ARPA-E Reauthorization: An Important Step for Clean Energy Innovation

David M. Hart September 18, 2017
September 18, 2017

(Ed. Note: The “Innovation Fact of the Week” appears as a regular feature in each edition of ITIF’s weekly email newsletter. Sign up today.)

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, recently introduced the ARPA-E Reauthorization Act of 2017. The bill, H.R. 3681, would authorize increased funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) through 2022.

ITIF strongly supports the re-authorization of ARPA-E. A variety of national goals are served by the acceleration of clean energy innovation, including energy security and independence, disaster resilience, mitigation of climate change, and economic growth and competitiveness.

ITIF endorsed ARPA-E’s creation and has consistently called for it to be scaled up to meet the national need for more rapid clean energy innovation. In a series of reports, ITIF has articulated the rationale behind this agency’s innovative design, described the evidence that makes clear that it serves a unique function that will not be met by private or other public funders, and tracked its progress.

In our 2010 report, Strengthening Clean Energy Competitiveness, co-authored by the Breakthrough Institute and the Brookings Institution, ITIF wrote: “ARPA-E is critical to securing American clean energy competitiveness by developing a new generation of affordable technologies that can form the basis for a new export-oriented clean energy growth strategy. But the funding level for this innovative program remains far too small to keep up with either our economic competitors or the scale of need.”

More recently, ITIF senior fellow David M. Hart wrote that “this agency is finding and exploring the ‘white space’ in energy innovation—domains of technology that are too daunting for venture capitalists and big energy companies to enter. ...ARPA-E has already created a culture of innovation in an environment that is highly risk-averse. It recruits outstanding technical experts from outside of government and gives them the freedom to pursue their visions for a limited period of time. It prefers to fund start-ups and laboratory teams with the potential to become start-ups, because they tend to think about energy challenges and opportunities in the most original ways.”

ARPA-E has earned bipartisan support on the merits of its work to date. It is highly respected in the energy technology and entrepreneurial communities, as well as among business leaders such as Bill Gates, Norm Augustine, and Chad Holliday.

ARPA-E is one of the federal government’s most important resources for accelerating clean energy innovation. It should be sustained and expanded.