Two bills authorizing Energy Department research initiatives to make solar and other renewable-energy sources more useful for the electric grid were passed by the House on voice votes Monday under suspension of the rules.
The bills would authorize the Department of Energy to establish two new research programs — one looking at solar fuels and the other looking at energy storage — with $150 million for each redirected from other energy research programs over three years starting in fiscal 2017.
"Basic research in [solar fuels] and related research could lead to a solar fuel system that consolidates solar power into a cohesive process and fundamentally changes the way we can extract energy from our natural resources,” said California Republican Rep. Steve Knight. “This would be a game-changer for our country.”
The solar energy bill (HR 5638) would direct the department to establish a “Solar Fuels Basic Research Initiative,” which would aim to develop new knowledge related to the conversion of solar energy into “usable and storable fuels,” according to bill sponsor House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas.
The research could help solve some of the intermittent energy storage problems associated with solar energy, making the energy more useful for the electric grid, lawmakers said.
Democrats, meanwhile, backed the two bills for their ability to combat climate change.
“If we can figure out a way to make this competitive, solar fuels have the potential to make a major contribution to reducing our dependence on oil and other traditional fossil fuels,” said Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, the Science committee’s top Democrat.
The second measure (HR 5640) would create a program to conduct research into energy storage systems for sources other than solar by expanding understanding of how to convert electrical energy into chemical energy and back. The bill calls for the program to replace a Department of Energy research effort related to LED lighting.
“Electricity storage is one of our next frontiers in our energy future,” Smith said. “By investing in basic scientific research, we can enable utilities to store and deliver power produced elsewhere on demand. This will allow us to take advantage of energy from all of our diverse natural resources across the country.”