Kelly Speakes-Backman
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
more by this author

As we close the book on the first year of the Biden-Harris administration, I remain amazed at the professionalism and resilience of our staff at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Whether you measure our success by the number of new initiatives we’ve launched, the performance of EERE-supported technologies in the field, or the total investments we’ve committed to cutting-edge research and development, 2021 was a banner year for energy efficiency and renewables—despite the unprecedented challenges posed by an ongoing pandemic. 

Recently, I encouraged readers to become clean energy champions: advocates for decarbonization who help their friends, families, and colleagues understand the benefits of our transition to an equitable clean energy economy. As I reflect on EERE’s many achievements over the past year, I’m more eager than ever to spread the word—and more confident than ever in the persuasiveness of our case.  

It would be impossible to summarize in one blog post all the accomplishments of EERE’s first year under the Biden-Harris Administration, so I’ve selected a few key examples that I hope provide a sense of the scope and real-world impact of our work in 2021.  

Late Winter/Spring 

In late February, a DOE-sponsored team of experts in geothermal and oil and gas drilling celebrated a (literally) groundbreaking accomplishment when they completed the drilling phase at the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE)—an underground field laboratory for enhanced geothermal systems. Despite many technical challenges, the Utah FORGE team completed drilling operations in about one-half the time initially planned. Cutting-edge geothermal projects like FORGE can unlock access to a domestic, low-carbon, clean energy source with the potential to supply power to tens of millions of homes in the United States. 

In March, DOE announced our intention to cut the cost of solar energy by 60% within the next 10 years, as well as investments of nearly $128 million to lower costs, improve performance, and accelerate the deployment of solar energy technologies. A few months later, Secretary Jennifer Granholm kicked off DOE’s Summer of Solar campaign by challenging 125 communities to sign up for SolarAPP+, a new tool that instantly reviews residential solar installation permits, by the end of the summer. Over the next two months, Secretary Granholm visited homeowners who have gone solar to talk about their experiences and called on mayors across the country to accept the challenge. We exceeded our goal, then immediately set a new benchmark: get 60 more communities to improve their solar practices and earn recognition through the DOE SolSmart program by March 2022. 

Alongside the departments of Commerce and the Interior, DOE announced a national goal to achieve 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power generation by 2030, which would create 77,000 jobs, power more than 10 million homes, cut 78 million metric tons of carbon emissions, spur $12 billion in capital investment annually, and support new manufacturing plants, installation vessels, and port upgrades. 

As part of the HydroWIRES Initiative, we launched the Pumped Storage Hydropower Valuation Tool, which allows users to quickly and easily weigh the merits of pumped storage hydropower plants and their associated services. Pumped storage hydropower accounts for 95% of all utility-scale energy storage in the United States, and this free, web-based tool will help make clean energy storage more widely available. 

Summer 

In June, Secretary Granholm announced the first of DOE’s Energy Earthshots Initiative: The Hydrogen Shot. The Hydrogen Shot sets an ambitious yet achievable “1 1 1” goal to reduce the cost of hydrogen to $1 per 1 kilogram in one decade. DOE kicked off the first-ever Hydrogen Shot Summit by convening nearly 3,000 stakeholders in a two-day planning session. One month later, DOE announced our second Energy Earthshot: the Long Duration Storage Shot, establishing a goal of reducing the cost of grid-scale, long duration energy storage by 90% within the decade. 

In July, DOE began the process of investing $70 million in a new Manufacturing USA Institute focused solely on industrial decarbonization. This will be the seventh EERE-funded institute that unites public and private partners and technology development to create transformative, long-lasting change in manufacturing. 

Fall 

In September, DOE joined the Department of Transportation, the Department of Agriculture, and the White House in signing a government-wide Memorandum of Understanding to reduce the cost, enhance the sustainability, and expand the production and use of sustainable aviation fuels. This also signaled the start of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge, a government-wide commitment to scale up the production of sustainable aviation fuels to 35 billion gallons per year by 2050. At the beginning of December, United Airlines flew the first passenger flight powered entirely by sustainable fuel. EERE-supported research helped develop the technology that allowed us to take this monumental step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions within the aviation industry. 

In October, DOE released the Fall 2021 Better Buildings, Better Plants progress update. The report highlights more than 250 manufacturers and water utilities that have worked with DOE to implement energy efficiency and decarbonization measures, cumulatively saving a staggering $9.3 billion in energy costs and 1.9 quadrillion British thermal units over the term of their commitments—more energy than the state of Wisconsin consumes in a year. 

Also in October, we announced $61 million for 10 new “connected communities” throughout the country. These networks of energy-efficient buildings can interact with the electrical grid to optimize their energy consumption, substantially decreasing their carbon emissions and energy costs. A recent DOE study estimated grid-interactive efficient buildings could save up to $18 billion in power system costs by 2030 and cut 80 million tons of carbon emissions each year—more than the annual emissions of 50 medium-size coal plants or 17 million cars.  

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) have spearheaded the development of a whole new class of cathode materials over the past 10 years. In 2021, a team of researchers from LBNL, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory received a coveted R&D 100 award for their efforts to develop a layered-rock-salt intergrown structure with potential applications in lithium-based batteries and electric vehicles. The chemistries this team has developed have a large compositional tunability, as well as exemplary charge/discharge rates and energy densities—all achieved without the use of hard-to-procure cobalt. 

Some of our brand-new initiatives seek to extend the benefits of economy-wide decarbonization to every pocket of America. This fall, we announced the upcoming Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize, which will provide $2.5 million in cash prizes to support entrepreneurship and innovation in communities historically underrepresented and underserved in the energy sector. Then, we launched Communities LEAP to help communities with historical ties to fossil fuel industries take direct control of their clean energy future. This pilot program provides services valued at up to $16 million to help communities more effectively leverage public and private sector resources to reduce local air pollution, increase energy resilience, lower utility costs and energy burdens, and create good-paying jobs. 

Winter 

DOE continues to ensure that the federal government leads by example when it comes to energy efficiency. In December, DOE announced $13 million for 17 projects that will implement energy and water efficiency, renewable energy, and climate resilience technologies at federal facilities across the country. These projects will use energy performance contracts at no additional up-front cost to the government to lower energy and water utility bills by more than $30 million annually while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 200,000 metric tons. 

In mid-December, DOE announced a funding opportunity that will help state, local, and tribal governments enhance the impact of existing residential weatherization programs. Awardees will receive material support for expanded retrofits of low-income residential buildings, as well as opportunities to increase local community representation within their energy workforces—all with an emphasis on providing targeted benefits to underserved communities. 

On to 2022 

I could go on. It gives me immense hope and pride to reflect on this parade of successes in our fight against climate change, which is going to continue no matter what else is happening in the world.  

I can’t wait to see what else we accomplish in 2022. I encourage every clean energy champion to stay tuned—we plan to announce a number of exciting new initiatives. To learn more about what it means to be a clean energy champion and how we can inspire, educate, and empower each other in 2022, visit our new web page