It was quite amazing, sitting in the audience at ARPA-E’s event in Washington early this spring while the likes of Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx, talked about the importance of government research to put muscle behind efforts to develop disruptive energy technologies in America.
Bill Gates was there to, trying to get everyone to look past the sorry Solyndra tale of miscued federal loan efforts. He said we must understand that R&D failure is a signpost on the road to success. “This is a complex set of technologies,” Gates said of energy. “We need thousands of companies to be trying this to get the 10-20 companies that will have real solutions.”
January means new beginnings. That is certainly true at the start of a presidential administration or the second term of a re-elected president – like Barack Obama.
For many years, energy utilities have been criticized as being way too stingy when it comes to backing research and development of new technologies. In part, utilities have been all about building infrastructure that is every expensive and very reliable, for a regulatory-determined safe profit.
The federal government has stepped into the breach. A group of visionary scientists have been working on pioneering energy research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on the eastern fringe of the Rockies in Golden, Colo. ever since the Carter administration.
In the teeth of the recent nasty recession, the government launched ARPA-E, to back research into promising new areas, such as energy storage.
Where are NREL and ARPA-E headed?
To answer that question, I will be moderating a discussion on Thursday, Dec. 20, at noon ET, with Dan Arvizu, the director of NREL, Cheryl Martin, ARPA-E’s deputy director of commercialization - and future director - and Sen. Byron Dorgan, former chairman of the Senate subcommittee on energy and water development.
Arvizu and Martin will talk about what their teams have been doing – and what they would like to be tackling in coming years.
Dorgan will help explore where the federal support for these efforts will come from in an era of tight federal budgets.
Listen in to our conversation this Thursday [register here]. And join us for a deeper exploration of Big Shifts in National Energy Policy at the EnergyBiz Leadership Forum in Washington, March 18-19 at The National Press Club [information here].