Clean Energy ‘Miracles’ Remain Elusive — But Here’s Why That Might Not Be a Problem

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Despite high-profile support from President Barack Obama, US funding for low-carbon energy research has stalled in Congress — but current technologies like wind and solar power keep plugging away.

The White House requested $7.7 billion in R&D funding for 2017, spread across a dozen federal agencies, as part of an international “Mission Innovation” project to expand the use of low-carbon energy. But the Republican-controlled appropriations committees in the House of Representatives and Senate have already been hacking away at that amount, shifting money away from studying new energy sources and extending the reach of renewable power.

“These technologies have been the No. 1 technology priority for this administration,” said Matt Hourihan, the head of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. But Obama “has never really gotten anywhere near what it has proposed, at least on the efficiency and renewable energy front,” Hourihan said.

“We’ve become accustomed to seeing major proposed increases for all of them in the president’s budget requests over the years,” he said. “But in a Republican Congress, it’s not a funding environment that’s conducive to big increases for most of these activities.”

There have been no big increases in low-carbon energy research since 2010, Hourihan said. Instead, House and Senate budget bills have shifted money into nuclear power and fossil fuel research, adding more than $400 million to those programs and cutting spending on others.

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