Digital Lumens recently joined some of our nation’s most exciting and promising technologies at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit – a veritable “science fair” for the energy set. Our Intelligent Lighting System™, a breakthrough in its own right, is considered mature by ARPA-E standards, as it’s successfully on the market and not in conceptual stages like the program’s grant winners. Still, our selection as an exhibitor underscored the vital role that industrial LED lighting can play in reducing energy consumption on a large scale.

The tone and message at the summit were unequivocally positive – not surprising given that attendees and exhibitors alike have skin in the energy game. But what about the public in general? At a time when federal funding of early stage energy innovation is being questioned, are consumers drawing the connection between these visionary projects and their real-world impact? A report issued by Pike Research the very same week of the summit suggests that this connection must be stronger. In fact, the report indicates that consumers’ outlook on clean energy has become less favorable over the past three years. How do we translate the importance of these big energy ideas to the broader audience? Several key points raised by the summit’s speakers should resonate directly with the mainstream today.

  • Jobs, jobs, jobs. Bill Clinton referenced a Deutsche Bank study attributing 300,000 new jobs in Germany to the country’s environmental incentives, and there is no shortage of data on the link between clean energy and economic growth here at home. Check out this chart on the DOE’s website, projecting hundreds of thousands of jobs to come from green non-residential construction alone. But, we must be willing to invest in the sector – including the early stage projects being funded by ARPA-E – to benefit from the jobs and economic resurgence that will follow as commercial winners emerge.
  • Timeframe. The results of energy innovation won’t arrive with Apple-like speed. Bill Gates noted, “The IT revolution is the exception that has warped people’s minds in how quickly things work.” For those of us who aren’t scientists and engineers, headlines about far-reaching energy concepts like fuel-producing tobacco plants are merely headlines. Having lived through the IT revolution, we are used to seeing newer, better, faster technology gadgets and are quick to embrace them. But the pace of clean energy innovation and adoption can’t possibly match that speed, and thus consumers should focus on the bigger, longer-term picture.
  • Energy Independence. As said by FedEx CEO Fred Smith, “Our dependence on imported petroleum constitutes the country’s largest security and economic risk.” None of us is immune to the consequences of our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, which span from geopolitical concerns, to debate about high-risk oil exploration and production, to fluctuating prices at the gas pump. Energy independence is the ultimate prize for researchers, policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs and consumers alike.

With potential rewards of this magnitude, no idea is “too big” or “too visionary” when it comes to reinventing the energy landscape. Our sincerest thanks to the ARPA-E team for their tireless work to foster innovation in all sectors and expand the conversation so that everyone understands why energy innovations are critical to them.

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