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Innovation at Scale: Supporting Pilot-Scale Demonstrations

The establishment of the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations at the Department of Energy represents an important step towards accelerating American innovation and achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This report identifies a gap in public funding for pilot-scale demonstration projects requiring less than $25 million and offers recommendations aimed at helping OCED support these projects by creating a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program through existing authority. An agency’s SBIR/STTR program derives funding as a portion of the agency’s overall budget and does not require additional funding. The recommendations in this report were developed in consultation with clean energy startups, incubators and accelerators, investors, NGOs, think tanks, researchers, and BPC’s American Energy Innovators Network (AEIN). This builds upon lessons learned from the longstanding DOE SBIR/STTR program and draws from the success of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA–E) SCALEUP program.

Eight key recommendations are discussed in this report:

  1. Make funding available for flexible purposes.
  2. Consider raising the cap for awards.
  3. Operate independently of the larger DOE SBIR/STTR program.
  4. Offer open topic solicitations, as well as solicitations for specified topics where applicable.
  5. Consider a flexible structure to simplify contracting for eligible awardees.
  6. Increase the frequency of application windows.
  7. Bolster support for first-time and underrepresented applicants.
  8. Consider high-growth, innovative startups as well as larger, more established small businesses.
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