In early 2017, shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, his first budget proposed slashing funding from from several agencies that conduct energy research. But congress had different ideas, and produced a very different budget. Six weeks ago, Trump again proposed a budget to reduce renewable energy research funding and eliminate an entire agency, with a 67% cut to solar power research overall. And as the budget passed by the House and Senate this week to keep the government funded in 2018 shows, Congress is again overruling him.
In the new Congressional budget document, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office has seen its total funding increase by about 15% to $2.3 billion for the year. As well, the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) – the group doing high risk research on the bleeding edge of technology – saw an increase to $353 million, about 15% also.
The DOE’s 2019 ‘Budget in Brief‘ broke out exactly how much was given to the solar department in 2017 and 2018 (just above $200 million as noted on page 31). This document also shows the original 61% department cut that was suggested by Trump in 2019.
The DOE’s solar budget is mostly focused on its 2030 target of $0.03/kWh for utility-scale solar power without subsidies via decreasing the cost of next-generation photovoltaics and concentrating solar power technologies.
Key areas of research include: grid reliability, PV efficiency, energy yield and storage, material durability, power electronics, microgrid integration, and next generation concentrating solar power.
In 2016, the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) had 118 ‘active collaborative research and development agreements.’ Also in 2016, the lab filed 107 new patent applications. The department has a total of 239 active issued U.S. patents and 68 active issued foreign patents.
With a DOE now led by an individual who wanted to get rid of the agency (even forgetting its name), but then tried to use the influence of the agency to bail out the failing coal and nuclear sectors, it might be a bit early to suppose exactly what this budget increase means for renewable energy. The budget definitely calls out additional funding for nuclear power, fossil fuels – and healthy amounts of money for cleaning up nuclear waste. However, the worst-case scenario of renewable energy funding being eviscerated is not manifesting, despite repeated efforts by the president.