AMO and the broader renewable thermal policy landscape
Roundtable discussion – March 31, 2022
The second day of the Renewable Thermal Collaborative’s (RTC) two-day policy roundtable centered on the programming of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) and additional policies on the horizon in Congress that would broadly support renewable thermal technologies. The roundtable featured two presentations, extended Q&A, and some discussion. Anne Hampson, Program Manager for AMO’s Technical Partnerships programs, delivered the first presentation. With a current budget of $416 million, AMO works to catalyze R&D and the adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies and practices through investment in next-generation materials and process technologies, research consortia, and technical partnerships that provide direct technical assistance to manufacturers through no-cost tools, training, knowledge sharing, and technology validation. AMO’s core technical assistance programs include:
- Better Plants – an initiative for manufacturers to set and achieve long-term targets on energy, water, waste, and carbon reduction
- Combined Heat and Power (CHP) – technical services for CHP screenings, installation assistance, and market analysis that is increasingly focusing on net-zero fuels
- Industrial Assessment Centers – university-based workforce development programs providing no-cost energy assessments to small and medium manufacturers along with training
- Strategic Energy Management – data and support to achieve energy efficiency, cost, and resiliency benefits based on the ISO 50001 standard
- Software and tools – a range of open-source tools for manufacturers and water agencies to increase efficiency and evaluate energy technologies at the plant level and in specific systems
Other initiatives within AMO’s technical assistance portfolio include:
- Industrial Technology Validation Pilot – offering validation of new technologies in real-world industrial environments to support deployment of decarbonization solutions; accepting applications now, with the desire to increasingly cover thermal applications
- Better Climate Challenge – a new, voluntary initiative around setting ambitious scope 1 and 2 goals (energy-intensive companies would commit to 25% of scopes 1 and 2 within 10 years; light industry held to 50% reduction target)
- Workforce Development Roadmap – workforce advancement efforts around launching next-generation technologies
Onsite generation is an emerging focus area for DOE, which includes accelerating R&D and deployment for CHP. R&D is increasingly focused on net-zero fuel applications, including biomass, biogas, and renewable natural gas, as well as thermal energy storage. Other emerging areas of focus are energy-intensive industries, including food, chemicals, cement, and other basic materials, with plans to trial a range of resources such as carbon assessments and technology planning tools. AMO is also preparing its programs under the bipartisan infrastructure law, including an expansion of its Industrial Assessment Centers, the Advanced Energy Manufacturing and Recycling Grant Program focused on coal regions, and State Financial Assistance to support industrial sector implementation of smart manufacturing technologies.
Participants asked a range of questions following the presentation on the eligibility, scope, and other aspects of AMO’s programs, including the Industrial Technology Validation Pilot, Better Climate Challenge, and Industrial Assessment Centers. Participants also discussed their challenges around replacing certain uses such as superheated steam and the need for support in evaluating and prioritizing technologies based on factors such as geography and costs, going beyond upfront costs to longer-term implications of a shift from gas to other inputs like electricity. AMO pointed to resources that could help with these evaluations, such as DOE’s MEASUR tool. One participant spoke of the challenges on the utility side with load capacity in the switch from natural gas boilers, with AMO noting that DOE is working on grid transformation issues.
Alexander Ratner, the Federal Policy Manager for the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy (ACEEE), delivered the second presentation. Focused on legislation in progress and on the horizon, the presentation highlighted industrial decarbonization elements in the Energy Act of 2020, competitiveness legislation (both the House of Representative’s America COMPETES Act and the Senate’s U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021), and Build Back Better. The House’s COMPETES Act would do much more for industrial decarbonization than the Senate version, including about $15 billion for commercial-scale demonstrations and deployment of industrial decarbonization technologies. Both chambers will have to reconcile their bills in conference committee, and ACEEE is working to ensure those and other helpful provisions reach the final deal.
There was an acknowledgment among some participants that the pace of policymaking focused on decarbonizing thermal demand is not sufficient, and the focus of climate policy is often too narrowly targeted to the power sector. Elevating the issue of thermal energy is seen as a clear focus of the RTC’s future Congressional engagement and educational activities.