Solar programs avoid duplication, GAO says

Dozens of solar-related initiatives are underway throughout the federal government but most are able to avoid duplication even while funding has grown to several billion dollars.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), at the direction of Congress, conducted a study that reviewed 65 solar-related initiatives spread over six federal agencies. Over half of these 65 initiatives supported solar projects exclusively; the remaining initiatives supported solar and other renewable energy technologies.

The initiatives showed key characteristics, including multiple technology advancement activities ranging from basic research to commercialization by providing funding to various types of recipients including universities, industry, and federal laboratories and researchers, primarily through grants and contracts.

Agency officials reported that they obligated about $2.6bn for the solar projects in these initiatives in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, an amount higher than in previous years, in part, because of additional funding from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

In the two years studied, the report found more than 1,500 solar projects.

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Information Administration  reported that solar energy accounted for only 1% of all renewable energy electricity consumed in the United States in 2010, solar energy use increased by about 60% from 2006 to 2010.

In February 2012, GAO reported that 23 federal agencies had implemented nearly 700 renewable energy initiatives in fiscal year 2010, including initiatives that supported solar energy technologies (GAO-12-260). The existence of such initiatives at multiple agencies raised questions about the potential for duplication, which can occur when multiple initiatives support the same technology advancement activities and technologies, direct funding to the same recipients, and have the same goals.

GAO was asked to identify (1) solar- related initiatives supported by federal agencies in fiscal years 2010 and 2011 and key characteristics of those initiatives and (2) the extent of fragmentation, overlap, and duplication, if any, of federal solar- related initiatives, as well as the extent of any coordination among these initiatives.

“While we did not find clear instances of duplicative initiatives, it is possible that there are duplicative activities among the initiatives that could be consolidated or resolved through enhanced coordination across agencies and at the initiative level,” the study said.