ARPA-type funding gives green technology an ‘innovation advantage’, study finds

Solar panel installation  Credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel

Startups funded by US agency ARPA-E file patents at twice the rate of similar cleantech firms. The UK should trial its own climate-focused ARPA as part of COVID-19 recovery package, argues a Cambridge professor.

A new analysis of the successes and failures of green energy companies in the US has found that those with ARPA funding filed for far more patents in the years after launching than other “cleantech” startups from the same time.    

The “innovation advantage” bestowed by ARPA-E – an energy version of the legendary DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) – was not shared by startups funded via other US government initiatives.  

ARPA-type agencies were developed in the US to fund “high risk, high reward” research with the aim of fostering major breakthroughs, often by providing greater freedom to take on highly ambitious technical challenges.

The new findings offer encouragement to a UK government considering its own British ARPA (or ‘BARPA’), but any agency adopting this model requires a focus in order to flourish – and BARPA’s should be climate, argues Professor Laura Diaz Anadon from the University of Cambridge.

“Our US-based research points to the value of ARPA agencies. The UK may well benefit from such an approach in a post-pandemic world, given the technological capital within its universities and private sector,” said Anadon, co-author of the US innovation study.

“The UK should adapt the ARPA model to create an agency for the climate challenge as part of any COVID-19 recovery package. Focusing research and development on next-generation energy storage and renewables, and solutions for decarbonizing shipping, aviation and construction, could boost productivity and deliver large benefits to society,” said Anadon.

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Image:  Solar panel installation

Credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge


The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

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