“Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, activity for activity, it is hard to find a thing the United States has done that is more effective than ARPA-E”, stated Fred Smith, FedEx Chairman and CEO at the Advanced Research Projects Agency- Energy (ARPA-E) Summit last week.

These are bright accolades for a program as young as ARPA-E (only three years old) and what’s more impressive is that Mr. Smith isn’t alone in holding this belief.

The ARPA-E 3rd annual summit was headlined by Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu; ARPA-E Director, Arun Majumdar; Microsoft Founder and Chairman, Bill Gates; and President Bill Clinton, with nearly 2,500 of the nation’s brightest minds in attendance. Over the course of three days, the Summit showcased ARPA-E award winners, finalists, and a Technology Showcase of more than 240 breakthrough energy developments. These projects covered everything from grid-scale storage to building efficiency to advanced carbon capture and electrofuels.

Importantly, the Summit also highlighted the interconnected nature of players within the energy technology landscape. From EERE’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization, we were pleased to see one of the Innovation Ecosystem Awardees, the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems, on display at the Technology Showcase. Moreover, it reminds us that a number of clean energy business plan finalist teams, FloDesign Wind Turbine Corporation and FastCAP systems, have since been awarded ARPA-E grants. 

ARPA-E as it exists today evolved quickly from concept to highly effective program.  Secretary Steven Chu, along with Norman Augustine, Anita Jones and others, first promoted the idea of ARPA-E in the 2007 National Academies report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm”.  The Committee recognized the need for a program similar to the Defense Advanced Research Program Agency to boldly develop energy technologies.  Authorized as part of the America COMPETES Act of 2007, ARPA-E first received appropriations through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. 

Today, ARPA-E has already attained considerable success. Eleven of its projects have done such promising work that they’ve secured more than $200 million in outside private capital investment.

With ARPA-E’s success as a model and guide, we hope that the National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition entrants will follow the same trajectory—moving business plans to high-growth cleantech businesses.