Posts tagged “energy research”
Buried in the President’s FY2014 budget proposal is an interesting reform that could impact energy innovation without relying on Congress for any new – and hard to come by – federal investments. The idea is to create eight new research incubator programs at the Department of Energy that forge collaborations with early-stage start-ups to bring promising new ideas closer to commercial scale. In particular, the incubators would focus on promising technology pathways DOE is not currently investing in.
The incubator programs would be housed within each of the energy technology offices (except for geothermal) and leverage a small share of existing research budgets. The figure below provides the proposed budgets for the new incubators. (Note, the DOE is also continuing its existing solar incubator program.)
Each incubator is expressly aimed at emerging areas of research and technology development not “supported in any meaningful” way by existing DOE projects.
This is Part 3 of a series of posts analyzing and detailing federal investments in clean energy innovation. Part 1 defined “clean energy innovation” and Part 2 broke down the federal clean energy innovation budget.
Why Government Investment in Demonstration Projects Can Be Controversial
Transforming the U.S. (and global) energy system from fossil fuels to low-carbon technologies requires a healthy, publicly supported innovation ecosystem that invests in and supports research, development, demonstration, and deployment. But as discussed in Part 2 of this series, America’s energy innovation ecosystem is “hollowed out”, particularly because of reduced investment in technology demonstration projects.
At its very basic level, technology demonstration projects exhibit full-scale models of first-of-kind technologies and systems, as opposed to pilot projects (e.g. an ARPA-E project), which aim to simply prove a technical idea. Demonstration projects aim to prove a technology at commercial scale.
Clean energy demonstration projects are an area of extreme policy debate and controversy for two reasons.
First, clean energy demonstration projects are often capital-intensive projects that require significant investment and public-private collaboration, typically invoking considerable attention because of large budgets.
Second, clean energy demonstration projects are often viewed as too close to market and not an appropriate role of government investment. As such, it’s a turbulent area of clean energy innovation policy.