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Experts Call for More Government Support to Catalyze US-India Clean Energy Research

On June 29, NRDC organized a roundtable discussion in New York with leading scientists, researchers, universities, corporations, investment firms and some non profits, all of whom are keenly interested in collaborative clean energy partnerships in India. The event aimed at familiarizing clean energy experts with a $50 million matching funding opportunity for joint Indo-US clean energy research and development (R&D). The discussion focused on the Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center (JCERDC), coordinated by the US Department of Energy and the Government of India.

NRDC’s roundtable was also a platform for participants to share perspectives on what the Indian and US governments could do to strengthen bilateral clean energy cooperation in the future. Experts emphasized that a higher degree of involvement by both governments is necessary to catalyze partnerships. Examples of how governments can provide more valuable support include assistance with connecting interested parties and facilitating secure information-exchange.  

The Clean Energy Center’s goal is to catalyze game-changing R&D in three priority areas—energy efficiency in buildings, solar energy and second generation biofuels. The Center’s work will be initiated through three joint Indo-US consortia, one each on three priority areas. NRDC and our Indian partners – the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) – share the two governments’ objective of making the JCERDC funding opportunity a success.  

The New York event was the second of our three workshops on this issue. Speakers included Vatsal Bhatt, Senior Energy Policy Advisor, Brookhaven National Laboratory; Radhika Khosla, Center for Market Innovation, NRDC; Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, International Program Director, NRDC; and Dale Bryk, Air and Energy Program Director, NRDC.

Participants in the roundtable discussion included the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Carnegie Mellon University, Purdue, Rutgers, Pace, the City University of New York, Brookhaven and Pacific Northwest National Labs, Intel, Synapse Energy, Biodico, UTC Power, ICLEI and many others.

There was widespread interest throughout the group in clean energy projects in India – from research to deployment, and commercialization. All attendees welcomed the two governments’ efforts to spur breakthrough research in solar energy, biofuels and building energy efficiency. Most had prior experience working in India or were enthusiastic about working in India’s dynamic environment. Participants were eager to be a part of India’s unprecedented growth and to explore partnerships with Indian groups.

However, the discussion also highlighted the need for deeper involvement by the governments to engage leaders in the clean energy and clean technology community. Many expressed that official agencies involved could provide more information about the funding opportunity, and more process-related assistance to those seeking funding. We heard feedback that a three month deadline for proposals is extremely challenging, and that many interested parties would benefit from better information availability in this short timeframe.

 In particular, participants wanted more assistance from the two governments to connect with other interested parties; guests at the roundtable expressed eagerness to connect with potential partners, but underscored that concern for intellectual property and confidentiality constrains interaction with new entities. This is where the governments could play a valuable role by facilitating interaction with others. Other feedback was that the funding amount was not substantial enough; that the 50% cost-share criteria was intimidating, especially to smaller players; and that the award would be divided up between multiple consortia partners, eventually resulting in individual shares that would be difficult to put to meaningful R&D. However, it was also acknowledged that this funding is more in the nature of seed money to help partnerships get underway, rather than full funding of R&D. It is precisely because a major goal of this effort is to catalyze new partnerships that more involvement is needed from both the U.S. and Indian governments to help make the connections happen.

Panchabuta agrees with the observation that deeper involvement by the governments to engage leaders in the clean energy and clean technology community must be done. It would be good if the evaluation and funding process that is followed is more on the lines of that in the United States instead of some of the processes followed by Indian government institutions which would deter a lot of smaller cleantech companies according to industry sources that Panchabuta spoke to.

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