There’s a race on to find clean, cheap energy, because the new industries that supply, manage, and efficiently use it will be among the biggest of the 21st century. But as David Hart writes for the Energy Collective, the United States is falling behind. In fact, as Rep. Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania put it recently, “China is cleaning our clock.”
Most private investors don’t have the deep pockets and patience to wait for such technologies to mature. So we need smart public policy to solve the problem. Federal RD&D programs can target energy innovation projects that have both technical merit and commercial potential and provide not only funding, but also connections and visibility that help these projects become better candidates for private investment.
A proof case is the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). This young agency is modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which repeatedly revolutionized war-fighting by nurturing breakthroughs such as stealth and GPS. ARPA-E has created a culture of innovation by hiring brilliant program directors from outside the government and allowing them to pursue the most promising opportunities they can find to revolutionize the energy sector. ARPA-E’s support helps turn novel ideas into prototypes with major market opportunities that private investors want to get in on.