In November 2010, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology
(PCAST) released the Report to the President on Accelerating the Pace of Change in
Energy Technologies through an Integrated Federal Energy Policy. Among its
recommendations to the Administration and to the Department of Energy (DOE) is a
call to integrate the social sciences in energy. Specifically, the report calls
for DOE to initiate with the National Science Foundation (NSF) “a multidisciplinary
social science research program that will provide critical information and support
for policy development that advances diffusion of innovative energy technologies.”1
In that same report, PCAST also recommended DOE undertake its first Quadrennial
Technology Review (QTR) before the government embarks on a multiagency Quadrennial
Energy Review (QER) for a national energy policy. Completed in September 2011, the
QTR discusses the current energy landscape, the challenges we face, Six Strategies
for accelerating energy technology innovation (three in the transport sector and
three in the stationary sector), and DOE’s three modes of operation (harnessing
capability, pushing technology, and serving as a source of information or a convener).
Currently, DOE has inadequate information on how consumers interact with the energy
system or how firms decide in which technologies to invest. The social sciences
are the most important to the information role, and there is good reason to believe
that insights from this area would improve the prospects for success in DOE’s
efforts to move technologies toward commercialization. As a start on such studies,
the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy is funding Stanford University’s
H-STAR Institute and Precourt Energy Efficiency Center to develop an interactive
software system to better understand energy efficiency and human behavior.
The QTR asserts that the “aggregated actions of individuals and organizations
determine many aspects of the energy system, with demands on the system and the
balance of supply and demand affected as much by individual choice, preference,
and behavior, as by technical performance.”2 Energy Secretary Steven
Chu has affirmed the importance of integrating applied social science into DOE’s
technology programs in order to better understand how technologies diffuse through
a sector and are used in the real world.
The five strategies and the specific actions recommended in this report from the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences align with DOE’s capacity as a convener
and highlight areas in which DOE can draw upon its role as a source of information.
A strong partnership between DOE and NSF in creating and supporting an ongoing dialogue
among technologists, policy communities, social scientists, federal agencies, local
governments, and regulatory communities would be tremendously valuable in this endeavor.
NSF’s recently released Sustainable Energy Pathways solicitations call for
teams of researchers, including social scientists, to address sustainable energy.
My discussions with the NSF leadership show eagerness for DOE and NSF to move ahead
together on developing interdisciplinary, systems approaches to energy.
I would like to acknowledge Bob Fri, Leslie Berlowitz, and the American Academy
of Arts and Sciences for taking the initiative to answer the PCAST call to action
by organizing the Workshop on Social Science and the Alternative Energy Future held
on May 19–20, 2011. This workshop is an exemplar of the Academy’s role
in convening the different parts of the federal government and in stimulating interactions
among a variety of actors. The workshop catalyzed discussion among thought leaders
in the field who shared ideas on ways energy policy objectives and technology development
objectives could benefit from insights produced through social science. In addition,
it developed a research agenda intended to give us an improved understanding and
to better inform us of energy technology applications through the social science
lens. Lastly, I commend the participants for producing such a succinct summary of
the many lessons from the workshop.
This report not only makes insights from the workshop discussions available more
broadly, but it poses social science questions relevant to the QTR’s Six Strategies
and provides specific ideas about relevant lines of inquiry to which social scientists
could provide direct value. Together with the QTR, this report takes us one step
closer to implementing the PCAST recommendation to integrate social science in federal
energy research and development.
Steven E. Koonin
Under Secretary for Science
U.S. Department of Energy