Power Up

Could an agency modeled on DARPA recharge U.S. energy R&D?

5 min read

A bill passed by the U.S. Congress last month and signed into law by President George W. Bush on 9 August creates a special R&D unit within the Department of Energy modeled on the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Like its Defense Department analog, Advanced Research Projects Agency�Energy, or ARPA-E, is meant to engender a research elite to develop high-risk, high-reward technologies, but specifically in energy. Critics of the ­legislation complained that the proposed agency lacked a clearly defined mission, established sources of funding, and the ability to put its findings into practice. Supporters have countered that without a new agency in place, none of those issues can even be addressed.

The idea for ARPA-E came from a 2005 National Academy of Sciences report called ”Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” The report criticized the state of American ­competitiveness in the global market, specifically ­condemning government inattention to baseline research and development. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that federal investment in energy technology R&D has declined by 85 percent since 1978, when adjusted for inflation. The report spurred House Science Committee chairman Bart Gordon (Dâ''Tenn.) and other political heavyweights to sponsor legislation that would create a DARPA-like agency.

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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

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