House cuts clean energy funding, dragging down entire community of American innovators


This commentary originally appeared on Scientific American's "Plugged In" blog.

In my last post, I discussed a House subcommittee’s shortsighted vote to slash funding for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) innovative Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). I’m sorry to report that the rest of the House has now followed suit, passing a $30 billion energy spending bill that cuts a huge chunk out of clean energy programs.

Not only does the bill contain the subcommittee’s 81 percent cut to ARPA-E, it also guts energy efficiency programs and even rolls back progress in energy efficient lighting. The House’s embargo on funding for clean energy doesn’t just hurt our footing in the international race towards a new energy economy, it also drags down an entire community of American innovators working to achieve a sustainable future.

We deserve more than political posturing and moves as antiquated as the incandescent bulb. Right now, a convergence of environmental, economic and technological forces is transforming the global energy landscape. Just last month, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projected that renewable energy sources would eclipse nuclear and gas generation by 2016, and provide a quarter of the world’s energy supply by 2018. Renewable energy is unequivocally a major component of the energy landscape.

With the global rise of renewables, clean energy has become an inextricable component of energy science and engineering. Programs in sustainability, renewable energy, smart grid, and energy efficiency have emerged at major universities all over the United States. These programs popped up as fields like mechanical and electrical engineering identified climate change as a key challenge facing humanity. Engineers have always sought to apply scientific knowledge to overcome technical challenges and ensure human safety and progress. Now, more than ever, academic researchers are passionately seeking solutions to address global warming.

As top engineers and scientists have acknowledged the need to address the threat of climate change, so too have aspiring young scientists and engineers. Sustainability has become part of innovative educational programs across the country. Today, it is rare to see a science classroom without a miniature solar panel or wind turbine on its shelves. Why? Because students of all ages are compelled by the chance to design the next device or system that will help us overcome the challenges resulting from climate change. Students’ passion for clean energy helps them endure difficult subjects like math and science, making the U.S. more competitive internationally.

We owe it to these students to keep up the pace of clean energy education and research. Government funding agencies like ARPA-E and the DOE have a direct influence on science and engineering departments all over the country. Cutting these agencies has a ripple effect that hurts students, professors and other educators across the nation. Whether our elected leaders like it or not, researchers and academics will continue to explore the potential of the new energy frontier. The question is, will the government promote their efforts, or squander the momentum thousands of talented Americans have built up over many years of dedicated work?

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Robert Fares

Robert Fares

Robert, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, is a former communications intern with EDF. 


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Honestly... all one needs to do is look overseas at what other countries are doing, in terms of assisting small companies with seeing the light of day... South Korea, for example, grants money to small and medium sized companies who have PROVEN technology. Look, for example, at Leo Motors, an American incorporated company, based out of South Korea... they had to prove their technology worked and proved viable, before a single won was granted by the federal government. Proof that it is viable, in every facet, then, AND ONLY THEN, grant the money. Don't just throw money at a company just because they THINK it would be cool to see something come about, PROVE IT AND ITS VIABILITY, then back them.

This is the first time I've been to your site. Thnx for explaining more details.

I believe everybody must do something to save the planet. Look and Learn from other countries

Today's students are tomorrows' specialists, and they should start learning the necessary skills while at school. So far, educational system failed to aspire young minds with challenges that the world is facing.

The problem in the US is the House of Representatives is full of high school dropouts who are given kickbacks from the Oil and Gas Industry. They have no vision and are afraid of anyone and anything that thinks outside of the box. The republican right is putting America back 50 years because of their agenda to keep the status quo. We need to fight back and move America forward.

If the congress is going to act like two year-olds then the administration should show they can play that game. Now that Gina McCarthy is finally approved, her first act should be to come down hard on mountaintop removal coal mining. She should revoke a hundred or so MTR permits. Maybe then the congress will get serious about climate change.

Has this been passed by the entire Congress? Is this just a subcommitte peoposal?

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