100 Days Of Trump = Good News For Solar, Wind, & Other Renewables

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CleanTechnica has been spilling a lot of ink over the first 100 days of the Trump Administration, and among the many things that have caught our eye is the frantic pace at which President Trump’s Department of Energy is churning out good news about renewable energy. The result is a long (long, long) list of accomplishments on behalf of renewables and practically zippo for coal.

All that activity is underscored by the latest missive from DOE, which describes a new round of vouchers for 38 small businesses to access support from the agency’s National Laboratories network. The initiative is aimed at R&D for advanced manufacturing efficiency, energy storage, bioenergy, solar, and wind energy among other clean tech fields.

100 Days Of Natural Gas

The 100-day mark is not just CleanTechnica being CleanTechnica. President Trump made his first 100 days a centerpiece of his campaign. In speeches and rallies, he also focused on coal miners as a human element to underscore his support for the fossil industry.

Here’s the top of the two-page document issued during the campaign:

The shoutout to coal is the fifth under the heading “Seven actions to protect American workers:

I will lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal.

The reference to “restrictions” presumably includes Trump’s oft-repeated pledge to kill off the Clean Power Plan.

The plan was launched by the Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency in 2015 but it has never gone into effect. The courts are still sorting through legal objections raise by a number of states.

Meanwhile, under the Trump Administration the natural gas industry has continued to grow at the expense of coal, with or without the Clean Power Plan.

For that matter, US business leaders have already moved past coal and are focusing on climate change.

Despite the iffy status of natural gas as a “cleaner” fuel, it has been the driving force behind shrinkage of the US coal industry.

Underscoring that trend is last week’s announcement by PNM, a utility that serves virtually all of New Mexico, that it would shut down its major coal-sourced supplier by 2022 and go 100% coal free by 2031. PNM has almost tripled its gas sourcing over the past three years.

Clean Tech Innovators Get TLC From President Trump and DOE

That brings us to the latest news from President Trump’s Department of Energy. It’s a public-private initiative that comes under the agency’s Small Business Vouchers pilot program.

The program gives small businesses a leg up on clean tech R&D by providing them with access to the internationally renowned US National Laboratories.

As a side note, the Energy Department has another small business assistance program for fossil companies, though last year’s funding for that program all went to companies aimed at reducing fossil pollution, not necessarily at lowering costs or increasing fossil consumption.

Under the Obama Administration, the DOE focused more on assisting clean tech startups aimed at increasing the use of renewable energy, for example through the SunShot initiative’s Catalyst program. It looks like that emphasis has continued into the Trump Administration.

Here’s Energy Secretary Rick Perry announcing the new round of 38 SBV awardees while making the economic case for keeping the laboratories humming along:

“The Small Business Vouchers program is a great example of how DOE’s innovative public-private collaborations are ensuring our investments in DOE national labs are maintaining and strengthening U.S. competitiveness long-term.”

Thank you, Rick Perry (yes, this guy).

You can get the full list of awardees and 76 previous participants from the Small Business Vouchers website.

For those of you on the go, the 38 new awardees will have access to equipment and technical assistance from this:

The eight DOE national laboratories participating in the new round of collaborations are home to some of the most advanced, cutting edge facilities in the world, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, Argonne National Laboratory’s Prototype Cell Fabrication Facility, and Sandia National Laboratories’ Scaled Wind Farm Technology Facility.

The other five labs are Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Savannah River National Laboratory.

The biggest slice of the pie goes to projects advancing renewable energy technology, with a total of 13 vouchers for solar, wind, bioenergy, hydrokinetic/hydropower and geothermal projects.

The next-biggest area of focus is improvements in manufacturing efficiency for key clean tech sectors. Unfortunately for all those new jobs promised by President Trump, the Energy Department’s selections are aimed at advanced manufacturing innovations that reduce energy and labor:

Eleven projects will focus on improving manufacturing processes specifically by developing more efficient production methods for alloys, microchannel heat exchangers, semiconductors, extreme ultraviolet materials, nanocrystals, and lithium ion batteries, among others.

Zero emission mobility also gets some love:

Four projects in the vehicles area will work to advance vehicle technologies. These projects will create power stations for electric vehicles, validate and scale different methods for extracting magnesium, improve the efficiency of lithium-ion batteries, and improve the conversion of feedstock into synthetic oils for automobile lubricants.

Okay, so that last item isn’t strictly zero emission, but it helps.

Building efficiency also gets a shoutout, with three projects dealing with energy management and commercial refrigeration.

The program will also cover the hydrogen fuel cell field (that’s a fraught issue for some, but whatever) with two projects. One aims at improving hydrogen storage systems and the other is aimed at developing a testing device for rotary magnetic wheel seals.

100 Days Of Renewables

So, is Rick Perry just dancing on DOE’s grave? Or, is he really hoping that with enough positive PR, he can get enough funding to keep the agency’s clean tech initiatives alive? Or, could he be laying the ground for another run at the White House as a planet-saving champion of decarbonization?

Who knows? For now, at least, DOE is all over renewable energy like white on rice. The agency is not simply carrying out obligations left over from Obama Administration programs. Its press releases, Twitter account, and Perry’s own Twitter account have all been ripe with news about the agency’s clean tech activities (the main News & Blog page is rather thin, but the laboratories and offices are humming along on their own).

Perry has talked the Trump Administration talk on fossil fuels but he also consistently pitches for renewables, often leveraging his experience as Texas Governor during a time when that state’s wind industry took off.

His newly gained seat at the National Security Council — alongside climate hawk and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster — makes the future of DOE’s clean tech programs look just a little more secure.

CleanTechnica isn’t the only one noticing. Others are beginning to talk. Here’s an observation from our friends over at Fuel Fix under the heading, “What cuts? Perry promises Energy Department will keep innovating:”

Perry, speaking at Earth Day in Dallas, lauded the work of the energy department’s national laboratories and promised the labs would continue to break technological ground, even as his staff in Washington prepare for steep cuts to come.

“Those 17 national labs are the most extraordinary jewels in the world,” Perry said. “A lot of places wish they had just one.”

Stay tuned.

Photo (cropped) via Small Business Voucher program.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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