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Solar & Alternative Energy

SPIE urges strong budget support for energy R&D

SPIE Newsroom
5 February 2010

SPIE sent a letter to key U.S. Senate committee members just before the delivery of the President's budget to Congress calling for strong fiscal support for programs that are key to U.S. clean energy deployment.

Four societies signed the January 27 letter, which pointed out that U.S. federal R&D spending "has dwindled to roughly half what it was in 1980." As a percentage of all R&D spending, it has declined from 10 percent to 2 percent. The letter called this "an unacceptable level of commitment to our nation's energy future." Besides SPIE, the signers were the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), IEEE-USA, and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

"We must continue to support research that will catalyze innovation," the letter said, urging support for proposals that were not funded in the 2009 appropriations bill. One of these was the RE-ENERGYSE program, a means for encouraging students to pursue science and engineering by using digital media in partnership with the National Science Foundation. Several Innovation Hubs were not funded. These are designed to conduct breakthrough research not taking place at national labs or other agency facilities.

Meanwhile, on January 27 the House Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing on the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) at the Department of Energy (DOE). Members and witnesses discussed the accomplishments and future plans for the agency, as well as the role of ARPA-E in the larger energy technology landscape. ARPA-E received its first funding in 2009 when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included allocations of $400 million for ARPA-E to become fully operational and the Fiscal Year 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act appropriated $15 million for the start-up of ARPA-E.

Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) commended ARPA-E on a good start. "I firmly believe that, in the not-so-distant future, members of this Committee will look back on our role in the formation of ARPA-E and take great pride in the technological breakthroughs and new industries that will inevitably result from its work," he said. "ARPA-E will in turn serve as a model for innovation in other programs within DOE and other federal agencies."

The first Funding Opportunity Announcement, in April 2009, received an unprecedented response of almost 3,700 concept papers. Ultimately, 37 projects were chosen from 334 finalists to receive a total of over $150 million in awards. ARPA-E completed all of the award contracts within three months after the award announcement, and most within two months. This rapid pace for federal contracting represents a 60% reduction over the average DOE procurement cycle time.

The panelists agreed that there are more good ideas than ARPA-E's funding can accommodate. Chairman Gordon has been working with DOE Secretary Chu and ARPA-E Director Majumdar to create a forum in which finalists and awardees could present their proposals and meet with potential investors. This would allow DOE's work to serve to vet the nation's most promising energy technologies and encourage private sector support. The first such forum will be the ARPA-E Innovation Summit, to be held March 1st-3rd at the Gaylord Convention Center at the nearby National Harbor in Maryland.

Related:

Will ARPA-E Receive Funding? (Technology Review Potential Energy blog)