While prevailing themes change from year to year, the annual ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C., continues to provide a powerful reminder about the progress we are making in advancing the clean energy economy. The following highlights capture the essence of this year’s summit and reinforce Fremont’s commitment to being a leader in clean technology.
1. The IoT “revolution” is making energy democracy a reality. Kicking off the Summit, Xerox CTO Dr. Sophie Vandebroek gave an impassioned speech about the importance of democratizing energy — increasing competition and providing people with greater choice for energy sources. Through its Silicon Valley research institute, PARC, Xerox is working toward commercial applications in gas monitoring systems (preventing methane leaks), sensor technologies to improve battery stability, and mobility marketplace tools.
2. Advanced materials are the key enabler of most clean technologies. Getting back to basics, the Summit invited CEOs of Air Liquide USA and BASF North America to discuss the role that chemistry plays in our energy future. Interesting to note that both companies have a presence in Fremont, making it the home base for advanced materials in Silicon Valley. Whether it’s more durable coatings on solar panels, greater densification of batteries, or new applications for hydrogen, both of these industry icons (each in operation for more than 100 years) are embracing the role they play in innovation through venture funding, acquisitions, and technology licensing.
3. The Department of Energy’s new Clean Energy Investment Center has strong ties to Fremont. In January, the DOE announced that Dr. Sanjiv Malhotra will be the first director of the Clean Energy Investment Center (CEIC), which was established in 2015 as part of the Obama Administration’s Clean Energy Investment Initiative to advance private, mission-oriented investment in clean energy technologies that address the present gap in U.S. cleantech investment. CEIC will also help to enhance the availability of DOE’s resources to private sector investors. Prior to this, Dr. Malhotra was CEO of Fremont-based Oorja Fuel Cells and was a champion of Fremont’s cleantech and advanced manufacturing initiatives.
4. Developing countries offer massive market potential for renewable energy. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim cares deeply about the efforts of ARPA-E because of the Bank’s commitment to direct $29 billion per year by 2020 at battling climate change. He believes the World Bank’s responsibility goes well beyond just increasing GDP growth in developing countries. The Bank also has a responsibility to “move markets” and create stronger demand, which will accelerate price reductions for the technologies sponsored by ARPA-E. Kim played an instrumental role in the recent negotiations at the COP 21 Summit in Paris and is using the historic agreements to boost the sense of urgency around addressing severe weather impacts and persistent poverty from energy deficiencies in these countries.
5. There are serious financial market implications for doing nothing. Former Vice President Al Gore is known as a leading voice on climate change, sustainability, and investment in innovation. At the Summit, Gore made the business case for clean technologies. He explained how the value placed on carbon assets (nearly $22 trillion worldwide) is illusory because it doesn’t measure the negative externalities associated with them, keeping oil and coal artificially cheap for over 150 years. He has also demonstrated the profit potential of sustainability with his own pocketbook in the form of a successful investment firm that uses sustainability criteria in its decision making. However, he emphasized the need to accelerate the pace of technology development and address pricing carbon. After all, he explained, we regulate almost all other forms of waste disposal. Shouldn’t we do the same for the gaseous waste pouring into our atmosphere? In concluding his remarks, he offered hope, indicating we are at an inflection point in cleantech — a sentiment widely shared by all speakers. With solar now below grid parity in some locations, momentum is on our side.
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