ecomagination

The Energy Fixers

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Renewable energy use is on the rise in the U.S. In 2010, renewables accounted for only eight percent of all domestic power production; during the first six months of 2011, that number had climbed to about 14.3 percent. Still, considering the U.S. is the world's largest consumer of energy, we're still using an enormous amount of not-so-pretty fossil fuels: Coal power plants, which provide nearly half of America's energy needs, burned through 860 million tons of fuel through the first half of 2011, while natural gas plants accounted for another fifth of our needs.

The importance of finding a new energy mix cannot be understated. Inefficient or outmoded technologies, even aside from the pollution they can create, are increasingly threatening our wallets. As it stands right now, there's no perfect solution to our energy needs. But the Department of Energy has already signaled that it's pushing for clean tech; of the $37.2 billion in energy subsidies in 2010, $14.7 billion went to renewables. The wealth of new energy IPOs over the past few years suggests people are ready and willing to bet on green tech.

One of those bettors is ARPA-E, the DoE's incubator for solutions to the energy crisis. Following in the legacy of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which kickstarted the internet and all sorts of mind-bending technologies, ARPA-E is shooting to make low-cost bets on ideas that could change the energy landscape. Those projects from university labs and startups include BAL Labs and Makani Windpower. 

In the interest of spurring breakthroughs large and small, programs like ARPA-E are helping U.S. researchers keep up with the worldwide march towards clean energy.

--Derek Mead

For more on the future of everything, visit Motherboard.

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