Two recent developments haven't received a lot of attention outside of the trade press, but could have significant impacts on expanding the federal government's role in bringing innovative energy technologies to market. When viewed in conjunction with congressional support for DOE's loan guarantee programs, we could be at an inflection point that leads to increased success for early- and late-stage startup companies.
First, on September 24, DOE announced the consolidation of two program offices committed to facilitating technology transfer from DOE and the national labs to the private sector. The Technology-to-Market program within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which was already working across the entire energy sector, was absorbed by the Office of Technology Transitions (OTT), whose mission is:
"[T]o oversee and advance…the commercial impact of the Department of Energy's research and development portfolio to advance the economic, energy, and national security interests of the Nation. The office develops the Department's policy and vision for expanding the commercial impact of its research investments, and it streamlines information and access to DOE's national labs and sites to foster partnerships that will move innovations from the labs into the marketplace."
Our hope is that this consolidation enhances OTT's role and strengthens the abilities of the national labs—the "crown jewels" of U.S. government research institutions—to bring transformative technologies to market. Which brings us to the second noteworthy development: the enactment of the Department of Energy Research and Innovation Act, signed into law by President Trump on September 28. This new law will make modest but hopefully substantial changes to the authorities and abilities of the labs, and of DOE as a whole. These modifications include:
- authorizing directors of national labs to use technology transfer funds to carry out pre-commercial technology demonstration activities, and to demonstrate potential commercial applications arising from each lab's research and development;
- extending the Agreements for Commercializing Technology pilot program through September 2019, giving the contractors of the national laboratories increased authority to negotiate contract terms and permitting the directors of the national labs to execute agreements with non-federal entities; and
- requiring DOE to make awards for the establishment and operation of Energy Innovation Hubs, which will focus on the research, development, demonstration, and commercialization of advanced energy technologies.
Taken together, these measures are strong signals of the federal government's continued commitment to American leadership in energy innovation.