Energy technologists and entrepreneurs are modern adventurers who take risks to “discover new paths” and change the way we think about the future, says the leader of America’s energy innovation agency.

Dr. Cheryl Martin, deputy director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E), opened up the second day of this year’s Energy Innovation Summit by comparing her agency and the innovators in the crowd to early explorers.

“Explorers changed our understanding what was possible. We take the same approach: to think big, think bold, and think differently in order to discover new paths,” said Martin.

Formed in 2007 and funded in 2009, ARPA-E was created to help demonstrate innovative early-stage technologies in order to create a pathway to commercialization. The agency has funded 285 projects across a range of technologies. So far, 17 companies that received ARPA-E funding have attracted $450 million in follow-on funding.

The agency’s mission enjoys strong bipartisan support. However, some worry that the agency is not set up to solve the real challenge in energy deployment: helping companies leverage the billions in capital needed to actually penetrate the marketplace.

The Energy Innovation Summit is an opportunity to bring together investors and inventors, while also pitching ARPA-E’s mission. This year’s summit comes in a year when Congress is looking to make steep budget cuts to energy programs -- making the messaging on the importance of the agency even more crucial.

“We must continue the fight for full support of their programs. We must carry on this fight not despite our budget problems, but because of them,” said Retired Marine Corp General Jim Jones, speaking at the summit this morning about the need to dramatically rethink the U.S. energy system.

With roughly $300 million in yearly funding, some believe that ARPA-E is already underfunded. In addition, the legislation that created the agency expires at the end of the year.

Rather than get bogged down in budget politics, Dr. Martin pushed a positive message about the agency.

“Just as past explorers charted their course, ARPA-E takes bold chances. I have no doubt that market-oriented exploration is the path toward a bright future.”

An unanswered question remains: will Congress follow that course?

Look out for more updates from this year’s Energy Innovation Summit as the event unfolds.

Tags: arpa-e, energy innovation summit, exploration, innovation