The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report in August that boldly challenged the country to invest in clean energy innovation. In the 340 pages of The Power of Change: Innovation for Development and Deployment of Increasingly Clean Electric Power Technologies, the study focused on five paths to accelerate the market adoption of increasing clean energy and efficiency technologies: (1) expanding the portfolio of cleaner energy technology options; (2) leveraging the advantages of energy efficiency; (3) facilitating the development of increasing clean technologies, including renewables, nuclear, and cleaner fossil; (4) improving the existing technologies, systems, and infrastructure; and (5) leveling the playing field for cleaner energy technologies.
The authors outline some specific suggestions for improving the current landscape, including urging the US Department of Energy (DOE) to help advance innovation by using sector-specific road-mapping and challenge funding, as well as creating funds to assist early-stage clean energy technologies. They say this was “a call for leadership to transform the United States energy sector in order to both mitigate the risks of greenhouse gas and other pollutants and to spur future economic growth.”
Perhaps those at the Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory had read an advance copy, or the authors of the report had no idea that they would need to come up with new suggestions just weeks after their book became available.
On Sept. 20 during Innov865 Week, ORNL announced the launch of Innovation Crossroads, a program that matches aspiring energy entrepreneurs with the experts, mentors and networks in technology-related fields to take their world-changing ideas from R&D to the marketplace. The program will officially start in March 2017, and the applications to join the inaugural cohort is open until Nov. 18.
Up to five entrepreneurs will be selected to transform their ideas into clean energy companies with financial support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Innovators will receive a fellowship that covers living costs, benefits and a travel stipend for up to two years, plus up to $350,000 to use on collaborative research and development at ORNL. Each innovator will also be paired with a doctoral student from the University of Tennessee’s Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education for assistance with market research and customer discovery.
If it was not clear yet, this accelerator will take place in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. While ORNL may seem like another government monolith that couldn’t possibly understand the startup culture, this laboratory with a $1.5 billion annual budget is not an isolated facility in the mountains of Tennessee. ORNL and the University of Tennessee Research Foundation have been a collaborative force in Knoxville that have not only encourage entrepreneurship, they’ve fostered and guided its growth in the area for decades.
It is precisely the people at ORNL and the surrounding communities who understand the very challenges that entrepreneurial scientists face and have a record of helping them navigate the road ahead. And because Innovation Crossroads is part of EERE’s Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program (LEEP), sponsored by EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) and co-managed by EERE’s Technology-to-Market Program, the program also has a network of similar programs that can offer further guidance.
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