Energy Payoffs From R&D

Dollars spent to save energy are as important as dollars spent to find new energy. That's the broad message that can be drawn from a report issued by a committee of the National Research Council, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences.

The committee found that money spent by the federal government over the past two decades to develop technologies that boost energy efficiency and cleaner burning of fossil fuels had a significant payoff. Some $13 billion in federal research produced an economic return of about $40 billion.

Much of that return came from three research projects: (1) refrigerator compressors that use only a third of the electricity consumed by units in the 1970s; (2) more efficient fluorescent lighting; and (3) heat-resistant window glass. It's worth considering what energy bills would be without such nuts-and-bolts advances, spurred by government R&D.

Technology to cut pollution from coal burning was another big plus - though the payoff was more in environmental enhancement than in less use of coal.

With Congress wrestling to pass energy legislation - and the administration budget, ironically, proposing cuts in just this kind of research - the report should perk up a few ears. A continued commitment to energy-saving research should be an integral part of any new energy policy.

Not that the money should be poured in haphazardly. The research council committee also suggested that projects have clear performance targets, so that DOE planners would have a better sense of when to pull the plug on research that's not paying off.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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