Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Technology for the 21st Century

Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Technology for the 21st Century

Article excerpt

Predicting the future is a hazardous business, and predicting the future of technology is more hazardous still. It's probably safe to say that the bulk of the technology that will be running the economy by mid-century hasn't even been invented yet. Nevertheless, we can spot trends that show us where technology is headed and, more important, we can lay down guidelines to help us exploit technologies as they arise.

Today's innovative electric technologies, such as combined-cycle power plants, solar photovoltaics, and wind power, for example, are the legacy of massive government and industry investments in research and development that began 25 years ago, says Tom Schneider, a former EPRI scientist and now a private energy consultant. Unfortunately, federal funds are drying up and industrial research is being fragmented into a series of state programs. As an alternative to this balkanization, Schneider recommends a national fund, collected from private industry, to support R&D and a national corporation with subsidiary institutes to manage the funds.

Congressman Rush Holt of New Jersey, on the other hand, is concerned that industry funding is also on the decline. He believes that the federal government should play a more active role in funding energy R&D.

Federal funding is shifting away from alternative energy sources such as solar and renewables, Holt says, and toward electricity transmission and storage. For instance, the Department of Energy's investment in superconductors, which can conduct electricity with virtually no energy loss, is showing a great deal of promise for improving the efficiency of generators and high-voltage transmission lines.

Holt sees increasing federal support for R&D as a powerful stimulus for social progress, physical health, and economic growth. …

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