The past five years have been very interesting for the US Department of Energy (DOE). During this period, the tidal wave of technology and business development around energy storage and other energy initiatives has gained steam like a runaway freight train — and for good reason. Aside from the extreme weather patterns we have been experiencing over the globe, energy cost, source, supply and stability are regular topics on the front page of nearly any periodical.
The US government, via the DOE, stepped forward in a big way over the past few years, establishing technology hubs and pouring money into advanced energy storage technology companies of all sorts, including startups. Predictably, and uncomfortably, some of those investments did not turn out well and the media had a field day. Nonetheless, the network of DOE National Laboratories is one of the best technology support organizations in the world, including as compared to those of other nations' governments.
The capability, expertise, depth, and breadth of their repertoire of core competencies are unrivaled anywhere. Failures of some investments have to be viewed as the cost of doing business, not as poor execution or wasted money. Can the processes for support be improved? Absolutely. But does that mean that risky investments should be discontinued? Absolutely not.
The United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC), made up of representatives from US automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), the DOE, and the National Lab system, is a shining example of how to do it right. The USABC obtains funds from the DOE to initiate technical programs and then works hard to distribute those funds to practical, capable, and progressive companies through a competitive proposal bidding process.
The working groups of the USABC participate directly and indirectly with those companies throughout the program, advising on how to use funds, offering strong technical support, providing program guidance, and, when necessary, even giving moral support. The USABC demands performance from the companies they choose and when the contracted companies give their all, those same companies are rewarded with the best of what the USABC and the DOE has to offer.
Maxwell has had only positive interactions with the DOE, National Labs, and the USABC. It is never easy, always demanding, and takes energy and effort from all to achieve good results. But despite these conditions, the model works. Maxwell and other companies involved in the programs have been able to realize great benefits in technology development and business growth, enabling new opportunities for others who purchase the resulting products to build their own businesses. These benefits then extend all the way to the end consumers who use those products to their best advantage.
It is easy to be critical from the outside looking in, but I thank the US government for its support, and others in the industry should, too. Without the DOE's support, the energy storage industry would not be as far along or as strong as we are, and wouldn't have learned as much as we have through the collaborative interactions with these organizations.