Last week, with Congress in the midst of budget gridlock, the nation’s leading energy innovators gathered to showcase and discuss solutions to the world’s energy challenges. First in DC for the ARPA-E Innovation Summit, then in Boston for the MIT Energy Conference, we joined as many of the world’s leading minds reaffirmed an emerging consensus: to meet this global challenge we must drive rapid technological development to make clean energy cheap.
The ARPA-E Innovation Summit provided an opportunity for the young agency to share some of its accomplishments and make clear the opportunities provided by federal investment in high risk, high reward ventures. ARPA-E — which was originally signed into law under President Bush and funded with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — has distributed $151 million dollars for projects “deemed too radical or too preliminary to attract much private financing.” Over a year later, six of those have leveraged $108 million in private finance, four times more private investment than the amount of tax payer dollars given to those companies.
Featuring keynote speakers Arnold Schwarzenegger, Secretary of the Navy Ray Maybus, Chairman of Bank of America Chad Holliday, Senator Lisa Murkowski, as well as Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, the conference provided a ringing endorsement from leaders of government and business alike (see the keynote addresses here).
ARPA-E has been in the news of late for its potential cuts in funding under a new continuing resolution. Senate Democrats’ proposal released last week only funds the agency at $200 million, well under Obama’s 2012 request of $550 million, but well above House Republican’s proposal of $50 million for the agency. Americans for Energy Leadership signed a letter to Congressional leaders sent last week that requests funding at the current level:
“We appreciate that these are fiscally constrained times. However, as you consider your funding priorities for FY11, we respectfully encourage you include ARPA-E as an anomaly in the CR at or near the America COMPETES designated amount of $300 million.”
Just days after policy makers convened at the ARPA-E Summit in DC, AEL joined MIT for its annual Energy Conference, showcasing the university and region’s most innovative energy research projects and startups. The two day conference focused on the technological progress to date, and strategies for achieving breakthroughs. With a focus on the business and technological side of energy innovation, and featuring panels ranging from “Military Leadership in Energy Innovation” to “Energy in Emerging Markets,” the conference shed light on private ventures while making clear just how important government funding has been in the industry’s private sector success. Many of the CEOs and engineers related their experiences in getting early funding from government funded grants such as those form ARPA-E.
These two conferences occurred at a pivotal time for energy innovation in the United States, with clean energy becoming a major international industry yet failing to find consistent support from the federal government. With the backdrop of partisan budget debates on the Hill, these gatherings offered hope for the energy innovation movement, and demonstrated why continued federal investment in these innovators is so important.