Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Why ARPA-E Needs to Grow Up

ARPA-E director Ellen Willams gives her opening remarks Monday at the ARPA-E Innovation Summit. (Credit: ARPA-E) Click to Enlarge.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the optimism on the exhibition hall at the ARPA-E Innovation Summit, which is taking place this week in the D.C. area.  Nearly every booth features a promising—indeed, potentially revolutionary—energy technology concept or prototype.

But it’s also hard to ignore the fact that very few of the projects the Department of Energy’s six-year-old agency has funded have made a commercial impact.  And with venture funding for energy startups in short supply, it’s worth asking: should the government do more to help commercialize transformative energy technologies?

President Obama clearly thinks the answer is yes.  His latest budget request for the Department of Energy includes a 21 percent increase for 2017 in clean-energy R&D funding.  That includes a 20 percent increase in funding for ARPA-E, which is charged with identifying and investing in promising early-stage technologies.  Obama also proposed a so-called “ARPA-E Trust” for developing “larger-scale investment-ready outcomes,” which would begin with $150 million in funding in fiscal 2017 and provide $1.85 billion over five years to ARPA-E.

It’s not clear yet how exactly the additional money would be used if the president’s budget requests are approved.  But the new proposals reflect Obama’s commitment to the recently launched Mission Innovation, a 20-nation effort to “reinvigorate and accelerate global clean energy innovation,” which the group says is not occurring quickly enough.

Read more at Why ARPA-E Needs to Grow Up

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