ARPA-E is the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, modeled after DARPA, the Defense Department’s research initiative. ARPA-E is intended to stimulate innovation and the development of America’s green economy.
Green energy incentives are needed. According to the Obama administration’s Clean Energy Report, released last week, the United States has fallen behind China and Germany in its investments in clean energy.
In Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race?, the Pew Charitable Trusts reports a $16 billion gap between the China and the United States in investments in clean energy, with total U.S. investments at about $19 billion. The share of electricity generated from clean sources is directly related to growth in the green sector, and in 2010 the share of U.S. electricity generated from renewable sources amounted to 8 percent.
The scenario is promising. Over the next 10 years, federal and private investment in renewable energy is projected to increase by as much as $1.8 trillion. But what do federal and private investments in research and development mean for the majority of American citizens?
The federal government’s strategic investment in renewable technologies such as advanced biofuels, thermal storage, grid control technologies and solar power has already begun to demonstrate its potential to generate jobs. The fact is, employment opportunities in the green sector will continue to grow as the nation transforms its energy infrastructure. That infrastructure includes the power grid that supplies energy to homes and business as well as our mass transportation systems.
The announcements by Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Biden mention 11 companies by name, but there are more than 120 other recipients of ARPA-E seed money. Chu announced in early February that six ARPA-E recipients generated more than $100 million in private investment.
The research and development work funded through ARPA-E supports a cleaner economy, one that includes a greener auto industry and a more efficient electricity sector. One of the goals for ARPA-E funded projects is to improve transportation fuel efficiency, raising the average miles per gallon for cars and light duty trucks to 54.5 miles by 2025. It is the administrations’ hope that the energy innovations needed to achieve national fuel efficiency standards will ensure that cars will be built here in United States.
In its recommendations to “foster investment and job creation in clean energy” the Clean Energy Report discusses tax incentives as an effective strategy. One of these, the 48C Manufacturing Tax Credits, which started in 2010, is aimed at constructing and upgrading 183 manufacturing plants and was estimated to produce 17,000 jobs.
The release of the report and the vice president’s announcement signals there are new opportunities, a message that should be well received in communities of color. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that on average, unemployment in African American and Hispanic communities was about 4.25 percent higher than national unemployment. Considering the disproportionately high unemployment rates in these communities, further evidence that the green sector creates jobs is good news.
Developments in clean energy technology are particularly important for people living in or near America’s cities. Movements organized around the call for green jobs, led by organizations like Green For All, promote an inclusive green strategy as well as an expansion of stimulus dollars slated for green job creation in communities of color.
The very same resources used to support research and development in innovation have also gone to minority businesses in cities like Minneapolis where the unemployment rate was 7.5% in July of this year. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak pointed out the following in an interview with Green For All:
“The new green jobs being created … will disproportionately be in jobs for people who actually make things or use their hands, who have skills, and those people who have been the biggest victims of the fuel-based economy will also be the biggest beneficiaries of a new green economy.”
Considering the impact of the economic downturn on American communities, it becomes clear why interest from private investors is important — it signifies reliable interest in the green economy. The $200 million in private investment in ARPA-E innovations sets the stage for programs that provide job seekers with training to work in green industries. RENEWMN, a program funded by the 2009 stimulus, is already conducting training for people seeking green skill development.
Between seed funds and private investments for the deployment of clean technology, the green sector has become more stable. This is a good sign for American families dealing with persistent unemployment. Investments in ARPA-E projects are investments in American innovation and American jobs — opportunities that must be moved closer to the communities and neighborhoods that need them.
Here’s a link for more information on green career resources.