This week, President Obama released his final budget, staking out a path to meet our country's greatest challenges not just for the year ahead, but for decades to come. The budget proposes smart investments to accelerate the pace of American innovation, so that we can create jobs, build the economy of the future, and tackle our nation's greatest challenges like climate change.
That’s why the President’s budget would double funding for clean energy research and development (R&D) over the next five years, from $6.4 billion in FY 2016 to $12.8 billion in FY 2021, advancing the U.S. commitment to the landmark 20-nation Mission Innovation initiative announced at the Paris climate summit. As the President said in his weekly address urging bipartisan support for these investments, more clean energy R&D will “help the private sector create more jobs faster, lower the cost of clean energy faster, and help clean, renewable power outcompete dirty fuels in every state.”
There are many ways that the President’s proposal will help promising technologies make that leap from the laboratory to the marketplace, from training for entrepreneurial scientists to funding for regional innovation hubs. The budget also fully funds the Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions (OTT), which was recently established to turn ideas from the National Labs into products and services with an economic impact. And OTT is already off to a running start!
Last week OTT announced its first call for proposals to tap the $20 million Technology Commercialization Fund, which uses federal dollars to match private-sector dollars for the best ideas from the National Labs to bring cutting-edge energy technologies to market. The National Labs have historically laid the scientific foundation for many core technologies in the marketplace today, including the batteries powering electric vehicles, the underpinning of Internet servers, and the optical digital recording technology behind DVDs. As a competitive program, the Technology Commercialization Fund will empower and incentivize lab researchers to partner with the private sector to bring the best ideas to market even faster.
OTT has also created the Clean Energy Investment Center to advance private investment in clean energy technologies and enhance the transparency of government resources for investors and the public. Right now, a special team of Presidential Innovation Fellows – tech entrepreneur Adam Bonnifield, product manager Alexandra Pelletier, and designer/developer Luke Keller – is working with the center to maximize its impact. Based on user-centered engagement with industry experts, technology transfer professionals, and other stakeholders, these Fellows are building a new service that will create smart pathways between the private sector and scientists at the National Labs. By enabling investors and other members of the public to connect directly with leading experts in clean energy R&D, this service has the potential to tap the extraordinary knowledge of lab researchers more efficiently to accelerate the development of affordable, reliable clean energy solutions.
As America and the world make the transition to a low-carbon economy, the private sector’s appetite for new clean energy technologies will continue to grow. The Paris climate summit marked the launch of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, an independent initiative with 28 influential investors from 10 countries pledging to invest extraordinary levels of private capital in clean energy, focusing on early-stage innovations. Meanwhile, the Administration’s Clean Energy Investment Initiative has catalyzed more than $4 billion of independent commitments by major foundations, institutional investors, and other long-term investors, along with executive actions to scale up investment in clean energy innovation.
American consumers have already benefited tremendously from government investments in clean energy R&D, with the cost of solar cells, wind power, energy-efficient lighting, and electric vehicles falling rapidly in just the past few years. The President’s budget will ensure that America continues to lead the world in the next generation of breakthrough clean energy technologies.
Doug Rand is the Assistant Director for Entrepreneurship at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Jetta Wong is the Director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions.