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David Sandalow, the acting U.S. Under Secretary of Energy, says the Department of Energy’s programs to invest in energy innovation are about “trying to replicate the rate of IT innovation for energy.” He made the remarks at the Cleantech Investor Summit on Wednesday to a few hundred entrepreneurs, and investors who no doubt wished the technologies they’ve been supporting would get cheaper and more powerful at the same rate as Moore’s Law.
Alas the cleantech sector has yet to see its own Moore’s Law, though the closest might be that solar cells and panels have dropped dramatically over the past 18 months. But even if Sandalow couldn’t promise a Moore’s Law for energy, he laid out some of the most important trends that the DOE is paying very close attention to in the energy sector in 2013.
1). Grid resiliency and modernization: Both the Superbowl blackouts and hurricane Katrina have highlighted how important it is to make the grid much more resilient to blackouts as well as cyber events. The threat of cyber attacks “is real,” and it’ll be the private sector who mostly will lead the response against these situations, said Sandalow. Having a much more robust grid will also be needed as utilities add more clean power, like wind and solar, onto the grid.
2). Low cost natural gas: Cheap U.S. natural gas, which has emerged through horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, is the “hottest topic in the energy area,” said Sandalow. The DOE is accepting comments right now for whether or not the U.S. should export liquid natural gas. We have 16 applications for companies that want to export it, said Sandalow.
3). The dropping cost of solar: The DOE has its SunShot program, which looks to lower the cost of solar panels, but there’s a lot more work left to do. Germany has a 50 percent lower cost to install solar panels because it removed a lot of the red tape, said Sandalow. He explained, “I want to know when solar will become viral in the way that cell phones did, and what will it take, energy storage?”
4). Electric vehicles: The DOE has done a lot of work with electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, and we plan to do a lot more, said Sandalow.
5). High performance computing and big data: The trend of big data analytics and the most powerful computers in the world will no doubt help crack the problems with energy innovation. They are already being used heavily in the energy and climate change monitoring sectors.
6). Clean energy financing: There’s a lot more work to be done to finance clean power projects, though some milestones passed recently like the tax credits for wind projects. For startups clean power financing is actually a pretty hot area for investment.
7). China: Sandalow says he’s been to China 13 times while he’s been in office. The relationship between the U.S. and China over energy has at times been challenging, says Sandalow, but the trend of Chinese investments being made into cleantech companies in the U.S. is really interesting, and “I expect to see more of it.”