This group brings together the best thinkers on energy and climate. Join us for smart, insightful posts and conversations about where the energy industry is and where it is going.


Plan to Zero – Figure it out (#14)

Doug Houseman's picture
Visionary and innovator in the utility industry and grid modernization, Burns & McDonnell

I have a broad background in utilities and energy. I worked for Capgemini in the Energy Practice for more than 15 years. During that time I rose to the position of CTO of the 12,000 person...

  • Member since 2017
  • 270 items added with 97,680 views
  • Feb 23, 2023

Research and development are the path to solving much of the energy transition. Both governments and commercial enterprises have roles in this effort (Universities seldom self-fund & depend on government or commercial funding).

NASA created the Technical Level Readiness (TRL) scale and it likely should be used to determine whose role it is for funding. From TRL 1 to TRL level 6 (basic principles thru prototype demonstration) most funding should be from the government. TRL 7 and up, should be commercial. The government should receive payments from Intellectual property (e.g., Patents, etc.) for their work. Patents should all be given to the government for all government funded projects (Yes, I can hear the screams now from universities).
This should be fundamental research structure for most research. Government spends money to create a new technology and prove it can work, then licenses it to commercial entities to take from the pilot stages into commercial projects.
Changes need to be made to make the government spending in R&D more useful and to move faster to TRL 6. Having been inside the government R&D machine, handling the budget for RDT&E in the 1980s as a Naval Officer, I saw what passed for annual project reviews and inputs from outside the research community. I have had close and personal contact with current research budgeting and reviews as well, the last time was less than 3 months ago.

Please see below for specific changes in the first 2 comments.


Doug Houseman's picture
Doug Houseman on Feb 23, 2023

Here are my changes that I believe would streamline and strengthen the process:

1)   Only 1 research lab is responsible for a topic or project, today we have so many government and university labs involved in a topic that coordination and administration eat time and budget

2)   Limit research overheads, overheads of more than 20% of the funds are common, with a few taking more than 60% of the budget. Creating vast administrations does not expedite research. Fees (e.g., lab, equipment, etc.) in addition overhead is worse than airlines. Either break the fees out into a schedule of fees or percentage, but don’t double dip.

3)   Gather excellent non-research community input and feedback. A 10–15-minute presentation once a year on the research for stakeholders is not really a review. If one is looking at [e.g.,] Solid State Transformer research, those reviews should take a full week, given the complexity. Most of that should be on individual projects and via webinar.

4)   If a project is creating something, likely they should be creating 3-10 prototypes of the items, several gallons of the solution, etc. Many projects end because they budget for one test article, and when something happens, there is no money to replace it.

Doug Houseman's picture
Doug Houseman on Feb 23, 2023

(#14) Figure it out part 3

5)     Topics for Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) should be specific and actionable. How many SBIR phase I projects return useful material and are worthy of real investment in a phase II – not many.

6)     Drop the number of levels of administration – DOE to a program office to Battelle to National lab administration to the lab program office to the university to the university department to sub-contractors… $1 approved at the top in some cases returns $0.05 in actual research, the other $0,95 ends up in overhead and administration. The chain should be DOE to researcher, no middlemen.

7)     Real milestones and gate reviews for project progress and funding. If you have not completed the previous phase, you should not be authorized to spend on the next phase – except for long-lead items.

8)     National lab facilities should charge outside users reasonable fees, not fully loaded costs. Many facilities completed under ARRA funding are underutilized because the costs are prohibitive.


No one has purposely created this mess, it has happened over time, it is time to rip out the red tape, and build a very streamline organization and plan. 

Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Feb 23, 2023

Regarding 1), who would decide which lab does which project?

Doug Houseman's picture
Thank Doug for the Post!
Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.
More posts from this member

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network® is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »