Making the transition to a green energy economy is not an easy task. Venture capitalists like those at the Midwest Alternative Energy Venture Forum have been dipping their toes ever deeper into the water over the past few years, but the $7.7 billion American venture capitalists invested in green energy companies in 2008 is merely a small step. Fortunately the stimulus package has given the green energy economy a huge shot in the arm. Matt Rogers, senior advisor to the Secretary of Energy and the man in charge of disbursing the Department of Energy’s stimulus money, detailed how his “green stimulus checkbook” could help drive the expansion of the alternative energy sector in his keynote at the MAEVF.
Rogers is responsible for moving the $36.7 billion of stimulus funds out the Department of Energy’s door as quickly as possible. “This is the DOE’s chance to create jobs,” Rogers said in his speech, “something many people didn’t think the DOE could do.”
The billions at his disposal are helping to change that perception. Rogers said his team of 250 full-time reviewers have awarded $18.3 billion in grants so far, on pace to meet their target of disbursing all $36.7 billion by President Obama’s September 30, 2010 deadline. The bulk of the department’s money is being invested in infrastructure and new technologies.
Energy efficiency projects like winter weatherization and appliance rebates are receiving the lion’s share of the funding—$10.6 billion in total. Such programs are key to cutting energy use, but do not really advance the state of the art. For that, Rogers said, the department has set aside money for such programs like the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy competition (known as ARPA-E) and the Energy Frontier Research Centers, including two at Northwestern. ARPA-E could be the most telegenic of the department’s line items. Modeled on the defense department’s DARPA program that has produced such crowd-pleasers as robot car races and the Internet, ARPA-E hopes to unearth one or more risky but promising proposals that could change the way we generate electricity.
Rogers appeared clearly aware of the challenges the government and private sector face in the green energy transition, including growing competition from competitors abroad. Asked what he thought of China’s efforts in the area, Rogers said, “They get it about climate change, and they’re taking action faster than we think.”
“They think about this as a global competition, and they intend to win,” Rogers said. But the race won’t be won with only a few years of stimulus funds. “We need long term market incentives to drive innovation over the next two decades, not the next two years.”