ARPA-E Reauthorization an Important Step for Energy Innovation in Energy and Environment

The House Science Committee is examining reauthorization of the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E).  With support on both sides of the aisle for its reauthorization, the committee should pass an ARPA-E reauthorizing bill. 

Since 2010, prominent business leaders in the Bipartisan Policy Center’s American Energy Innovation Council (AEIC) have called for increasing funding for ARPA-E to $1 billion to significantly boost energy innovation and develop needed “game changers that the government can only take on because of high risks associated with the energy technology.” We continue this call and recommend Congress increase ARPA-E authorization levels to $1 billion over the next five years.  Since 2009, ARPA-E has played a vital role in U.S. energy innovation and enjoyed robust, bipartisan support. The agency advances high-potential energy technologies that improve our energy system’s generation, storage, and use in order to increase U.S. competitiveness, economic growth, and national security while protecting the environment.  Increased authorization levels will further bolster ARPA-E’s ability to create outside-the-box technologies to meet our 21st century energy needs.

Congress created ARPA-E as part of the 2007 America COMPETES Act after the National Academies published its Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future report.  The report called for Congress to replicate the Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) model to overcome long-term and high-risk energy technological barriers to address U.S. economic, environmental, and security issues. It called for Congress to increase funding for the program to $1 billion over five years to meet U.S. energy challenges with transformative research. 

ARPA-E Success Metrics:  On its 10th anniversary, ARPA-E has demonstrated strong results.  In March 2019, ARPA-E released metrics showing the program has had tremendous success.  The program has invested $2 billion in R&D funding to more than 800 projects, which has led to:

  • Attraction of $2.9 billion in private-sector follow-on investment;
  • Formation of 76 new companies;
  • Issuance of 346 related patents by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office;
  • Partnerships of 131 projects with other government agencies for further development; and
  • Publication of 2,489 peer-reviewed journal articles.

Further, the National Academies 2017 assessment of ARPA-E first six years of operations found ARPA-E: 

  • Focused on the most transformative technology opportunities;
  • Avoided duplicating research already underway; and
  • Supported projects that have since attracted significant private follow-on funding for technologies that are now beginning to enter the commercial market.

In order for ARPA-E to continue to build upon these successes, Congress should consider following recommendations by the National Academies report and AEIC and increase ARPA-E authorization levels to $1 billion over the next five years.  This timeframe will enable ARPA-E to ramp up its spending abilities in a measured way to achieve greater innovation.  At minimum, Congress should reauthorize ARPA-E and increase its authorization levels well beyond current levels. The size of ARPA-E’s present budget only allows it to fund a small percentage of submitted proposals, so greater authorization levels will increase the program’s impact on the research and development of next-generation energy technology.