The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

New Director for U.S. Energy Department's Mad Science Wing

Energy efficiency will likely be the focus

2 min read

On 18 September, President Barack Obama chose Arunava Majumdar as the director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E), the U.S. Department of Energy’s new research incubator. Majumdar is currently director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His appointment provides clues to the future direction of an agency that many hope will drive innovation in energy technology and one that has been, until now, famously rudderless.

ARPA-E’s goal is to create game-changing energy technologies from high-risk research gambles. The agency is fashioned after the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, a model that has already been copied by other U.S. government arms to create IARPA (intelligence) and HSARPA (Homeland Security). The director reports only to the energy secretary and is supported by a lean core staff (capped at 120) that’s directly responsible for all funding. Its proponents, therefore, hope ARPA-E will be able to award grants quickly and free of bureaucratic delays.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

Keep Reading ↓Show less