Funding Moonshots and Fostering Global Collaboration in Energy R&D

Fraunhofer CSE's Johanna Wolfson moderating the MITEC panel, which featured Eric Bielke (GE), Tibor Toth (MassCEC), Captain Goudreau (U.S. Navy), and Tom Jenson (Joule Unlimited).

Fraunhofer CSE’s Johanna Wolfson moderating the MITEC panel, which featured Eric Bielke (GE), Tibor Toth (MassCEC), Captain Goudreau (U.S. Navy), and Tom Jenson (Joule Unlimited).

Founded by MIT students in 2006, the MIT Energy Conference is a platform for discussing the energy sector’s key challenges and how industry, academia, and policy can come together to spur advancements. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, this year’s conference explored topics such as technological development, financial innovation and policy innovation to address today’s energy challenges and better prepare for the future.

One conference panel, entitled “Funding Moonshots and Fostering Global Collaboration in Energy R&D”, explored the extent to which the current innovation ecosystem is set up to achieve ambitious energy goals. Moderated by Fraunhofer TechBridge Program Lead Johanna Wolfson, the panel featured representatives from government, the military, the investment community, startups, and industry. Panelists debated how “energy moonshots” should be set, the responsibilities of various stakeholders, and gaps in the current cleantech ecosystem. Panelists also discussed innovative approaches currently underway and how to bridge the gap between R&D efforts and technology commercialization.

Throughout the discussion, panelists offered up their own opinions of what the next energy moonshot should be and how it will shake up the energy industry for the better. Eric Bielke, a Director at GE Ventures, suggested an idea that would encompass innovations in the financial, technological, and policy sectors. “A great moonshot would be to really rethink the grid to achieve a [fully] distributed system,” said Bielke. Tom Jensen, Executive VP and Head of Corporate Development at Joule Unlimited, emphasized the need for strategic funding in the energy sector. “The funding for disruptive technologies is not even near where it should be,” said Jensen.

Panelist Captain James Goudreau, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Navy for Energy, emphasized the importance of setting ambitious goals to spur innovation. “Moonshots fundamentally change the human condition,” said Captain Goudreau. Captain Goudreau also touched on the U.S. Navy’s consistent push to invest in clean energy technologies. “The Navy has been innovating in energy for hundreds of years, because it is required by [its] mission,” said Captain Goudreau.

At the conclusion of the panel, there was a consensus among the panelists that government incentives should encourage big companies—who have the most to gain from future technologies—to invest in R&D, and particularly in startups and technology innovation.

At Fraunhofer CSE, a key goal of the TechBridge program is to bridge this existing gap between large corporations and their ability to support early-stage technologies. By providing targeted technology solicitations and conducting validation and demonstration work, TechBridge helps innovative early-stage companies demonstrate their value for investors and industry. Learn more about Fraunhofer TechBridge at www.cse.fraunhofer.org/techbridge

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