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Making Sense of Government Energy Innovation Policy through Lawn Care

I recently asked a few colleagues over lunch the kind of wonky question that would only be allowed within the borders of the District of Columbia: Aside from more government investment – which is desperately needed – what are the big issues with America’s energy innovation ecosystem?

There’s no simple answer to that question, so we talked about a range of important ideas such as supporting advanced manufacturing, creating technology incubators, and reforming the DOE National Labs system. But what struck me was my colleagues’ insistence that what’s also needed is educating policymakers and advocates on how the energy innovation ecosystem fits together.

During the last five years, the U.S. federal government has added new institutions to spur innovation at different points along the technology development cycle, such as ARPA-E, the Energy Innovation Hubs, and Energy Frontier Research Centers. Analysts like myself argue more is needed. In response, policymakers fear duplication, extra bureaucracy, and inefficiencies often because these requests lack a clear case for how the policy pieces complement rather than repeat or compete with each other. This misunderstanding fuels – along with many other factors – a lack of

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DOE Proposes Expanding High Impact Energy Innovation Incubator Program

Buried in the President’s FY2014 budget proposal is an interesting reform that could impact energy innovation without relying on Congress for any new – and hard to come by – federal investments. The idea is to create eight new research incubator programs at the Department of Energy that forge collaborations with early-stage start-ups to bring promising new ideas closer to commercial scale. In particular, the incubators would focus on promising technology pathways DOE is not currently investing in.

The incubator programs would be housed within each of the energy technology offices (except for geothermal) and leverage a small share of existing research budgets. The figure below provides the proposed budgets for the new incubators. (Note, the DOE is also continuing its existing solar incubator program.)


Each incubator is expressly aimed at emerging areas of research and technology development not “supported in any meaningful” way by existing DOE projects.

For example, the Vehicle Technologies Program wants to focus on advanced power electronics and electric motor ideas. The Advanced Manufacturing Program wants to invest in “revolutionary” technology pathways that cut energy-use in production, but also make U.S. manufacturers more competitive. And the

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