Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Calling the Next Generation of US Energy Rock Stars

Some folks are suspicious of anything the government tries to do beyond defending our borders and protecting national interests abroad. Others believe that government can do much more. I'm kind of in between, generally valuing a small footprint Federal government, but every once in a while applauding innovation in government when it shows up.

Such is the case with a new DOE organization, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which came to life just this year and has been given a $400 million boost to get itself and its first bunch of projects off the ground. ARPA-E is not about incremental improvements in energy science; no, it focuses exclusively on high risk, bet the farm, swing for the fences, change the world energy technologies.



A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of being in the first row when new ARPA-E director, Dr. Arun Majumdar, introduced the ARPA-E Fellows Program to a capacity audience at MIT. Saying the goal of his org is to boost US competitiveness in Energy Tech (ET) by helping to find and nurture the "Next generation of "Energy Rock Stars", Majumdar noted his own existence was thanks to the pioneering artificial fertilizer breakthroughs of American scientist Norman Borlaug. He went on to show how many energy technologies first discovered in the US like photo-voltaic solar and lithium ion storage now have little-to-no market leadership nor manufacturing presence in the country. This trend he plainly aims to turn around.

One thing you can say for sure: whether ARPA-E advances technologies that benefit the grid directly or finds ways to greatly increase the capabilities of renewable power generation or storage, it all grows the Smart Grid one way or another. By the way, Majumdar came across as warm, brilliant, determined and 100% sincere. I for one am rooting big time for him and his world changers.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

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