Monday, December 17, 2012

Energy innovation rockstar, former ARPA-E Director, to join

The former Director of the Department of Energy's ARPA-E program, Arun Majumdar, will be joining Google's philanthropic arm Majumdar will "drive's energy initiatives and advise the company on our broader energy strategy," Google said Monday.

The announcement is interesting for at least two reasons. About a year ago Google announced that it would be shutting down its clean power research projects through, called RE<C. I didn't think it was all that big of a deal at the time, given Google has invested close to a billion dollars into clean power projects, but the move was widely seen as Google cutting some philanthropic research that was outside of its basic territory.

But with Majumdar joining, clearly Google will be launching some new projects, or investing some new resources, into energy innovation and research. That's exciting. Despite the fact that Google is not an energy company, it has been one of the bright spots in the private sector by funding new energy technologies through investment in startups, through brainstorming ways to buy clean power to run its data centers, and by being a test case for new energy technologies like Bloom Energy's fuel cells.

Majumdar oversaw the DOE's ARPA-E program, which puts small grants - from hundreds of thousands to several million dollars - into early stage, "moonshot" research that could deliver a breakthrough, but is too early for private investment. The ARPA-E program has been one of the most successful and least controversial projects under the DOE and has delivered dozens of projects that have found follow-on private financing.

It's also worth noting that Majumdar will now be joining the private sector, so will be able to use Google's balance sheet to fund energy innovation. ARPA-E's budget ever year is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Majumdar hails from Lawrence Berkeley National Labs and the University of California at Berkeley.