Yesterday, the federal government announced a new Clean Energy Investment Initiative, which will partner philanthropic and mission-oriented investors with technical expertise at the Department of Energy and National Laboratories to make investments new clean energy technologies. DOE experts will lend their expertise at all stages of the innovation pipeline, from early-stage R&D through demonstration and early commercialization. The initiative is particularly novel in engaging philanthropies, who have traditionally not invested program funds or endowments in clean energy technology innovation.
The announcement comes on the heels of a new incubator run by the National Labs, highlighted yesterday in the New York Times. To respond to the pull-back of venture capital from clean energy technology, the new incubator, Cyclotron Road, selects industrial technology entrepreneurs by a competitive application process and provides scientific consulting, seed funding, and access to lab facilities. In providing access to lab facilities, entrepreneurs are able to work with equipment and materials critical for accelerating early-stage technology development that would otherwise be challenging to afford or access.
Successful energy innovation depends heavily on public-private partnerships. As AEIC staff detailed in the report, Partners In Ingenuity, federal government partnerships with natural gas producers, turbine developers, window manufacturers, and the automobile industry have been critical to translating research & development into scaled, commercial deployment of new energy technologies. The aforementioned new initiatives continue this proven public-private partnership approach to energy innovation, leveraging the expertise of federal science and engineering investments to accelerate entrepreneurship and induce greater innovation investments by the private sector.
The full value of public investments can only be realized when partnered with robust private investment in innovation. Case after case of successful U.S. energy innovation demonstrates that partnerships have been critical factors in innovation success. In reflection, this is not surprising–companies invest in energy innovation when they see market opportunities, and federal innovation investments can speed the emergence of those opportunities. More importantly, private companies do the difficult work of turning a promising idea or technology into a proven and competitive market proposition–and so provide critical feedback to the federal government’s innovation investments. This is why AEIC not only supports greater public investments in energy innovation, but also supports legislation that facilitates public-private partnerships to ensure the highest return on those investments.