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The Climate Post: Cutting Oil Use Should Be Focus of U.S. Energy Research, New Roadmap Says

Posted: 09/30/11 11:43 AM ET

A major study modeled after goal-setting reports from the Departments of Defense and State, the first Quadrennial Technology Review by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), called for a shift in energy research and development priorities to reduce America's dependence on oil.

"Reliance on oil is the greatest immediate threat to U.S. economic and national security and also contributes to the long-term threat of climate change," the report said.

The DOE spends about $3 billion annually on research and development, with about three-quarters of that going toward "stationary energy" technologies -- such as power plants and buildings -- and one-quarter allotted for transportation. The report's release could shift the funding balance more toward transportation, in particular more efficient cars and electric cars.

It will likely shape the 2013 fiscal year budget request from the Obama administration, due to be sent to Congress in February 2012.

Big Dreams

But a longer-term view isn't synonymous with funding blue-sky ideas, as in the DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which Time dubbed "the Department of Big Dreams." The Quadrennial Technology Review criticized the DOE for placing too much emphasis on technologies "multiple generations away from practical use."

Instead, the report called for greater focus on integrated energy systems and deployment over the medium to long term. The Obama administration has no choice but to focus on the longer term, argued Jeff Tollefson of Nature, because the weak economy and political stalemates have stymied progress in the shorter term.

The report sticks close to President Obama's goals: getting one million electric cars on the road by 2015 and cutting oil imports by one-third by 2025. It also focuses on modernizing the electric grid and deploying clean energy, in line with Obama's goal for 80 percent for America's electricity to come from clean sources by 2035.

Carbon Credit Controversy

WikiLeaks has once again stirred up controversy, this time by releasing a diplomatic cable sent by the U.S. embassy in India, revealing discussions about questionable projects there that earn carbon credits through the United Nation's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

Most of the CDM projects in India should not have been certified, the cable said, because they did not achieve emissions cuts beyond what would have happened without the sales of carbon credits.

The cable shows "the CDM is basically a farce," said a group critical of the program, but officials involved in the program said it has been improved since the cable was sent in 2008.

However, an investigative series last year by the Christian Science Monitor found many instances of fraud and exaggeration. And last week Oxfam published a report alleging 20,000 people were evicted from their land in 2010 to make way for a tree plantation that would earn carbon credits.

Superconductor Espionage

American Superconductor, which designs magnet systems for wind turbines, alleges that Chinese turbine manufacturer Sinovel, its largest customer, stole trade secrets by bribing a disgruntled employee, one of a handful with access to a crucial bit of software.

A court in Austria is hearing the case, in which Sinovel stands accused of offering the rogue employee an employment contract worth at least $1 million. The employee only received a small fraction of what he was promised, and American Superconductor sent Sinovel many parts also without receiving payment.

Sen. John Kerry said such theft would hurt American investment in China.

Master of the Domain

With the Internet opening to new domains, there has been a tussle over who will control the .eco domain, with Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection vying against the Canadian company Big Room, supported by former Soviet leader Michel Gorbachev's charity Green Cross International.

Al Gore's group has dropped its bid, after many green groups -- including 350.org, Greenpeace, and WWF -- backed Green Cross International. The new domain is intended to be a badge of credibility, said the co-founder of Big Room, and may require disclosure about environmental performance when registering to use the domain.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.