Makani Power at ARPA-E 2011

David Craig (left) and Damon Vander Lind of Makani Power at the 2011 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit.

Here at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit just outside Washington, some 2,000 technologists, policy makers, politicians, and venture capitalists are gathered to share ideas, get funding, and generally try to change the world.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu was on hand to launch the proceedings this morning, setting the stage for ARPA-E director Arun Majumdar to make the case that our economic, environmental, and national security depends on changing the way we produce and use energy. Former California governator Arnold Schwarzenagger also delivered a rousing talk.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, is the DARPA-inspired Department of Energy agency charged with fostering the breakthrough technologies we need to overthrow King Petroleum. Advanced batteries, biofuels (or electrofuels, says Majumdar, meaning green fuels created without relying directly on photosynthesis), cheap solar and wind power, all are being funded through ARPA-E programs.

Like its namesake agency, ARPA-E has no labs of its own. Instead its program managers seed promising developments in universities, corporations, and startups around the country.

Those ARPA-E funded researchers, and many more besides, are all here, on an exhibit floor displaying their wares and trying to attract more funding.

That funding, at least on the ARPA-E side, may be in tight supply in FY 2012, unfortunately. The agency faces a Congressionally mandated cap of $306 million for its annual budget, about half what President Obama requested, according to Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who spoke before the Governator.

Still, ARPA-E funding goes a long way. After only two years of operation the agency has already demonstrated a remarkable return on investment. After getting on their feet with $24 million in ARPA-E funding, six projects have attracted $100 million in private funding.