The Department of Energy (DOE) has taken its lumps recently. It's still icing the black eye it got from the $535 million loan guarantee it gave to the now-bankrupt Solyndra Inc., Fremont, Calif., a deal that's sure to surface as a political issue for President Obama during his re-election bid.
The DOE has also gotten beaten up during the recent Republican debates by at least two candidates who said they would eliminate the department entirely if they were elected because they believe state or private entities could do a better job of carrying out its stated mission — “ensuring America's security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.”
But the DOE probably won't ever be completely dismantled because roughly half of its $26.2 billion annual budget enables the care, handling and cleanup of nuclear materials and covers other national security concerns related to nuclear weaponry and nuclear nonproliferation strategies. Another big chunk of its budget goes toward basic scientific research in the energy arena that, when successful in producing a marketable technology, helps everyone. Some of this research may be a bit hard to grasp for those of us living outside of DOE's labs. For instance, in 2010 the DOE got $24 million in funding to research the commercialization of algae-based biofuels. States either can't afford or have no interest in doing this sort of R&D. And private businesses don't always fund R&D on a consistent basis, and they don't have any incentive to share a marketable technology when they develop it.
Whether you believe the DOE provides a good return on taxpayers' dollars or side with those who think it should be eliminated, once you start digging into some of its programs, you will find a ton of valuable information for electrical distributors, electrical manufacturers, independent manufacturers' reps, electrical contractors or other end users that sell or install energy-efficient electrical products.
While electrical companies don't have much day-to-day interest in the nuclear side of the DOE or in some of its more esoteric R&D, they should know about the department's many programs that touch on electrical equipment, particularly if they want to expand their business in the green market, or are looking for some free online for training and market planning related to LEDs, photovoltaics, wind energy, energy-efficient building design, electric vehicles (EVs), battery storage, the smart grid, and energy audits for commercial or industrial electrical facilities.
This article will show you where you can find this information on www.doe.gov. The department's website was recently redesigned and is now loaded with interactive graphics, timely RSS feeds on dozens of green topics, beginners' guides to LED lighting, and other valuable information. GovLoop.com, a social network connecting more than 50,000 federal, state, and local government innovators, recently called www.doe.gov the “Top Federal Website of 2011,” and DOE said in its FY 2013 budget request that the changes to the website are saving it more than $10 million annually. Let's first look at the DOE departments that have the most to offer the electrical market, and then take a look inside the programs of most interest within those departments.
The Real DOE: Electrically Speaking
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) (www.eere.energy.gov). With a FY 2012 enacted budget of $1.8 billion and a request for a budget next year of $2.3 billion, this department has enormous resources at its disposal. EERE has the most to offer electrical professionals since it covers LEDs and other solid-state lighting systems; retrofits of existing buildings or the construction of new facilities with other energy-efficient electrical products; solar and wind products; electric vehicles; and research for battery storage systems. If you have an interest in any of these areas, bookmark www.eere.energy.gov as a resource.
Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (www.energy.gov/oe/office-electricity-delivery-and-energy-reliability). According to its website, this department focuses on the next generation of grid modernization efforts and the recovery plans for when energy supply disruptions occur. A healthy chunk of its $139.1 million budget is spent on R&D efforts involving the smart grid and the development of superconductors that would carry electricity more efficiently over long distances. It also plans to develop an Electricity Systems Hub that will bring together interested parties to work on what it calls is the “seam between the transmission and distribution systems, where power flows, information flows and markets and regulations converge.”
Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) (arpa-e.energy.gov). ARPA-E focuses on high-risk, high-reward energy research with real-world applications in areas such as grid technology, power electronics, electric vehicles, batteries and energy storage. The agency has a FY 2013 budget request in for $350 million, a 27.3% increase over its FY 2012 enacted budget. Its EV research has been growing substantially. According to the DOE's FY 2013 Congressional Budget Request, the BEEST (Batteries for Electrical Energy Storage in Transportation) program “invested in ten projects investigating different battery chemistries that would allow electric vehicles to have a range of 300-500 miles, and be less expensive than cars based on internal combustion engines, thus overcoming ‘range anxiety’ and enabling electric vehicles to be market-competitive.”
In addition to its R&D projects, ARPA-E has for the last three years sponsored the Energy Innovation Summit (www.arpa-e.energy.gov/EventsWorkshops/Events) to bring together researchers, entrepreneurs, policymakers and investors with an interest in the next generation of clean energy technologies. Last year's meeting had 90 speakers and 2,000-plus attendees from 49 states and 30 countries.
Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) (www1.eere.energy.gov/manufacturing). The AMO's goal is to help U.S. manufacturers develop and deploy resources that will make them more competitive in global markets. With its FY 2012 budget of $115.58 million, AMO manages an interesting mix of services and resources. These include its State Incentives and Resource Database, which alerts manufacturers to financial incentives they can access to improve the efficiency of their facilities, and a network of Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs) at universities across the United States. According to information on the AMO website, the State Incentives & Resource Database now provides access to nearly 4,800 programs searchable by location (region, state, city, or zip code). These incentive programs are offered by federal and state governments, regional and nonprofit organizations, and utilities to help manufacturers identify and implement energy-saving projects. Additional funding opportunities available through the DOE for businesses, universities, consumers and state entities are listed online at www1.eere.energy.gov/financing/business.
Since 1980, the Industrial Assessment Centers have trained more than 3,000 students to conduct energy audits that have helped manufacturers identify $1.6 billion in annual savings through energy assessments conducted at 1,000 large plants and 2,300 small and mid-sized plants (as of Oct. 2011). If you are a manufacturer, you may want to enquire about having students from a nearby IAC do an audit of your facility. You can find the IACs in your region at www1.eere.energy.gov/manufacturing/tech_deployment/iacs_locations.
Solid-State Lighting (www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl). One of the real gems in the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is its Solid-State Lighting program, which offers a broad array of resources for anyone who makes lighting part of their business. DOE's mantra for solid-state lighting is to do everything it can to hasten the journey of LEDs and other solid-state lighting products from the lab to the market. Plan to spend a lot of time at www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl because you will find yourself clicking on dozens of different links that lead you to lighting education, free RSS feeds, information on DOE-sponsored R&D and pilot projects for LED lighting, industry standards, upcoming conferences on solid-state lighting, financial assistance and incentives.
Be sure to read up on EERE's Caliper standards (www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl/caliper), which subject solid-state lighting products to tough, objective performance standards and are intended to raise the bar on manufacturing quality LED products. You also may want to visit with the folks from this DOE department out in the field at LightFair (www.lightfair.com), where they always have one of the busiest booths on the floor because of the around-the-clock lighting seminars they offer.
If you want to dive really deep into LEDs, you may want to check out one of EERE's solid-state lighting workshops (www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl/events). I attended one of the workshops in Chicago a few years back and was impressed with the quality of the presentations and the diverse nature of companies in attendance, with representatives from LED chip manufacturers, utilities, architects, distributors, lighting fixture manufacturers, lamp manufacturers and state offices. A Municipal Lighting Consortium will be held in Dallas, March 15-16 and another one will be held April 19-20 in Los Angeles. Presentation materials from past conferences are available at www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl/presentations. Another great way to keep up on trends in solid-state lighting is to subscribe to Jim Brodrick's free SSL Postings e-mail newsletter by dropping him a line at [email protected]. Brodrick, the SSL program manager, has become one of the solid-state lighting industry's most respected and vocal advocates, particularly in his promotion of DOE's Caliper programs.
LED Lighting Facts (www.lightingfacts.com). This program allows those solid-state lighting manufacturers who commit to testing products and reporting the performance results according to DOE standards to display a Lighting Facts label on their product packaging, not unlike a nutrition label on foods. It's a clever and effective way of promoting the quality of the light produced by LED lamps.
LightBulb Finder App (www.doe.gov/articles/energy-efficiency-wins-top-prize-epa-app-contest). This free app for iOS and Android applications, which recently won the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Apps for the Environment competition, is designed to help homeowners choose the proper energy-efficient bulb. The app was developed by Eco Hatchery, a Milwaukee, Wis.-based technology company that specializes in residential energy efficiency.
Widgets for your website. (www.eere.energy.gov/socialmedia/#widgets). Spend a little time in the Widgets neighborhood of the EERE site and you may find a few free RSS feeds of interest or some other widgets that you can post on your website. The RSS feeds are broken down by different topics (solar, wind, financial opportunities, etc.). The widgets you may find of interest include one that gives you direct access to Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE), where you can find the latest utility rebates and financial incentives for your market area; news feeds; and weekly energy-saving tips.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Golden, Colo. (www.nrel.gov). If you ever have some extra time in Denver, stop by the NREL Visitors Center, in Golden Colo., just west of the city along Interstate 70. Spend an hour at the facility and you will get some great insight into the type of research that the DOE funds. Some of the primary areas of research at the facility are photovoltaics, wind turbines and sustainable building design. During a visit to the NREL facility's visitors center several years ago, a guide told me NREL's algae R&D is some of the more fascinating research done in those labs. In addition to its NREL research labs in Golden, the DOE also runs its National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) not too far away in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Boulder, Colo.
Rooftop Solar Challenge (www.eere.energy.gov/solarchallenge). The DOE says non-hardware or soft costs such as permitting, installation and design can account for up to 40% of a project's total cost. DOE is working to streamline, standardize and digitize the processes required to install residential and small commercial rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems.
According to DOE, more than 18,000 local jurisdictions have their own PV permitting requirements and more than 5,000 utilities are implementing standards for connecting and selling energy back to the grid. In 2012, the DOE's Rooftop Solar Challenge made awards to 22 teams to bring together city, county and state officials, regulatory entities, private industry, universities, local utilities and other regional stakeholders to clear a path for solar expansion.
SunShot Initiative (www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/sunshot). DOE says the goal of this program is to reduce the cost of solar energy by 75% and make it cost competitive with other forms of energy — without subsidies — by the end of the decade. Last month, the DOE announced more than $12 million in new funding to speed solar energy innovation from the lab to the marketplace. The funding, which will be made available through the agency's SunShot Incubator program, will support advancements in hardware, reductions in soft costs, and the development of pilot manufacturing and production projects. Each awardee must make significant cost-share commitments. Since 2007, DOE has invested $60 million through the SunShot Incubator program in promising technologies as they are brought from the lab to the marketplace.
Federal Energy Management Program (www1.eere.energy.gov/femp). This program helps federal government agencies implement energy-saving building and retrofit strategies in their buildings. According to information on its website, “The federal government, as the nation's largest energy consumer, has a tremendous opportunity and clear responsibility to lead by example. FEMP is central to this responsibility, guiding agencies to use funding more effectively in meeting federal and agency-specific energy management objectives.”
While some large energy service companies (ESCOs) locked up big contracts with government agencies awhile back, the department is still accepting applications from other companies that want to get on the DOE Qualified List. These are private companies that have submitted an application and been qualified by a federal review board that includes representatives from the FEMP staff. This department has a budget of approximately $29 million.
DOE Loan programs (lpo.energy.gov). As mentioned earlier, the DOE has gotten hammered for the $535 million loan guarantee it gave to Solyndra. The department now appears to have dramatically scaled back its lending aspirations. According to a report at www.eenews.net, the DOE is not requesting any new funding for new loans in its FY 2013 budget request, and is “just” asking for $38 million to cover ongoing administrative expenses. The DOE is still requesting additional funding for its Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) Loan Program, which according to DOE budget documents consists of direct loans of up to $25 billion in total loan authority to support the development of advanced technology vehicles and associated components in the United States. The ATVM Loan Program currently has committed more than $8 billion to support five projects, including factory retrofits by Ford, Nissan and Tesla for electric-vehicle production.
In closing. The DOE has a ton to offer electrical professionals if you know where to find it. Electrical Wholesaling's editors hope this article serves as a helpful introduction, and that you will drill down much deeper into your specific areas of interest. Be sure to check out www.ewweb.com's expanded coverage of resources available at the DOE. EW's editors will be posting links to key DOE programs, presentations and other information. Happy exploring!