ARPA-E Summit Opens Amid Budget Uncertainty

Mar 16, 2018

Dr. Chris Fall, Principal Deputy Director of the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) opened the 9th annual ARPA-E Summit acknowledging the divisive political landscape shaping the agency’s future. For the second year in a row, the Trump Administration has requested elimination of ARPA-E in its entirety, with no proposal to re-program or reassign ARPA-E’s activities to other parts of the Department of Energy (DOE). Dr. Fall emphasized that in order to address the concerns posed by its critics, ARPA-E must execute a mission that is unique and distinguishable from the DOE Office of Science and DOE’s Applied Energy programs; and make an effort to align priorities with Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s own goals, such as advancing clean coal and carbon capture technologies. Last July House Appropriators advanced a bill that would completely eliminate the agency before Congress eventually voted to increase ARPA-E’s budget for FY 2017. Roughly half of Republican Senators voted to keep the agency alive.

Norm Augustine, co-Chair of the American Energy Innovation Council and contributor to the National Academies study Rising Above the Gathering Storm, which recommended the creation of ARPA-E, emphasized that ARPA-E was created with the intent to fund promising but inherently risky energy technology applications.  Mr. Augustine views ARPA-E as one of the most successful ways the United States is addressing energy innovation challenges, especially the development of clean and sustainable energy. He noted that 80 percent of CEOs report that they would cut R&D in order to meet quarterly revenue targets for shareholders, making federal investment in the research challenges funded by ARPA-E a necessity.  Augustine also argued that energy technologies often face a second ‘valley of death’ at the commercialization challenge, as energy technology tends to be extremely costly to scale, and faces regulatory and market barriers unique to highly regulated energy markets.

Bob Peterson, President of the Georgia Institute of Technology, spoke about the opportunities ARPA-E presents for the energy innovation community. Many students have shifted from moving into the workforce to working to create their own start-ups. Last year, Georgia Tech students launched over 100 start-ups, many originated by students competing in entrepreneurial competitions. Georgia Tech has worked with ARPA-E on 11 different projects, including 3 active projects, and views ARPA-E as an important component of an energy innovation ecosystems that works in tandem with other state, federal, and privately funded innovation resource offices to facilitate translating federally funded research innovations into the marketplace.

In her remarks, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) called for doubling the budget of ARPA-E. She has introduced a bipartisan reauthorization bill, H.R 3681, the ARPA-E Reauthorization Act of 2017, which reauthorizes the agency through 2022 and provides above inflation budget growth. The bill has been endorsed by a number of broad coalitions, including the US Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute, Nuclear Energy Institute, Energy Sciences Coalition, and the Council on Completeness. The bill currently has 39 cosponsors, including 10 republicans.

To view the full text for the ARPA-E Reauthorization Act, click here: