ARPA-E Hearing

ARPA-E, Jobs and Beating China

House Science and Technology Commitee Jan 27th, 2009

As the title suggests, the general topic revolved around three core issues. The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), creating jobs and beating China. This hearing was in essence a one year progress report of the ARPA-E whose purpose is to promote and fund research and development of advanced energy technologies. It’s modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) which gave us the internet and GPS.

The witness panel was overwhelmingly in support of the ARPA-E creation and continual existence. Dr. Majumdar, the director of ARPA-E, stated that the organization already negotiated 36 out of the 37 awards in the first 3 months, but many innovative ideas could not get funding because they did not have enough money. They are looking at advanced battery technology, CCS and new ways to generate fuel. He reassured the representatives by saying he is optimistic of our nation’s future.

Dr. Charles Vest, President of the National Academy of Engineering, stated that his organization has only proposed one government entity which was ARPA-E. The purpose is very simple, he said, we need a new organization to conduct research outside the traditional set of players, the government and industry. Its mission is to conduct high risk high payoff research and development in energy. These projects should be goal oriented and attract new players from the academic community and entrepreneur community. It should be nimble, flat and should only exist if they can attract the best and the brightest for short periods of time. Looking at their first year, Dr. Vest believes ARPA-E is off to a great start.

Mr. John Denniston, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, believes that the venture capitalists are very interested in clean technology. He reminded us that we have fallen behind in this green race and need to step up our game. In order to do this, ARPE-E should not be treated as a short term experiment, but rather as a pillar of the American energy sector.

The key question of how to keep jobs local was brought up many times. Mr. Denniston made a key point by saying that we cannot stop globalization. The technologies that we invent here, will end up in other countries. But it’s not all bad. It makes sense for American companies to manufacture their products in America because that is where the research and development is. So the focus should be on getting these technologies out into the market. The solution, he said, is not to cut funding for R&D.

Rep. Rohrabacher expressed his concern by bringing up the topic of intellectual property ownership. The witnesses responded by saying that the companies own the IP and would need to get a waiver from the DOE in order to move their manufacturing to other countries.

The witnesses also agreed that it would be a good thing to implement a federal renewable energy standard. Mr. Denniston stated that there are currently 29 states that have their own RES, but the policies are not consistent. Therefore, a federal RES would give a good signal to businesses.


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