Here we go again. President Trump has once again proposed disastrous cuts to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s clean energy innovation budget, even though Congress ignored his similar budget proposal last year and instead provided increased research and development (R&D) funding.
Trump’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget request calls for a whopping 86 percent cut in funding to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and proposes the elimination of popular and impactful programs such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the Loan Programs Office, and the Weatherization Assistance Program.
Congress should again pay no attention to Trump’s out-of-touch proposal and approve a budget that gives DOE the resources and direction it needs to continue developing solutions to the nation’s most pressing energy challenges, especially in the face of an urgent need to address climate change.
The proposed budget reflects a remarkable disconnect between the Trump administration and the values of the American people. The Trump administration is disregarding the fact that investing in clean energy and energy efficiency not only helps reduce pollution and addresses the dangerous impacts of climate change but also creates jobs, makes U.S. businesses more competitive in the global market, and saves people money on fuel and electricity.
The President Places No Value on Valuable Programs
DOE has a unique and critical role to play in supporting clean energy innovation. DOE funds researchers in national labs, universities, small businesses, and large corporations through grants, loans, and loan guarantees. Investments from DOE complement private-sector funding by supporting projects that industry deems too far from market or too risky. This forward-thinking vision allows U.S. researchers to continue innovating at a high level.
Nevertheless, Trump’s budget would decimate DOE programs that have been wildly successful and should be a crucial piece of the nation’s plan to combat climate change. In a warped vision for the federal government, the administration is proposing to eliminate:
- ARPA-E, which supports transformational energy projects that are too early for private-sector investment and can be meaningfully advanced with a small amount of government funding. Since 2009, ARPA-E has provided approximately $1.8 billion in R&D funding to more than 660 projects that have led to the formation of 71 new companies and have raised more than $2.6 billion in private-sector follow-on funding. For example, it supported companies developing the next generation of batteries and more efficient and less expensive solar wafers that are the building blocks of solar panels.
- The Loan Programs Office, which has provided more than $30 billion of loans and loan guarantees over the past decade for more than 30 projects—ranging from solar technologies to wind farms—in order to bridge gaps in the commercial debt market.
- The Weatherization Assistance Program, which has reduced energy costs for more than 7 million low-income households across all 50 states by improving energy efficiency. The program supports 8,500 jobs and provides weatherization services to approximately 35,000 homes every year, and those households save an average of at least $283 annually.
The President’s Budget Is Dead on Arrival (Again)
When Trump proposed similar cuts to DOE last year, Congress thankfully ignored them and instead took bipartisan action to increase funding for crucial clean energy innovation programs—including record funding for EERE and a boost to ARPA-E.
The strong bipartisan support for clean energy innovation should not be surprising, given the enormous benefit that DOE programs bring to Americans. Between 2008 and 2017, wind energy, solar power, electric vehicles, and LED lighting all saw costs fall between 59 and 94 percent, thanks in part to long-term federal support for clean energy research, development, and demonstration.
As a result, we reap the benefits not just from reduced costs for those technologies, but also from clean energy jobs that are providing millions of Americans with good salaries today: As a new report shows, approximately 2.35 million Americans worked in the energy efficiency industry and more than 350,000 Americans worked for solar and wind energy firms in 2018.
Congress’s Opportunity to Advance Clean Energy
In addition to rejecting the proposed cuts, Congress should increase funding for targeted innovation programs with the most potential and also direct DOE to efficiently and effectively use appropriated funds to support the development of clean energy. Here are just a few of the research areas meriting greater investment:
- Vehicle Technologies (which Trump’s budget proposes to cut by 79 percent):
- Improvements to electric vehicle (EV) batteries, including reducing the cobalt content of lithium-ion batteries;
- Development of advanced materials and improved combustion engines to achieve greater efficiency; and,
- System-level research of pathways to decarbonize the transportation sector, including integration of EVs with the grid, the impacts of connected and autonomous vehicles, and improvements to transportation system efficiency.
- Solar Energy Technologies (which Trump’s budget proposes to cut by 73 percent):
- Improvement to perovskite solar panels, which have the potential to achieve greater efficiencies and easily scalable domestic manufacturing;
- Reduction of the non-hardware costs of solar energy, including through market and regulatory analysis;
- Workforce development programs to bring traditionally underrepresented communities into the solar workforce and training programs for the secondary solar workforce, which includes people whose work affects the solar industry; and,
- Modeling and planning tools to help integrate more solar on the grid.
- Wind Energy Technologies (which Trump’s budget proposes to cut by 74 percent):
- Improvements to offshore fixed-bottom and floating wind turbine technologies to bring down costs and address their unique challenges, including high winds and icing;
- Continued advancements to land-based wind turbines, especially to enable taller turbines;
- Tools and analysis to address market adoption barriers, including those relating to siting and wildlife impacts (especially but not limited to interactions between offshore turbines and marine life); and,
- Modeling and analysis to improve integration of wind resources with the grid.
- Advanced Manufacturing (which Trump’s budget proposes to cut by 75 percent):
- Development of industry-specific decarbonization roadmaps to guide R&D efforts to achieve significant greenhouse gas reductions across the industrial sector;
- Advancement of energy efficiency to reduce energy demand in the industrial sector; and,
- Development of replacements for fossil-fuel-based heating technologies for use in manufacturing processes, including electrification and alternative fuels.
- Building Technologies (which Trump’s budget proposes to cut by 75 percent):
- Efforts to reduce market barriers and facilitate widespread deployment of energy efficiency technologies for residential and commercial buildings, including development of strategies to achieve deep retrofits of existing buildings; and,
- Efforts to improve building-to-grid interactions, through advanced sensors and controls, and improved integration of energy storage and renewable energy.
- Office of Electricity (which Trump’s budget proposes to increase by 17 percent):
- Grid modernization R&D and analysis, including improvements to distribution system sensors and testing of microgrid systems and controls; and,
- A crosscutting program to lower the cost and remove market barriers of long-duration grid-scale energy storage.
- The Offices of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Fossil Energy, and Science:
- Dedicated funding within each to support research projects to advance the development and commercialization of direct air capture technologies that capture carbon dioxide from dilute sources – such as the atmosphere – on a significant scale.
Step 1: Securing Funding, Step 2: Putting It to Good Use
In addition to encouraging Congress to continue its strong support for clean energy innovation funding at DOE again, we also want to remind DOE to expeditiously get that money into the hands of innovators. Last year we observed some concerning hold-ups in EERE and ARPA-E spending their appropriated funds. While we have seen some positive signs since Assistant Secretary Daniel Simmons took the helm at EERE—and we are encouraged by his recent statement that executing on the FY19 budget and getting funding opportunities out the door is a top priority—actions speak louder than words. We will be watching closely, and hope Congress will do the same.