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How is the U.S. promoting clean energy research?

        Science | Green Science

Government Funding for Clean Energy Research

The greatest economic boon to clean energy research in America came with the passing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. When the bill became law, it made $275 billion available for federal contracts, grants and loans [source: Recovery.gov]. Of that money, $16.8 billion was allocated to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) to fund its core initiatives, including seven programs listed under the umbrella of "renewable energy projects." They were:

Each of these renewable energy programs has already invested or allocated hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to support private and public sector research. The recipients of the grant money are often public/private consortiums composed of universities, private corporations, and nonprofit research institutes. By giving money to a consortium, the federal government can tap the brightest minds working across the broader scientific community. Here are a few funding examples:

  • In 2010, the DOE invested $80 million of Recovery Act money in advanced biofuels research and fueling infrastructure for the development of a clean transportation sector [source: EERE].
  • In 2009, the DOE spent over $30 million to modernize seven of the nation's largest hydroelectric facilities [source: EERE].
  • Also in 2009, the DOE invested $338 million for researched into advanced geothermal technologies and the exploration of domestic geothermal fields [source: DOE].

The primary government funding method for investing in clean energy is through competitive grants. Under this process, the government announces a grant opportunity and sets a window for submitting grant applications through Grants.gov. The money is then allocated to the best grant proposals. In some cases, federal money is invested through a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA), a partnership between a private company and a government-sponsored national research laboratory. In the case of a CRADA, the "funding" is the labor and resources provided by the national laboratory to help speed a new technology to the marketplace.

An example of one of these government-sponsored laboratories is the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which works in concert with the EERE on its seven core programs. For example, there is a research arm of the NREL called the National Wind Technology Center that supports private sector development of more efficient wind power technology and infrastructure.

With so much support from the federal government, it's an excellent time to be in the clean energy business. In 2010, global investment in clean energy research was up 30 percent from 2009 at a total of $243 billion.

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