DOE Catalyzes Clean Energy Innovation in All 50 States

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has made clean energy research and development (R&D) investments in every U.S. state over the past two years, sending more than $1.8 billion to the national laboratories and to hundreds of private-sector and academic researchers last year alone. Unfortunately, the Trump administration recently unveiled a proposal to slash the Energy Department’s budget next year. If enacted, this would have devastating impacts on American innovation.

NRDC’s new issue brief published today, The Department of Energy’s Clean Energy Investments Are Catalyzing Innovation Nationwide, highlights some of the clean energy investments made in 2018 by two critical DOE offices—the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E). These investments have supported a wide portfolio of technologies ranging from electric vehicles and advanced lighting to offshore wind turbines.

As our new issue brief shows, Congress needs to again ignore the Trump administration’s proposed energy R&D budget cuts and instead strengthen DOE’s clean energy budget, which will allow innovators to develop new and improved technologies to help reduce the worst impacts of climate change.

All of America Stands to Benefit

In 2018, Congress appropriated nearly $2.7 billion to EERE and ARPA-E to support research on topics including energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean transportation. NRDC’s review shows the DOE invested more than $1 billion directly to the national laboratories and over $860 million to support private-sector and academic researchers. This funding was awarded to 600-plus small businesses, industrial partners, and academic institutions across almost every state.

Highlighted innovation includes funding to develop long-duration energy storage technologies, cobalt-free batteries for electric vehicles, off-shore wind turbines, and many more technologies and initiatives. These nine projects are profiled in greater detail.

For a full list of the DOE awards, see NRDC’s dataset.

DOE Funding Must Reach U.S. Innovators

While DOE funded hundreds of impressive projects in 2018, it missed an opportunity to provide even greater support to U.S. innovators. In December 2018, NRDC discovered unusual, problematic delays in deploying congressionally appropriated funding. NRDC’s analysis found hundreds of millions of unspent EERE and ARPA-E research dollars. In response to these concerns, newly confirmed EERE Assistant Secretary Daniel Simmons recently stated that getting funds into the hands of researchers was “top on his list” of priorities. Given the large, unspent balances for funds appropriated in Fiscal Years (FY) 2018 and 2019, we urge Congress to continue monitoring DOE spending to ensure this crucial money reaches U.S. innovators in a timely manner. Fortunately, despite these delays, DOE still managed to support hundreds of exciting and important clean energy research projects in 2018.

DOE Investments Have Led to Cheaper, Cleaner Energy

As part of the review, NRDC also updated cost and deployment data in its Revolution Now data series. It shows that the decline in costs and increase in deployment for four DOE-supported clean energy technologies continued during 2017 and 2018. DOE funding has helped drive down the costs of clean energy innovation, from solar and wind power to electric vehicles, making these technologies more affordable while accelerating market adoption.

Clean Energy Funding Yields Returns

From various studies, we know that every dollar invested into DOE clean energy research will return more than $33 in benefits to American taxpayers. While we can’t know which specific investments will pay off the most, we do know that funding a broad portfolio of clean energy research overall is a guaranteed win.

Clean Energy Funding Has Broad Support

Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s FY2020 DOE R&D budget proposal slashes EERE’s funding by $2 billion, or 86 percent, and would entirely eliminate ARPA-E. Congress should reject these devastating cuts, as it did in 2017 and 2018, while increasing funding for EERE and ARPA-E to record levels.

During an April 2018 hearing, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, made the rationale for increases clear by stating that DOE’s “research programs have made the United States a world leader in science and technology, and these programs will help the United States maintain its brainpower advantage to remain competitive at a time when other countries are investing heavily in research.” In a March 2019 hearing, Senator Alexander reiterated his support by proposing a doubling in clean energy research funding over the next five years. Energy innovation and R&D funding is essential in bringing down the costs of a transition to clean energy, and in an effective climate action agenda, must be paired with robust efficiency and emissions standards and clean energy incentives. This comprehensive portfolio of policy tools will be necessary to successfully combat climate change.

Congress is not alone in recognizing the huge economic benefits of clean energy innovation for our prosperity, security, and environment. For example, the American Energy Innovation Council, a group of CEOs of some of the nation’s largest corporations, has recommended that Congress increase clean energy R&D funding to $16 billion annually, or nearly triple current levels. Co-director of Stanford’s Precourt Institute and founding ARPA-E director Arun Majumdar recently testified before Congress that ARPA-E’s annual budget should be increased to $1 billion.

We hope this issue brief and accompanying dataset will help policy makers identify the groundbreaking federally sponsored clean energy R&D being done in their communities and emphasize the importance of a strong clean energy R&D budget. We encourage them to visit these innovators, learn more about their work, and ask what more can be done to maintain U.S. clean energy leadership.

About the Authors

Madhur Boloor

Schneider Fellow, Analysis Team, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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