ARPA-E Investment in NREL Pays Dividends in Advancing Energy Tech
DOE Funding Program Provides Pathway for New Ideas
July 8, 2019 -- Six words grab John Perkins' attention whenever he sees a presentation from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy: 'If it works, will it matter?'
'On that slide, will it matter?' is in a much bigger font than if it works,'' said Perkins, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL's) laboratory program manager for the 10-year-old agency (ARPA-E). 'The point of that is they are willing to fund things that are technologically very risky where it's unclear as to whether or not you can actually accomplish the technological goals. But if it does work, it needs to be a slam dunk that's going to matter a lot. They don't fund basic research.'
ARPA-E and NREL both fall under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). While typical DOE spending at NREL allows the laboratory to explore such fundamentals as making biofuels cost-effective or solar cells more efficient, ARPA-E awards funding for futuristic ideas. Modeled on a Department of Defense (DoD) effort to put emerging technologies into the hands of the military, ARPA-E provides funds to overcome roadblocks that might otherwise prevent promising energy ideas from reaching the public.
'They always swing for the fences,' said Perkins. 'It's OK from their perspective if not every single project they grant is successful. They're doing high-risk, high-reward research, so not everything they fund ends up being technically successful. But the point is: A significant amount of what they fund is technically successful and becomes pretty impactful. They're trying to win by only hitting home runs. That's the way they go about it.'
Projects funded by ARPA-E are showcased at the agency's annual Energy Innovation Summit, which this year will be held July 8-10 at the Gaylord Rockies Convention Center in Aurora, Colorado. This marks the first time the summit is being conducted outside of Washington, D.C.
ARPA-E reported to Congress in September that it has funded 722 projects to date, investing $1.9 billion. Its annual budget averages about $292 million. Projects are typically funded for several years, at $2 million-$3 million each. The funds are open to universities, industry, and national laboratories such as NREL, although laboratories must have a partner involved.
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Also of Interest from SGO:
10th Microgrid Global Innovation Forum, September 9-11, 2019, London
6th Demand Response & DER World Forum, October 16-17, 2019, San Diego
CyberSecurity International Symposium, November 4-5, 2019, Chicago
4th Smart Cities International Symposium, January 21-23, 2020, Chicago