units close to the users (e.g., at household, neighborhood, business, industry, or commercial locations). The trend toward smaller scale, more ''distributed" generation technologies presents both challenges and opportunities for renewable energy technologies. Beyond studies of distribution systems, OPT will also have to address the relationship of each technology to the changing power grid. Other reasons for the lack of success in deployment of renewable energy technologies reflect changing national priorities and the changing role of DOE. Although deployment of renewable energy technologies domestically is included in DOE's overall goals, it has not been consistently funded by Congress. The international market will also offer substantial opportunities in the next few decades, especially in countries with high electricity