Moniz Says ARPA-E Funding Needed for New Technologies

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By Rebecca Kern

March 1 — Increased funding for the Energy Department's program to push high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that aren't quite ready for private-sector investment is important to support early-stage clean energy technologies, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said March 1 at an annual showcase of energy innovations.

Although private investments are important to help commercialize new renewable technologies, it's the federal government's funding through its ARPA-E program (Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy) that really helps make these startup technologies a reality, Moniz said at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit.

The Energy Department said ARPA-E projects could radically improve U.S. economic prosperity, national security and environmental well-being.

“It's very hard to argue that the marketplace exists in the earlier stage in the investment world,” Moniz said. “By and large you're going to see universities and labs trying new, hard things that maybe initially don't have a cost-test applied to them, but scale in this business will eventually have to meet that cost-test.”

“With the pre-commercial work, you don't have that many people who are willing to put their money into that investment,” he told reporters after the summit.

For this reason, it's vital for these new technologies that ARPA-E—which invests in early-stage, disruptive technologies—receive increased appropriations from Congress, Moniz said. The Energy Department is requesting $350 million in discretionary funding for ARPA-E for fiscal year 2017, an increase from $291 million in fiscal 2016. The department also is requesting an additional $150 million in mandatory funding for ARPA-E in fiscal 2017 .

Moniz defended the agency's budget request to increase ARPA-E funding later March 1 at a House Appropriations committee hearing. He will testify before two other congressional committee budget hearings this week .

Breakthrough Energy Coalition Investments

Moniz said that he hopes there will be more support from the private industry through the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group of private investors committing $2 billion for clean energy technologies. The coalition, headed by Bill Gates, was announced at the Paris climate talks Nov. 30 .

“I certainly hope in the spirit of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition we will see a continued expansion of the amount of investment going into the whole chain towards deployment to scale,” Moniz told reporters after the summit.

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, said there must be a greater urgency for new markets to be created to invest in new renewable technologies and address climate change before it is too late.

“If we don’t literally move the market in the direction of renewable energy—if we don't do that, and don't do it quickly—then I think there’s just no hope,” Kim said at the summit. “It's just crazy for us to have committed to [avoiding a global temperature rise of more than] 1.5 degrees Celsius and not be moving at lightning speed to try to create demanding markets for all the things that the people in this room are doing.”

Market forces aren't aligned to meet the climate goal, and so the World Bank is focused on renewable energy markets, Kim said.

“Every day we’re working to create the markets that will be desperate for getting the kind of technology that you’re putting together,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington at rkern@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com