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article imageBill Gates boosts Energy Department's endangered ARPA-E program

By Karen Graham     Sep 16, 2017 in Technology
On September 12, the U.S. Department of Energy announced up to $82 million in early-stage research in concentrating solar power and power electronics would be made available, despite Trump's 2018 budget request that the DOE's ARPA-E be eliminated.
Digital Journal reported on the DOE announcement earlier last week as part of the story about solar power production meeting the 2020 utility-scale solar cost target set by the SunShot Initiative. The SunShot initiative was one Obama-era program spared in Trump's 2018 budget request, released in March.
But the Energy Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA-E, was destined to be eliminated completely. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Sea Grant program, which funds marine research would face the same grim fate.
In March, GeekWire wrote that the proposed budget cuts to scientific research would ultimately affect America's position as a global leader in research and innovation. So it was somewhat of a surprise when the DOE announced funding was available last week for R&D into solar power and power electronics.
However, GeekWire is reporting Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is putting in a plug for the DOE's ARPA-E, just when it’s in need of a power surge. ARPA-E’s work is important to Gates because of the billionaire’s involvement in Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a $1 billion investment fund that Gates (and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, among others) bought into last year to back commercial energy initiatives.
In 2007, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law The America COMPETES Act, which officially authorized ARPA-E's creation. In 2009, ARPA-E received its first appropriation of $400 million, which funded ARPA-E's first projects.
Over the years ARPA-E funding has helped initiatives ranging from electric grid management and power conversion to more energy-efficient windows to lower-cost solar power systems, and to plasma research for nuclear fusion power. As of February 2017, ARPA-E has funded more than 580 energy technology projects across nearly 40 focused programs and open solicitations.
But suffice to say that Bill Gates has saved, as he calls it, his “favorite obscure government agency." After Trump X-ed out ARPA-E funding for his 2018 budget, the House followed suit, also X-ing out funding for the agency. However, the Senate took a different view, adding 8.0 percent to their budget.
Bottom Line - In the next few weeks, ARPA-E may end up being in a life-or-death struggle, and like GeekWire say, "this may be exactly why Gates weighed in with a strong vote of support."
More about ARPAE, Bill gates, trump budget, energy research, Breakthrough Energy Ventures