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DOE Stalls Clean Energy R&D, Risking Jobs & US Competitiveness

DOE Stalls Clean Energy R&D, Risking Jobs & US Competitiveness

December 31st, 2018 by NRDC 

Initially revealed on NRDC professional weblog.
By Jackie Wong & Madhur Boloor 

The U.S. Division of Energy (DOE) could also be sitting on roughly $600 million in Fiscal Yr 2018 (FY18) funding for clear power analysis and improvement (R&D), regardless of clear and powerful congressional steerage to take a position public dollars in new applied sciences and innovation that may pave the best way for America to be a pacesetter in a clear power future.

NRDC reviewed publicly out there knowledge to trace spending by DOE’s Superior Analysis Tasks Company-Energy (ARPA-E) and Workplace of Energy Effectivity and Renewable Energy (EERE). As of in the present day, greater than two months after the conclusion of FY18 on September 30, our evaluation exhibits:

ARPA-E has not spent greater than $280 million (79 %) of its $353 million FY18 analysis finances; and, EERE has not spent greater than $319 million (14 %) of its $2.32 billion FY18 analysis price range. We urge Congress and the U.S. Authorities Accountability Workplace (GAO) to research why a lot congressionally accepted R&D funding doesn’t seem to have been put to make use of. We’re sending a letter at this time to the related appropriators in Congress.

The delays are regarding as a result of they undermine America’s means to develop clear power improvements that may decrease the price of electrical energy, create jobs, and scale back the air pollution that’s jeopardizing our well being and our planet. The federal government is the single-largest supply and propellant of power analysis funding, and former DOE-sponsored R&D investments have led to such breakthroughs as extremely environment friendly lighting know-how, dramatic value reductions for photo voltaic and wind applied sciences, and battery enhancements that enabled the enlargement of the electrical car business.

U.S. companies and entrepreneurs are keen to place their ingenuity to work to steer the worldwide transformation to a clear power future—however they’re being held again by DOE’s failure to help them in absolutely seizing that chance. For context, China’s authorities invests almost 3 times extra in power R&D than the U.S. authorities as a proportion of the gross home product. Moreover, China’s complete federal R&D price range is projected to develop at a price a lot quicker than ours. With power accounting for 20 % of the Chinese language R&D finances (in comparison with simply 2 % within the U.S.), our future international competitiveness is being put in danger.

Nevertheless, none of this ought to be too shocking given the Trump administration’s head-in-the-sand strategy towards local weather change and its unabashed want to revert to a world by which polluters can reap large income on the expense of the well being of our communities. Think about, for instance, the Trump administration’s disastrous proposal to get rid of ARPA-E and to slash EERE funding by almost 70 %. Fortunately, each Republicans and Democrats in Congress acknowledged that clear power R&D is a top-notch funding for the federal authorities and categorically rejected the administration’s proposal by growing funding to ARPA-E and EERE to historic ranges. However now, the Trump administration could also be deliberately ignoring the desire of Congress by permitting a whole lot of hundreds of thousands of dollars to gather mud as an alternative of fulfilling its duties to jump-start the event of next-generation applied sciences. Earlier this month, Bloomberg Surroundings detailed an episode the place a delay in EERE awarding photo voltaic analysis funds resulted in each wasted money and time.

Abusing Particular Flexibilities

In contrast to most elements of the federal government that should spend funding inside a sure timeframe (usually one yr), DOE’s analysis funding is so-called “no-year money” (and not using a time restrict). That permits DOE to help R&D alternatives which may not be aligned with the federal government’s fiscal calendar. Nevertheless, such essential flexibility additionally comes with the expectation and duty to successfully use public dollars to spur innovation and advance nationwide objectives.

Usually beneath the R&D funding course of, DOE:

  1. Identifies important analysis wants;
  2. Proclaims plans to make use of a delegated quantity of its appropriated finances to satisfy these crucial analysis wants via issuing Funding Alternative Bulletins (FOAs);
  3. Permits researchers a couple of months to submit purposes in response to the FOAs;
  4. Evaluations and selects awardees; and,
  5. Disburses funding to the awardees on a specified schedule.

Nevertheless, this course of has lately been stricken by uncharacteristic delays at each step for some outstanding workplaces inside DOE.


Greater than two months after the conclusion of FY18, our evaluation exhibits ARPA-E has not spent greater than $280 million of its $353 million FY18 analysis finances. Of the quantity that was spent, roughly 40 % went towards employees salaries and journey—and solely $44 million was awarded for R&D. Moreover, no plans have even been introduced for $162 million of the unspent funds (i.e., there isn’t any indication of lively plans to set them apart for particular FOAs).

Whereas there are three excellent FOAs that may make the most of $118 million in FY18 funding, ARPA-E solely introduced them prior to now few months regardless of Congress having accepted the appropriations invoice again in March. ARPA-E ought to have been capable of get these FOAs out the door a lot quicker (and even been capable of announce awardees by this level). As some extent of reference, the next graph exhibits the share of the annual price range that had been accounted for via FOAs introduced as of every month of FY15 to FY18. As is obvious from that graph, ARPA-E was slower at issuing FOAs in FY18 relative to earlier years—even relative to FY17 when the price range was finalized later within the fiscal yr (Might of FY17 vs. March of FY18). That sort of holdup is a big reason for the delay in getting essential analysis funding into the arms of U.S. innovators.

It’s unclear whether or not the FY18 delay is attributable to deliberate foot-dragging or an harmless holdup. Nevertheless, final yr the GAO slapped ARPA-E on the wrist for illegally and deliberately withholding FY17 funding. Furthermore, the Trump administration proposed eliminating ARPA-E in its FY18 and FY19 budgets. This concentrating on of ARPA-E has been pursued regardless of the clear worth that it has delivered to-date: Since its launch in 2009, ARPA-E has offered greater than $1.eight billion in grants and funding to over 660 tasks nationwide (as of February 2018)—which in flip created over 71 new U.S. corporations and attracted greater than $2.6 billion in new private-sector funding.


In the meantime, the state of affairs doesn’t look a lot better in some main R&D workplaces inside EERE. Our evaluation means that EERE has not spent greater than $319 million of its $2.32 billion FY18 analysis price range. There, the failure seems to be extra suspicious:

EERE has dragged its ft on issuing FOAs. In June, EERE’s Superior Manufacturing Workplace issued a Discover of Intent to publish an FOA for a brand new Energy-Water Hub. The discover stated that it “expects to issue the FOA in July 2018.” Greater than 4 months later, there isn’t any signal of that taking place regardless of Congress having appropriated $20 million for it.

EERE has canceled a part of an FOA. In August, lots of of researchers who submitted purposes in response to an FOA from EERE’s Photo voltaic Energy Applied sciences Workplace have been knowledgeable that a $46 million portion had been canceled. This occurred two months after the appliance window closed and proper earlier than awardees have been alleged to be introduced. The said rationale was “to better align the FOA objectives to the mission objectives of DOE.” Although EERE subsequently put aside the $46 million for a separate FOA that was largely just like the canceled portion of the unique one, this maneuvering had unclear advantages whereas leading to unnecessary additional work for candidates and DOE employees—plus at the least six months of delay in getting the analysis funding out the door. Democracy Ahead submitted a Freedom of Info Act request in an try to find out whether or not the said rationale is correct and subsequently filed a lawsuit because of the lack of responsiveness from DOE to that request. For extra particulars on the this FOA, see the aforementioned piece from Bloomberg Surroundings.

EERE has dragged its ft on choosing FOA awardees. Solely $three million of EERE’s Water Energy Applied sciences Workplace FY18 funding has been awarded within the type of an FOA, regardless of over $25 million having been scheduled to be awarded by September 2018. The identical is true for the Constructing Applied sciences Workplace (BTO), the place $46 million in funding has not been awarded for FOAs that have been issued in April 2018 and Might 2018.

As one instance, the next graph exhibits the share of the annual BTO price range accounted for by means of FOAs introduced as of every month of FY15 to FY18. BTO was slower at issuing FOAs in FY18 relative to earlier years.

Discovering the Fact

NRDC urges Congress and the GAO to research whether or not DOE is deliberately ignoring the desire of Congress relating to the distribution of unpolluted power R&D funding. Each greenback of DOE analysis funding has traditionally generated large financial returns for People within the type of jobs, decrease family power payments, and different advantages—20 to 1 in accordance with a Nationwide Academies research. Provided that, tons of of tens of millions of dollars of unspent analysis funding represents tens of billions of dollars in misplaced U.S. financial advantages that our financial system and setting can’t afford to overlook out on as we speak or sooner or later.

Click on right here for our evaluation methodology.


Deputy Director, Federal Coverage Group, Local weather & Clean Energy Program

Schneider Fellow, Evaluation Group, Local weather & Clean Energy Program

Associated Tales: Renewable Energy Is Bringing Good Jobs To The Midwest. Is Anybody In Washington Paying Consideration? 

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Tags: ARPA-E, Division Of Energy, DOE, EERE, Workplace of Energy Effectivity and Renewable Energy

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NRDC is the nation’s handiest environmental motion group, combining the grassroots energy of 1.three million members and on-line activists with the courtroom clout and experience of greater than 350 legal professionals, scientists, and different professionals.

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