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Guest Post: House Cuts Clean Energy Funding, Dragging Down An Entire Community Of American Innovators

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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This is a guest post by Robert Fares. More on Robert’s background below. – David

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.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently partnered with Texas Tech University to commission a Scaled Wind Farm Technology (SwiFT) laboratory, which helps researchers understand how wind turbine placement affects performance. Credit: Texas Tech University

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.

Renewable energy has become a topic of choice for project-based learning, which helps engage students with difficult subjects like science and math. Credit: Green Mountain Energy

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?

Robert Fares is a Communications Intern at Environmental Defense Fund and a Ph.D. student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. Robert’s research at The University of Texas looks at how energy storage models can be used with large-scale data and optimization for economic operational management of battery energy storage. Through his research, Robert hopes to demonstrate the marketability and technical compatibility of emerging storage technologies.

David Wogan About the Author: An engineer and policy researcher who writes about energy, technology, and policy - and everything in between. Based in Austin, Texas. Comments? david.m.wogan@gmail.com Follow on Twitter @davidwogan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. M Tucker 3:53 pm 07/15/2013

    House Republicans! It is their work. It is not the entire House of Representatives. They also voted against funding for climate change research. They don’t give two s#$ts about our “footing in the international race,” or US renewable energy jobs, or US students. They simply don’t care. You can write all the articles you want but you will have no influence on them. They are a danger to the future of America.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Sisko 4:51 pm 07/15/2013

    Robert Fares and David Wogan are advocating borrowing more money today in the hope that something beneficial will happen tomorrow as a result of that spending. The issue is one of priorities and in the real world there is only so much money to spend on difficult choices need to be made to prioritize spending to keep it a in line with revenues.

    The research being advocated can be done by private industry and there is already motivated private industry seeking advances in the technology in this arena. As was written an apparently ignored by the authors, the research is worldwide and many others are able to research this field so the expenditure by the US is not required to increase efficiency.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Trafalgar 5:24 pm 07/15/2013

    Obviously, House Republicans expect the NSA to just steal the technology from whoever invents it.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Carlyle 5:27 pm 07/15/2013

    If they had looked at what is happening in England they would have cut even more. Billions in spending on back up diesel generators because they can not rely on their alternatives.
    ‘The dirty secret of Britain’s power madness: Polluting diesel generators built in secret by foreign companies to kick in when there’s no wind for turbines – and other insane but true eco-scandals’
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2362762/The-dirty-secret-Britains-power-madness-Polluting-diesel-generators-built-secret-foreign-companies-kick-theres-wind-turbines–insane-true-eco-scandals.html#ixzz2Z47g7HXD

    Link to this
  5. 5. sault 6:57 pm 07/15/2013

    Sorry Carlyle, but an OPINION article backed up by ZERO independent evidence is nothing but a distraction and was probably financed in one way or another by the fossil fuel companies that are desperate to make clean energy look bad. James Delingpole is a serial liar and serves his polluter paymasters well with this unfounded claptrap:

    “It is not my job to sit down and read peer-reviewed papers because I simply haven’t got the time . . . I am an interpreter of interpretations.”

    “I feel a bit of an imposter talking about the science. I’m not a scientist, you may be aware. I read English Literature.”

    “Delingpole quotes the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s “Academic Advisor,” David Whitehouse, who claims that the Met Office is “panicking” because “All the predictions they’ve been making about man-made global warming these past 20 years have started to come crashing about their ears.” [13]

    The Met Office replied to Delingpole, and attempted to correct “a series of factual inaccuracies about the Met Office and its science” that Delingpole’s article had included. According to the Met office, these inaccuracies include: [14]

    •Mr Delingpole then inaccurately states that the Met Office has conceded ‘there is no evidence that ‘global warming’ is happening’. We have not said this at any point.

    •He also states that the Met Office was trying to defend a narrative that the “the past ten years have been the ‘wettest decade ever’”. Again, this is not something the Met Office has ever said.

    •Also he quotes David Whitehouse of the Global Warming Policy Foundation saying that the Met Office ‘thinks weather forecasting is beneath it’ and that ‘climate change… brings in more money’.

    A cursory glance at our annual report and accounts (pdf) would reveal weather forecasting represents the vast majority of the Met Office’s contractual work on behalf of the public.”

    http://www.desmogblog.com/james-delingpole

    Too bad statements from the National Grid reveals this Delingpole character to be the fool / liar everybody in the energy arena knows he is:


    It has become an article of popular faith that building wind farms also involves constructing fossil-fuelled power stations for back‑up when the weather is calm. As a result, some opponents go on to say, wind turbines do little or nothing to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

    Now the National Grid has studied what actually happens in practice, with explosive, if surprising, results. Between April 2011 and September 2012 – its head of energy strategy, Richard Smith, told the Hay Festival – wind produced some 23,700 gigawatt hours (GWh) of power. Only 22GWh of power from fossil fuels was needed to fill the gaps when the wind didn’t blow. That’s less than a thousandth of the turbines’ output – and, as it happens, less than a tenth of what was needed to back up conventional power stations.

    It proved to be much the same with emissions. Wind saved nearly 11 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over that 18 months; standby burning of fossil fuels only reduced this by 8,800 tonnes, or 0.081 per cent.

    Not surprisingly, given these figures, no new fossil‑fuel power station has been built to provide back‑up for wind farms, and none is in prospect.”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/10091645/The-badger-cull-is-no-black-and-white-issue.html

    Do you really think we would believe a paid shill for the fossil fuel companies over the people who ACTUALLY operate the grid? Gimme a break!!!

    Link to this
  6. 6. Carlyle 11:13 pm 07/15/2013

    What an utter load of trash. You do not have to be a scientist to discover a diesel generator factory or the actual generators or to discover what their purpose is. Numerous times I have posted evidence showing that back up generators are essential for alternative energy schemes. Your denial of the obvious is evidence of a sickness. You need help. The longer you persist in denying facts while promoting inaccurate & discredited models, the greater your eventual humiliation will be. Get help. This attitude must also be evident in other aspects of your life.

    Link to this
  7. 7. sault 1:04 am 07/16/2013

    LOL…when Delingpole’s only source is the polluter-funded Global Warming “Policy” Foundation…and when he has racked up countless documented falsehoods in his “articles”, how in the world can you trust this hack? And this is soooo like all the other denier delusions you suffer from. When SOMEBODY WHO ACTUALLY RUNS THE GRID says that wind farms need less than 10% of the backup generation that CONVENTIONAL power plants do, you just ignore the evidence and continue to regurgitate fossil fuel talking points. Go ahead an live in whatever fantasy land you choose, but don’t try to fool the rest of us into believing this garbage just because you couldn’t tell the difference between fossil fuel propaganda and what happens in the REAL world!

    Link to this
  8. 8. Carlyle 2:31 am 07/16/2013

    Cooking the books are we. Not long ago you were arguing that wind power needed no back up. Now you claim that wind power requires less than 10% as much back up as conventional power. On what basis do you achieve that figure? How can that be when on average wind only produces something like 25% or 30% of its rated capacity? Does that mean we have to have 70% redundancy? 10% of what? Would that be 10% of total power generation when wind is only a tiny fraction of total power generation? Or 10% less on a capacity basis? What basis exactly?

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  9. 9. singing flea 3:51 am 07/16/2013

    Wow, after reading these comments I can see why the Republicans in the house can’t do anything right anymore. Let’s take a look at the basic logical flaw in Carlyle’s argument.

    What possible difference does it make if wind power requires a percentage of backup power? This is “my glass is half full” reasoning. The fact is that every single watt of power derived from alternative sources is another watt not depending on fossil fuel in the first place. This is not rocket science. It is first grade math. Quit already trying to deny this most basic math.

    Link to this
  10. 10. singing flea 4:07 am 07/16/2013

    The point of the article is not about the need for alternative energy sources or the efficiency of new technology. Innovation has always been notoriously inefficient at first. Did that stop the computer industry from developing super computers that can work in a cell phone? The problem here is that industry has already spent trillions developing machines and generators that power the modern world. They are not about to spend big bucks developing anything else until the gas pumps run dry. That research is the responsibility of the government when national security becomes an issue and that is the crux of the issue. Now is the time to innovate and improve efficiency and protect our environment before it is too late, not when the dead heads in congress get rich enough off fossil fuel that they can finally turn their attention to their constituents needs. Their constituents are not all rich corporations who think they are people too.

    Link to this
  11. 11. MoEnergySci 8:49 am 07/16/2013

    ARPA-E’s budget is so small compared to the rest of the government (and even the department of energy). And its results can be – and already are – huge. Would be a complete shame to see them fade into another administration’s initiatives as the country moves forward.

    Link to this
  12. 12. Sisko 9:24 am 07/16/2013

    singingflea– You point out that the computer industry did not need this level of government to develop of become sucessful. Neither does the energy sector. The government helping with basis research is great as long as we can afford the expense. Industry needs to invest in technology application and does it much better than government.

    Stop borrowing for things that are not essential!!!

    Link to this
  13. 13. ejh12 11:15 am 07/16/2013

    It’s understandable that Congress would do away with energy project loan guarantees after Solyndra, Abound, et al. But ARPA-E? If there’s any single program at DOE that has proven its value it’s this one. Relatively small grants have led to exponential increases in private sector add-on funding for dozens of energy startups – which in my view is the role of government. ARPA-E swings for home runs with every grant it awards, so some will certainly miss. But the successes have been meaningful and long-lasting: http://lnkd.in/q8rxWX – See more at: http://blogs.edf.org/energyexchange/2013/07/15/house-cuts-clean-energy-funding-dragging-down-an-entire-community-of-american-innovators/comment-page-1/#sthash.Qntj9KMs.dpuf

    Link to this
  14. 14. renewable guy 7:44 pm 07/16/2013

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=a-path-to-sustainable-energy-by-2030

    We are overproducing energy now with fossil fuels to make sure we meet peak energy demand. We can also do the same with Alternative energy. At about twice the energy demand, the excess can go into storage and hydrogen, getting ready for the peaks. With the smart grid, we would be able to manage our loads intelligently to reduce peaks, saving energy and money.

    Global warming is a real phenomenon and zero co2 is the only answer to the problem.

    Link to this
  15. 15. FrenchToaster 6:12 am 07/17/2013

    renewable guy,

    “Global warming is a real phenomenon and zero co2 is the only answer to the problem.”

    So what do you propose to do about China, the world’s #1 GHG producer? India is well on its way towards becoming #2. Germany’s CO2 emissions rose last year, in the U.S. they fell.

    http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21579149-germanys-energiewende-bodes-ill-countrys-european-leadership-tilting-windmills

    Link to this
  16. 16. sault 10:56 am 07/17/2013

    Toaster,

    The U.S. and Western Europe are responsible for the vast majority of the excess CO2 lingering in the atmosphere. It is utterly unfair to think that developing countries should make the first move in cutting CO2 emissions. And it is immoral to consign countless future generations to an unstable climate just because we’re too greedy and / or lazy to clean up our act now.

    China and India didn’t cause most of this problem. They’re merely folowing the development patterns that the U.S. and Europe went through decades ago. Now if we clean things up, we can make a lot of money selling renewable energy and efficiency technologies to developing countries so they can leapfrog past the dirty phases of economic development and into a cleaner future.

    Link to this
  17. 17. sethdiyal 1:12 pm 07/17/2013

    Numerous times Sault has repeated his stupid quote that can’t attributed and without data for backup from something that some fella who might have maybe somebody said worked at one time at National Grid at a farmers market in a report on badgers. In fact his quote doesn’t say it can do without backup just disputes the amount of power used dumping on the grid not the fuel used while in hot standby.

    Sault is simply too stupid to understand his own links.

    AWEA board member E.ON, which operates German transmission grids and also builds wind plants in the US, is succinct:

    “Wind energy is only able to replace traditional power stations to a limited extent. Their dependence on the prevailing wind conditions means that wind power has a limited load factor even when technically available…. Consequently, traditional power stations with capacities equal to 90% of the installed wind power capacity must be permanently online [and burning fuel] in order to guarantee power supply at all times”

    http://www.nerc.com/docs/pc/ivgtf/EON_Netz_Windreport2005_eng.pdf

    This means wind generation cannot replace fossil generation to any meaningful extent.

    Once again I have asked this notorious troll to stop posting here bothering folks, until he can back up with capital cost and capacity any wind farm that meets his extraordinary claim of 4 cent a kwh electricity when the norm is the Ontario feedin tariff of 14 cents.

    Link to this
  18. 18. MultiWoman 11:02 pm 07/17/2013

    sault,

    ” it is immoral to consign countless future generations to an unstable climate just because we’re too greedy and / or lazy to clean up our act now.”

    The U.S. has reduced its GHG emissions. China’s GHG emissions continue to climb. India’s GHG emissions continue to climb. Germany’s GHG emissions climb. The U.S. isn’t the lazy one.

    “China and India didn’t cause most of this problem.”

    China is the world’s #1 GHG producer India is well on its way towards becoming #2.

    “Now if we clean things up”

    The U.S. has already reduced its CO2 emissions, and it is likely to continue to do so with the realization of the vast quantities of natural gas being made available through fracking.

    You really should learn a bit about the subject material before showing that you know so little.

    Link to this
  19. 19. centromere 6:58 am 07/18/2013

    @15 sault

    “It is utterly unfair to think that developing countries should make the first move in cutting CO2 emissions.”

    The developing countries did not make the first move, the developed countries did. The developed countries also made the second and third moves.

    The US, a developed country, has reduced its CO2 output, China and India’s, developing countries, have increased theirs.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas_emissions_by_the_United_States

    Goodness me! Don’t you know anything about this topic? Why are you posting if you are ignorant of what is being discussed?

    Link to this
  20. 20. Carlyle 12:46 am 07/19/2013

    sault claims he never believed in Peak Oil & that he never claimed that wind power did not need back up generators. I put up two comments with copies of earlier posts he had made that contradict his claim, then all reference is deleted. Once more the protected species is saved from his disregard for the facts. He must surely be on the staff.

    Link to this
  21. 21. centromere 5:46 am 07/19/2013

    @7. sault,

    “… when he has racked up countless documented falsehoods in his “articles”, how in the world can you trust this hack? …”

    If the other posters to this blog can be believed, the same, it would seem, is true of you.

    Link to this

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