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DOE Sees Bright Future for Clean Energy and Transportation

The U.S. Department of Energy has highlighted several green technologies ahead of the country's participation in climate talks in Paris this December.

The U.S. Department of Energy is optimistic about climate change. Technology trends make them that way.

The Revolution…Now report, which the department released this month in time for the U.S.’s participation in the upcoming Conference of Parties in Paris, is a parading of technologies that promise to turn the country toward cleaner energy and transportation. An update on previous reports, this year’s edition adds the latest tech adoption statistics and explores the differences between utility-scale and rooftop solar arrays.

The tone of the report is decidedly optimistic, with chart after chart showing the price of technology coming down and demand for green products rising dramatically. For instance, the cost of wind power under purchasing agreements has declined from 7 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2009 to 2.4 cents in 2014. The price of LED light bulbs has fallen even more precipitously from more than $80 per kilolumen in 2009 to around $10 in 2014.

In every scenario where prices have dropped — also true of solar power and electric vehicles — unit sales have risen.

The DOE attributed the declining costs at least partially to its own work. For decades, the department has been funneling billions into research projects that have created more efficient light bulbs, longer-lasting car batteries and other design changes that allow the products to work better and cheaper. The result, according to the report, has been accelerated technological advances and quicker embracing of new products.

Still, many of the technologies highlighted in the document make up only a small portion of their competitive fields. Wind power is rapidly growing, having accounted for 31 percent of all new electrical generation capacity installed from 2008 to 2014, but it only makes up 4.4 percent of total generation in the U.S. From 2012 to 2014, LED bulb home installations skyrocketed from 13 million to 78 million, but they only make up 2.4 percent of all home lighting.

The report sits within the context of a vigorous push for greenhouse gas emission reductions from the federal government, with the country planning to participate in worldwide climate talks in Paris at the beginning of December. Ahead of the conference, the U.S. has submitted an “intended nationally determined contribution” document to the United Nations promising to bring emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. As states and cities contribute their own plans for cutting emissions — pushing for renewable energy and investing in combined heat and power systems, for instance — the Environmental Protection Agency is working to implement a requirement that states cut carbon emissions.

The DOE report also pointed to some transportation-specific changes that could help the country achieve its goals. Semi-trucks that haul freight on highways have been looking for ways to save gas, including simple switches such as mounting “skirts” below trailers that reduce drag and improve fuel economy. Another trend is to “lightweight” vehicles by building them out of less heavy materials, reducing the amount of energy necessary to propel them forward.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.