ARPA-E’s Role in Addressing Energy Problems

ARPA-EIn a recent post by Bill Gates, the business magnate identified the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, more commonly known as ARPA-E, as his favorite obscure government agency.

Gates cited the agency as a key in solving pressing energy issues, referencing his faith in ARPA-E as demonstrated through his involvement in the $1 billion investment funding created in 2016 through Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV).

BEV was developed as an initiative to provide affordable, clean energy to people across the globe. In order to make that energy future possible, Gates and his partners at BEV knew they would have to depend on public, government funded research.

Since its establishment in 2009 under then U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, ARPA-E has acted as an arm of the U.S. Department of Energy that can help deliver the highly innovative technology that ventures like BEV depend on. From the agency’s REFUEL program, which promotes the development of carbon-neutral fuels to BEEST, funding research in energy storage for transportation, ARPA-E funds high-risk, high-reward endeavors capable of transforming energy landscapes.

(MORE: Listen to the ECS Podcast, “Steven Chu on Climate Change and Energy Solutions.”)

Since ARPA-E’s establishment, oveer 50 energy start-up companies have been established and more than 400 early-stage research projects funded.

While ARPA-E may be obscure to many individuals, it has certainly generated a lot of interest in recent months in light of budget discussions.

The budget blueprint proposed by the current administration looks to eliminate ARPA-E, saying it “provides small grants with limited measurable impacts and duplicates other Federal programs, such as Rural Utilities Service grants at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and formula grants to States from the Department of Transportation.”

“The current administration actually zeros out major programs like ARPA-E, which I think is absolutely disastrous,” Eric Waschsman, director and William L. Crentz Centennial Chair in Energy Research at the University of Maryland Energy Research Center, told ECS in a podcast. “Luckily, Congress doesn’t agree with the current administration’s budget priorities, and so we are hoping right now that the Congress is the sanity check on this and that funding will continue to be at least comparable to what it is in the 2016 budget, and hopefully not much less than that. The reality is that the demand for energy is continuing and it’s not going to go away.”

In July 2017, a Senate appropriations committee voted to give ARPA-E an 8 percent increase to $330 million in the 2018 fiscal year.

When asked about eliminating ARPA-E, chair of the appropriations committee that oversees the DOE, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said: “That is not what we are going to do.”


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