NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 17, 2007

For all the enthusiasm about harvesting sunlight for energy, some of the most ardent experts and investors say that moving this source from niche to mainstream is unlikely without significant technological breakthroughs.  And given the current scale of research in private and government laboratories, that is not expected to happen anytime soon, says the New York Times.


  • In the current fiscal year, the Energy Department plans to spend $159 million on solar research and development.
  • It will spend nearly double, $303 million, on nuclear energy research and development, and nearly triple, $427 million, on coal, as well as $167 million on other fossil fuel research and development.

One of the main reasons is government spending on energy research has long been shaped by political constituencies, says the Times:

  • Nuclear power, for example, has enjoyed consistent support from the Senate Energy Committee in large part because both the Democratic chairman and the ranking Republican are from New Mexico, home to major nuclear laboratories.
  • Additionally, biofuels -- mostly ethanol and biodiesel -- have attracted lawmakers who support farm subsidies and have constituencies from agricultural areas.

Nevertheless, Bush administration officials say they are committed to making power from photovoltaic technology as well as "solar thermal" systems competitive with other sources by 2015.  In fact, they and lawmakers in Congress are now discussing more money for the field.  Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, the under secretary of energy for science, said the Energy Department's proposed research plan for 2008 to 2012 includes $1.1 billion for solar advances.

Source: Andrew C. Revkin and Matthew L. Wald, "Solar Power Wins Enthusiasts but Not Money," New York Times, July 16, 2007.

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