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February 17, 2015

Disruptive and Radical Energy Ideas Run Rampant at 2015 ARPA-E Summit

The sixth ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) summit occurred this last week. This annual event in Washington, D.C. showcases a host of disruptive (and at times, radical) energy ideas that will help create future energy technologies. The goal of ARPA-E grant funding is to accelerate changes in the way America generates, uses, and stores energy. Bringing down the cost of new technologies (and old technologies) is one key ingredient. Creating new technologies to allow for smart (and smarter) energy choices is another. 

The panel discussions at the summit were far-ranging. One session covered how to take energy technology from the laboratory to prototype to angel funding to testing to commercialization. Another discussed the specifics and the promise of electric grid management in reducing waste, reducing costs, and reducing the need for new infrastructure.  An astute observation from another panelist was that investor owned utilities are not innovation centers, nor should they be. Still another speaker praised the profound research and development being fostered by ARPA-E, but warned that research is required, and that basic research has to accept a high degree of failure. A different panelist sang the praises of competition in the energy space, and suggested there be challenge grants focused on real problems to stimulate radical ideas.

This was my fourth trip to ARPA-E, and once again I was energized by seeing all the different and creative ideas being proposed by entrepreneurs and researchers from across the nation. Their inventiveness and enthusiasm is amazing. I was like a kid in a candy store wandering through the Technology Showcase for hours on Tuesday. One speaker described the work being done in the labs across the nation as "doing the groundwork in creating the energy ecosystems of the future". My intent in the coming weeks is to highlighting in this blog some of the specific technologies I saw and some of the people I spoke with about their technologies.

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