October 11, 2011
ARPA-E Announces Latest Round of Funding
This morning, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) announced its latest round of funding, the fifth since the program was first funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. ARPA-E is awarding $156 million to 60 projects around the nation, investing in innovative research in biofuels, battery and thermal storage, solar technology, the electrical grid, and other clean energy technologies.
This brings total ARPA-E investment to $521.7 million in awards to 180 different projects, many of which are already showing strong results. According to the Department of Energy, 11 of these ARPA-E projects have already attracted a cumulative $200 million in additional private capital investment.
ARPA-E's director, Arun Majumdar, calls the agency a "preventure" investor for technologies and projects that "are too risky for VCs."
In the midst of the ongoing Solyndra story, and with appropriators in Congress looking everywhere possible to cut spending, ARPA-E is actually seeing its funding increase from last year. By a one-vote margin, this summer it secured approval from the House Energy & Water Appropriations Subcommittee for an increase from $100 million to $180 million for FY2012 funding.
This is encouraging, and the innovative projects ARPA-E funds are vital to the Department's goal of innovation and cost reduction in clean energy, but the agency remains woefully underfunded. Breakthrough's 2010 report "Post-Partisan Power" recommended ARPA-E be fully funded at $1.5 billion annually. This parallels similar recommendations from the National Academies for $1 billion. The current funding level even falls far short of DOE's budget request of $550 million.
ARPA-E is a shining example of an effective and efficient public-private partnership working to drive down the unsubsidized cost of clean energy technologies and bring clean tech to full commercial scale. Agencies and programs like ARPA-E will prove absolutely essential in the international race to meet the world's growing demand for low-carbon power. As Dr. Manjumdar says, "There's a global competition going on, and speed is of the essence. The future is up for grabs."