By Brad Plumer
9 April 2013
(Washington Post) – At his confirmation hearing this morning, Energy Secretary nominee Ernest Moniz told the Senate that the United States spends far too little on energy R&D. “We are underinvesting by a factor of three,” he said.
Is that accurate? Many energy experts have, indeed, argued over the years that the U.S. government should do a lot more to invest in innovative new energy technologies — particularly if we want to address global warming. The specific dollar figures are often hotly debated. But it’s worth laying out the basic situation, in a few charts and graphs.
1) U.S. energy R&D has been growing in recent years, though levels are still below their peak in the 1970s — and they’re set to drop in the years ahead
According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the United States spent $4.36 billion on non-defense energy research in 2012.* That’s more than double the amount from a decade ago, adjusted for inflation, and energy has been the fastest-growing R&D category.
That said, funding for energy-related research is now scheduled to drop significantly in the coming years, thanks to budget caps and the sequester. And energy R&D still makes up a much smaller portion of the federal budget than health or space research.
*Update: Note that this figure doesn’t include military spending. The Pentagon spent around $900 million on various forms of energy science and R&D in 2012. That’s not always strictly comparable, and it’s also set to drop in the years ahead, but it should be mentioned. [more]