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The work in RAEL is guided by the principles of use-inspired basic research, interdisciplinary approaches to the needs that energy services can provide, and a dedication to understanding and addressing the opportunities and risks in the implementation of novel energy generation and management programs. At one level, the goal for RAEL is to update, integrate and nurture a collaborative synthesis of E. F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful appropriate technology and development philosophy with the energy industry as it exists today. On another level, it is to promote sustainable development that includes deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and resource consumption.

RAEL will study how to evolve the current energy infrastructure through analysis of coal, oil, and integrated fossil-fuel/fuel cells systems, biomass energy, and combinations of energy-efficiency and renewables, as well as entirely new long-term energy options for industrialized, decentralized, and rural energy needs.