Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz yesterday laid out a case for stepping on the gas pedal for his department’s signature innovation initiative, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

“I think that it’s proved its worth,” Moniz said.

He spoke yesterday at the annual ARPA-E summit outside Washington, D.C., after defending a budget increase for the program before the House Appropriations Committee earlier in the day (ClimateWire, March 1).

ARPA-E funds technologies ranging from clothing that can cool or heat the body to robots that detect methane leaks, advancing ideas that may be too young or too wild for the private sector at a given point.

Of the 200 or so projects that have left the agency, about a quarter have received private-sector support adding up to more than $1 billion. Another quarter were picked up by other government agencies like the Defense Department, Moniz said.

Born of the financial crisis, the program received its initial cash injection under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As those funds dwindle, the climate crisis is putting more wind in the agency’s sails.

ARPA-E is one of the main beneficiaries of the United States’ commitments under Mission Innovation, an agreement among 20 countries forged last December during climate negotiations in Paris to double clean energy research and development funding over the next five years (ClimateWire, Feb. 8).

The goal is to create energy systems that will take massive bites out of greenhouse gas emissions while generating revenue and putting Americans to work.

The Obama administration is asking Congress for $350 million for ARPA-E, $59 million above enacted levels for fiscal 2016, a 20 percent increase. The request also includes an additional $150 million in mandatory spending for fiscal 2017, contributing to a $1.85 billion trust for ARPA-E over five years.

“That would be doing more of this great stuff,” Moniz said. “The real metric of success will be in another five or 10 years if they will have scaled up and made a major change in our energy system.”

World Bank president calls for urgency

But even that accelerated pace for innovation may not be fast enough.

World Bank President Jim Kim warned that while countries with disposable income and billionaire investors are betting big on the technologies of the future, the rest of the world isn’t waiting, particularly the billions of people who are starved for electrons and Btus, counting on cheap fuels to help them claw out of poverty.

“Right now, people are making choices around their energy mix, and it’s crazy for us to have committed to [keeping global warming below] 1.5 degrees Celsius and not to be moving at lightning speed to try to create huge and demanding markets [for clean energy],” Kim said. “I still don’t think that market forces are aligned to get us to the less-than-2-degree [warming target].”

He called the divide in energy access between wealthy and poor nations “energy apartheid” and said many low- and middle-income countries need strong incentives and subsidies to push them in the right direction on climate change. Otherwise, these massive and growing energy appetites will undermine progress in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

“I was just in Pakistan, where they’re facing critical choices between renewables and coal,” Kim said. “The tariff for solar was 10.8 cents [per kilowatt-hour], and coal was 9 cents.”

Just as governments harnessed momentum at the Paris climate talks to secure commitments to clean energy, Kim said nations should also use that goodwill to finance clean energy right now, heading off further growth in dirty energy.

“It’s not rocket science,” Kim said. “It’s political will.”

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500