Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Hearing - H.R. 364, Establishing the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy
Mr. William Bonvillian is the Director of the Washington Office of the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. Previously he served as Legislative Director and Chief Counsel
to Sen. Joseph Lieberman, where he worked on a wide range of science & technology
issues including those related to DARPA, and the establishment of a similar program at
the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Bonvillian will testify on the strengths and
weaknesses of the DARPA model as it applies to energy research, and experiences with
other models that should be considered in establishing an ARPA-E.
Mr. John Denniston is a partner in the venture capital firm of Kleiner Perkins Caufield
and Byers, based in Silicon Valley California, where his portfolio includes investments in
clean energy and “greentech” businesses. Mr. Denniston previously served as Salomon
Smith Barney’s Managing Director and head of Technology Investment for Western U.S.
He will address the role of the investment community in working with industry,
universities, and DOE to commercialize promising energy technologies, and the policies
that will spur innovation in this field.
Dr. Stephen Forrest is the Vice President for Research at the University of Michigan,
which recently established the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute. Prior to
joining the university, Dr. Forrest held positions at Bell Laboratories, University of
Southern California, and Princeton. He will to testify on the proposed structure of
ARPA-E, and how the role of university/industry partnerships can enhance energy R&D
in the U.S.
Dr. Richard Van Atta is at the Science & Technology Policy Institute of the Institute for
Defense Analysis. Dr. Van Atta has conducted several studies on DARPA’s research
programs and their impact, as well as defense research projects under DARPA
sponsorship. He will to testify on the organizational aspects of DARPA that fostered a
successful culture of innovation.
SUBCOMMITTEE DISCUSSES CREATION OF ARPA-E TO RESEARCH ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOLUTIONS
WASHINGTON – Today, the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment discussed the creation of an Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), which would perform revolutionary and transformational energy research and attempt to bridge the gap between laboratory research and the commercialization of developed technologies. Most of the witnesses agreed on the need for an ARPA-E, but cautioned that the entity should be allowed independence and freedom from the bureaucracies that normally exist in government agencies.
The witnesses were testifying on Chairman Gordon’s bill H.R. 364, which is based on a proposal by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to create an agency at DOE, modeled on the success of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) at the Department of Defense. Some of the witnesses also cautioned that an ARPA-E would face different challenges than DARPA partly because the government would not be a primary customer for the technologies advanced through an ARPA-E.
At the hearing, Subcommittee Ranking Member Bob Inglis (R-SC) made the following statement:
“Mr. Chairman, we share the same vision: America serving the world and succeeding as the leading technological innovator.
“We share the same goal: creating incentives for technological advancement.
“We share some of the same strategies and tactics toward the attainment of the goal and the fulfillment of the vision.
“I’m not opposed to creating a federal agency within the Department of Energy to mimic the risk-embracing and entrepreneurial qualities of the DARPA program. It is possible that the ARPA-E research could eventually offer a big payoff in the commercial energy market. At the same time, I already see real payoffs coming from existing DOE research, especially hydrogen, nuclear, wind, and solar programs. I’m concerned that the ARPA-E fund will divert funds away from these existing programs and jeopardize the advances we’re already seeing in these areas. I hope that we can find a way to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
“Unlike DARPA, DOE doesn’t have the “contracting power” to require private companies and utilities to use the technologies ARPA-E might produce. We’re still not sure how best to clear the hurdle from basic, applied research in our national labs to applying that research in the commercial market. Is it reasonable to think that, without the ability to mandate applications, the higher risk ARPA-E programs would be able to conquer that tech transfer challenge?
“In any event we can all agree that science and technology hold some of the solutions to the most pressing problems we face. Our dependence on fossil fuels from the most unstable regions in the world makes us a nation at risk. We must break through to alternative sources of energy, and I hope that ARPA-E can be part of that process.”