At a time when the federal budget is being slashed and every expenditure scrutinized, the money the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is investing is producing massive results as it accelerates the development and deployment of clean technologies. The DOE’s commercialization programming has a multiplier effect on its financial investment in research, development and deployment. DOE has made a commitment to local and regional organizations that has been especially effective in meeting the department’s goals. And while these programs account for a very small percentage of the department’s overall budget, they constitute some of the best use of taxpayer funds anywhere in the government.

Nowhere was this passion for innovation, and prudent but successful use of funds, more apparent than the 2013 ARPA-E Innovation Summit in Washington, DC this past February. The summit has evolved into one of the most important events for clean energy entrepreneurs, innovators, policy makers and thought leaders who represent diverse interests in the nation’s emerging cleantech economy.  Every aspect of clean energy is represented at the conference and its growing importance signals the beginning of real change for America’s energy future.

 Since his entry into office, Energy Secretary Dr. Steven Chu has led the charge to make investments that will bring the best of clean and renewable energy technologies to the forefront of America’s energy mix. Under his leadership, the DOE launched the Energy Innovation Portal, an online database of intellectual property assets aggregated from the national laboratory system and world-class research institutions. The portal allows access to a library of nearly 20,000 DOE-funded inventions that serve as a direct conduit to businesses and investors who are interested in commercializing disruptive energy technologies.

Another outstanding example of the DOE’s efforts under Secretary Chu to invest wisely in our nation’s future is the annual National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition, which encourages entrepreneurship as a means for catalyzing clean technology development around the nation. Students and researchers compete in state and regional competitions where they acquire seed money, training and coaching in the business skills they will need to create successful clean energy enterprises.  Several finalists from the Competition’s regional programs attended the Summit and showed how small prizes won in these local and regional competitions have led to significant investments in forward-looking businesses. On such company is Design Flux Technologies, LLC whose leadership attended the summit. Design Flux won $10,000 in the 2012 Ohio Clean Energy Challenge along with a package of pro-bono commercialization consulting and legal services from Nortech, a local technology accelerator and founding partner in the National Clean Energy Business Competition. NorTech’s support helped Design Flux secure more than $100,000 in follow-on funding, and enabled them to hire a CEO, a former mentor in the Clean Energy Challenge.

My organization, the Clean Energy Trust, is additional proof of the prudent and successful investment of DOE funds at the local and regional level. Each year, we run the Clean Energy Challenge, a regional accelerator program created in partnership with the DOE to develop a Midwest clean energy network of leading research institutions and technology accelerators. CET has awarded only $300,000 in DOE money through the Challenge, yet that small investment has led to nearly $30 million in follow-on investment in companies that are creating jobs, registering patents and changing the future of American energy. The winner of the Clean Energy Challenge goes on to compete at the National Clean Energy Business Competition.

 As Program Manager at the Clean Energy Trust, it has been my privilege to partner with the DOE and to observe first-hand how the department’s investment in the network is an incredibly efficient means to lever a small amount of federal funding to foster the relationships that are building a robust and durable foundation for vibrant commercialization ecosystem. We at CET encourage the DOE to continue regional programs that have proven to help achieve the department’s overarching goals. 



Guest post written by Winston Lazar, Clean Energy Trust