Commentary: Congress Should Help Energy Innovators Power Technologies, Economy of the Future

This week, entrepreneurs from the Clean Energy Business Network — a group of small and midsize business leaders across all 50 states — joined us in Washington, D.C., to showcase their technologies and encourage lawmakers to invest in federal energy programs. These meetings came at an important time.

As Congress debates energy and climate proposals and the president’s budget request calls for elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, it is crucial that small businesses on the front lines of this work aren’t left out of the discussion.

These small businesses represent the promise of growth and a better future. Congress needs to help them deliver on that promise by protecting crucial funds to support American innovation.

You see, these entrepreneurs have brought new technologies to market across the country through partnerships with the Department of Energy, ARPA-E and the National Laboratories. This is exactly the kind of collaboration that will deliver new innovations to power America’s energy future and our economy.

The work of these companies shows that energy innovation knows no boundaries. From Utah to Iowa to Maine, the 14 companies represented in Washington this week — and the range of partners, contractors and distributors they work with — are spurring economic development and creating jobs across the country.

They are developing a broad range of technologies: novel storage and microgrid solutions, lighter and stronger steel, more efficient fuel cells, low-impact hydropower, carbon sequestration and more. And for these businesses and countless others, support from the Department of Energy has played a critical role in bringing their breakthrough ideas to life.

Put simply, Department of Energy applied research is behind most of the transformations the United States has experienced over the past few decades in both the incumbent and emerging energy sectors. From new oil extraction methods and hydraulic fracturing, to energy-efficient windows and dramatic declines in the cost of wind turbines and solar panels, these changes impact us all. The reverberations are felt not just by the businesses working directly with the DOE, but also across the broader landscape of energy technology and service providers across the nation, the many customers they serve and the communities benefiting from the creation of new industries and jobs.

The economic impacts of these energy transformations are profound. Renewable energy, energy efficiency and natural gas represent the growth sectors of the U.S. energy economy, according to data from the “2019 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook.” These sectors supply more than half our electricity and employ 3.4 million American workers.

Our economy is doing more with less energy, with an overall trend in decoupling between gross domestic product growth and energy use over the past decade despite a slight uptick in 2018. In fact, renewable energy and energy-smart technologies attracted $64 billion in private investment to our economy last year.

At the Clean Energy Business Network, we have the pleasure of working alongside thousands of small and midsize business leaders who are creating a cleaner, more reliable and more affordable energy future for all Americans. As an independent arm of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, we help small business leaders make their voices heard on policy issues, access tools to educate the public and clients about the benefits of clean energy technologies, and tap into networking and business development opportunities.

Whether these companies are established providers seeking to grow new market opportunities or early-stage innovators advancing new breakthroughs, their work captures the imagination. These small businesses — and the innovative energy solutions they offer — call upon us all to imagine what’s possible.

There is strong, bipartisan support among policymakers and the public for energy innovation. Congress provided robust funding for the DOE and critical energy innovation programs in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. As Congress begins work on fiscal year 2020 appropriations, we need to thank our lawmakers for their past support and remind them of the critical role small- and medium-sized businesses play in driving forward our nation’s energy economy.

We urge our lawmakers to stand beside us in promoting American entrepreneurship and ingenuity.

Lynn Abramson is president of the Clean Energy Business Network, which works to advance the clean energy economy through policy, public education and business support for small- and medium-size energy companies.

Learn more about the CEBN’s activities to support energy innovation through congressional meetings.