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Establishing the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E)

Thursday, April 26, 2007 - 12:00am
Washington, DC
H.R. 364

Opening Statement By Vice-Chair Gabrielle Giffords (Energy and Environment)

Good afternoon. We are here today to discuss H.R. 364, the bill to establish an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy – ARPA-E – introduced by Chairman Gordon earlier this year.

Despite passage of an energy bill in the 109th Congress, interest in energy – its production, its distribution, and its use remain high. This is because we have not yet addressed the key challenges our society faces that are linked to our present energy sources and our present patterns of energy use.

We want to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy to ensure our economic and national security and to improve our balance of trade. We also need to address the environmental consequences associated with the emissions of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel use that have initiated the global warming and regional climate changes we are now experiencing.

We must take steps to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and to diversify our energy sources. Part of the solution lies in getting more of the alternative energy sources and technologies to improve energy efficiency into the marketplace.

But we must also make a greater investment in research and development to discover and develop new energy sources, new energy-saving technologies, and new methods of reducing carbon emissions associated with fossil fuel use. The investments we make must support a wide range of ideas and foster creative thinking that will develop the full range of energy technologies that we need in the future to continue supporting a vibrant economy and the quality of life that we enjoy today. That is what H.R. 364 is all about.

My home state of Arizona is rich in sunshine, and solar technology has the potential to make a significant contribution to our available energy resources. Within the last two years, researchers have found ways to use polymers with nanoparticles to create solar cells that capture infrared as well as visible light. With more efficient solar cells, sunshine-rich states like Arizona could exchange fossil fuel produced electricity for electricity generated by clean, renewable solar energy.

We need to support this type of creative application of nanotechnology to energy research to find the breakthroughs that will yield more than incremental improvements in current energy technologies. Also, at the University of Arizona, Professor Roger Angel is doing innovative research on using optics to harness solar energy.

One of the recommendations of the 2006 National Academy of Sciences Report: The Gathering Storm was to create an energy projects research agency using the successful model of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that we are now familiar with and that has supplied many breakthrough technologies in areas of defense and communications, among others. Chairman Gordon has taken the National Academy’s advice and incorporated their recommendation into H.R. 364.

We are pleased to have a very knowledgeable and distinguished panel of witnesses with us this afternoon to offer their thoughts on the ARPA-E concept and on how H.R. 364 can guide our efforts to achieve our goals of energy efficiency, fuel diversification, energy independence, greater economic and national security, and environmental protection. Thank you all for appearing before the Subcommittee this afternoon.

Opening Statement By Chairman Bart Gordon

I would like to welcome everyone to this Energy & Environment Subcommittee hearing on my bill, H.R. 364 which establishes an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy.

I would also like to thank our distinguished panel of witnesses for testifying. I believe your perspectives from the private investment and university communities, and your experiences with DARPA and similar technology agencies are critical to developing the most effective ARPA-E possible. I look forward to your testimony.

I first introduced this bill in the 109th Congress in response to recommendations in the National Academies report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, chaired by the eminent Norm Augustine, former head of Lockheed Martin.

Along with Senators Alexander and Bingaman and others, I requested that the National Academies look into and report on the factors that threaten the U.S. global competitiveness and our leadership in technological innovation.

In addition to strengthening our education and research system, the Gathering Storm panel recognized that the U.S. dependence on traditional energy sources and outdated technologies puts us in a perilous position.

Not only do we face threats to our national security and economic volatility because of our reliance on unstable foreign regimes for oil and gas, we now must acknowledge that our energy use is directly tied to global climate change.

This is an untenable position, and it simply must change. Conservation is the first element in addressing this challenge. But we must also be aggressive in developing the next generation of technologies to get beyond our current energy paradigm.

The Augustine Commission recommended establishing ARPA-E, modeled on DARPA’s successful innovation model, to sponsor creative, out-of-the-box, transformational energy research in those areas that industry by itself cannot or will not undertake on its own.

DARPA succeeded largely because it continued to foster a culture of innovation. We cannot legislate an agency’s culture. But we can provide the resources and the institutional structure to give exceptionally talented people the opportunity to pursue high-risk, but high-payoff energy research.

A nimble organization with minimal administrative layers and the ability to quickly start and stop research programs is key to the success of ARPA-E.

As imperative as it is, transforming our energy economy is a challenge that is unfathomable to most folks. We cannot afford to wait until we face severe disruptions to fossil energy supplies or serious impacts from climate change to address this challenge.

Federal investment in energy technology R&D is down 85% from the 1980’s. We must reverse this trend.

Investment in ARPA-E must be seen as the first step in boosting energy research and development to a level that addresses the scale of our challenge, and the true cost of doing transformational research.

We all agree that energy research and development is key to energy independence, innovation, workforce development and saving the environment.

The question is how far are we willing to go to enact real change that garners tangible results?

Establishing an ARPA-E in H.R. 364 is a bold step, but we’ve got to be willing to push the envelope and think outside the box to get the job done.

I appreciate the Committee’s support, and look forward to the witness’ testimony.



3 - Dr. Stephen R. Forrest
Vice President for Research University of Michigan University of Michigan
Download the Witness Testimony

2 - Mr. John Denniston
Partner Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers
Download the Witness Testimony

1 - Mr. William B. Bonvillian
Director, Washington Office Massachusetts Institute of Technology Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Download the Witness Testimony

4 - Dr. Richard Van Atta
Research Staff Member Science & Technology Policy Institute Science & Technology Policy Institute
Download the Witness Testimony

Witness Panel
Dr. Bonvilian testifies before the Subcommittee
Mr. Bonvillian
Dr. Denniston testifies before the Subcommittee
Mr. Denniston
Dr. Forrest testifies before the Subcommittee
Dr. Forrest
Dr. Van Atta testifies before Subcommittee
Dr. Van Atta
For information on the witnesses, use the links at left
110th Congress