Energy, Politics

DoE: 30 years and $350B later

10.10.07 | Comment?

This month marks the 30th birthday of the US Department of Energy. Formed in the aftermath of the 1970’s energy crisis, the Department was created to catalyze the transformation of the US from a net-oil importer and net-pollution exporter into a nation with a secure energy supply and sustainable environmental footprint while keeping the economy humming along and keeping energy prices stable for consumers. The 2007 version of the Department’s mission is:

  1. Energy Security
  2. Nuclear Security
  3. Scientific Discovery and Research
  4. Environmental Responsibility
  5. Management Excellence

While it’s clear there have been many accomplishments that the DoE can claim, relative to their mission, these are the results of the 30 year history:

  1. Energy Security – 1977, 77% of our electricty generated from fossil fuels and 46.5% of oil imported. 2007, 70% of our electricity generated from fossil fuels and 65.9% of oil imported.
  2. Nuclear Security – 1977, The US, USSR, UK, France, and China were nuclear powers. In 2007, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and perhaps Iran have entered the fraternity. Security has proven lax at national labratories and military bases. Nuclear electric power production has increased from 9% in 1977 to nearly 21% in 2007. Nuclear waste management issues are still unresolved and the problem continues to grow. There have been no nuclear attacks.
  3. Scientific Discovery and Research – Many interesting discoveries have been made; but the percentage of fossil fuel electricity generation, the nuclear waste issues, and oil import growth indicate that the breakthroughs are not making it to commercial application at a fast enough rate to make a difference.
  4. Environmental Responsibility – Renewable electrcity production has decreased in share from 14.3% in 1977 to 9% in 2007. CO2 levels have grown from ~335 parts per million in 1977 to >380 ppm at present.
  5. Management Excellence – Though it’s not quite clear what this means, the budget of the DoE was $6.3B in 1977 and has grown to $23.5B in 2007. The cumulative spend on the DoE from 1977 to present is estimated to be in excess of $350B.

Many dedicated and talented people work for the DoE, we’ve met them in our travels. However, we have to question the overall direction of the agency and its resources since the mission has not been accomplished. Compared with the levels 30 years ago, the US is more dependent than ever on foreign oil to sustain the demand for transportation fuel, the electricity industry produces a smaller percentage of renewable power, the level of greenhouse gases has increased nearly 10%, and nuclear weapons technology and capability have proliferated. However, the DoE’s budget has increased 4-fold over that same time horizon.

It’s time to closely examine our national priorities and align resources in a whole-hearted manner to achieve the necessary impacts. It’s one thing to have a mission posted on a web site, it’s another to allocate resources toward that mission and measure progress each day, week, month, and year toward achieving those goals.

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