National labs have pioneered energy technologies; we all want to know what's next
During the 1970s, the price of energy rose to levels that threatened U.S. and world economic prosperity and the word energy modified the word crisis for the first time in the 20th century.
Nothing motivates technological, governmental, and entrepreneurial responses with more force than a sudden, dramatic price rise, so the resulting wave of energy-efficient technologies and practices that followed, as well as the policy- and market-based channels for encouraging their adoption, could be argued to be the positive and lasting legacy of that period of crisis.
Energy use (e) in the U.S. continues to increase, but at a lower rate than gross domestic product (gdp), so the e/gdp ratio is falling because of the increase in efficiency. Since 1973, the energy intensity of the U.S. economy--units of energy used per unit of gross domestic product--has been decreasing by 1.5% per year, a remarkable improvement in economic efficiency considering that the U.S gross domestic product has grown on average 3.7% per year over this span. Before the first oil price rises, economists felt that economic growth moved up in lockstep with energy use.
Between 1973 and 1987, when oil prices collapsed, the U.S. became more energy-efficient at the even more remarkable rate of 2.9% per year. After 1986, the improvement returned to about 1% per year, through about 1997. Although about one-third of this improvement is usually explained by structural changes in the economy--a shift to industries that use less energy--the remaining improvement is generally agreed to stem from increasingly energy-efficient technology.
The energy-efficient technologies came from a variety of institutional sources, such as the private sector, government-funded research at universities, and the federal government's laboratories--particularly from the Department of Energy's (DOE) national laboratories. And the marketplace adopted them for a variety of reasons, including voluntary and mandatory energy standards and codes, public policies such as tax incentives, and market transformation efforts.
A number of significant energyefficient technologies in the U.S. marketplace today, as well as technology now in the pipeline, have come from research supported by DOE at the national laboratories, as well as public-private research partnerships at the labs.
The point can be illustrated using a few examples from the end use residential and commercial energy market, with estimates of their impact on energy and dollar savings.
Although most of the examples relate to work done at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), significant research resulting in commercialized technology, industrial …