At what may be the agency’s final summit, speakers and attendees argue that federal support for energy research is critical for job creation.
The opening sessions of this week's ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit amounted to a defense of federal funding for energy research in general—and ARPA-E in particular.
Eric Rohlfing, acting director of the moonshot investment arm of the Department of Energy, kicked off the conference near Washington, D.C., by announcing that 74 of the agency's projects have raised $1.8 billion in private sector funding and 56 have formed new companies. He was followed on the main stage by MIT president L. Rafael Reif, who stressed that government support is crucial for enabling the big, hard ideas in science to make the leap from academia to industry. He added that federal investments in early research are required to maintain the country’s competitive advantage in technology and science, and create future jobs.
"This is not a conservative or liberal point of view,” Reif said. “This is about the future of our nation."
Hanging over all the sessions was the looming question of whether this summit, or ARPA-E itself, will exist by this time next year. The Trump administration reportedly hopes to redirect $54 billion from most federal agencies to defense spending, and anything related to clean energy and climate change are obvious targets. ARPA-E staffers surely feel particularly threatened, as a 2016 Heritage Foundation report that's proven influential within Trump's circle called for eliminating the agency outright.
Deborah Stine, an associate director at the Scott Institute for Energy Innovation at Carnegie Mellon, thinks this may well be the last year for the summit, simply because it's a conspicuous event dedicated to clean energy. But she ultimately believes the agency will survive because it's proven crucial to the private sector, by providing earlier stage financing than companies are generally able or willing to.
Read more at Will ARPA-E Survive Trump’s Looming Budget Cuts?