An agency within the U.S. Department of Energy fosters innovative new energy technologies by providing economic and technical support to private entrepreneurs and researchers. The technologies that the Advanced Research Project Agency promotes could be game changers in the high stakes international race to make the process of producing and delivering electric power more efficient, the ability to store electricity more feasible and the capability to reduce carbon emissions greater.
Think of the technological advances in computer processing and smart phone functionality during the past 25 years. Experts predict an exponential growth in innovation and technology in the next couple of decades, and those new technologies could dramatically affect the way electricity is produced, delivered and used.
The Advanced Research Project Agency plans to hold its seventh annual summit on energy technologies, a conference for business, academic and government experts, during the three days February 29 through March 2, 2016, at National Harbor, Maryland, just outside Washington D.C. Each year the conference includes an exhibit of new and, in many cases, transformative energy technologies for researchers and investors. Companies, organizations and others who are not current grant awardees of the agency have until December 11, 2015, to submit applications to showcase their technologies at the conference.
“There is so much opportunity,” Dr. Ellen D. Williams, Director of the Advanced Research Project Agency, said to a group of consultants and lawyers at a morning breakfast hosted in September of this year by the consulting firm ITF International after identifying a handful of grid integration, electric transmission and electric storage technologies the agency is promoting through grants, technical assistance and market advice. Dr. Williams, a PHD chemist and University of Maryland physics professor, previously served as Senior Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Energy, Chief Scientist for BP and Director of the University of Maryland Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, which she founded.
The little known federal agency looks for opportunity to bring high risk, promising energy technologies out of the laboratory and into the commercial marketplace. It selects projects through an award-type process and “provides funding and tech-to-market assistance to its performers,” a Department of Energy spokesperson said in an e-mail. In addition to funding, “[it] provides its awardees with practical training and critical business information to guide technical and commercial development and help project teams accelerate the adoption of their technologies,” the spokesperson said.
Against the backdrop of polarized political rhetoric about the role of the federal government, the Advanced Research Project Agency fosters commercial development of marketable energy technologies, such as new wind turbine and battery technologies, which have significant potential to increase U.S. electric generation capacity, create electric storage capability and make electric transmission more efficient.
The agency grew from a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in 2007 warning policymakers that U.S. advantages in science and technology had begun to erode. The National Academies’ report called for decisive action and recommended that Congress establish an agency within the U.S. Department of Energy modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – the agency credited with helping develop GPS, the stealth fighter and computer networking technologies.
Congress passed a bill creating the Advanced Research Project Agency in 2007, and President George W. Bush signed it into law. But the agency officially came into existence during early 2009, when it received its first funding. In 2009, Congress appropriated and President Barack Obama allocated $400 million, which funded the agency’s first projects.
In the broader context, the Advanced Research Project Agency represents a greater use of joint government and private sector initiatives to promote innovative technologies and products in energy, energy efficiency and sustainability. These kinds of collaborative efforts have become so common that the American Bar Association has a committee solely focused on them.
Private industry groups, such as the Electric Power Research Institute, a non-profit organization that conducts research, development, and demonstration of electric industry technologies and products, praise the work of the Advanced Research Project Agency.
The agency’s grants provide economic assistance for innovative energy technologies, and help keep entrepreneurs, who might otherwise seek foreign funding, and their technologies in the United States. Some of the agency’s projects have the potential to radically improve U.S. economic security, national security, and environmental well-being. Today, the agency has over 400 projects in 28 programs and 41 states.