Opportunities for Energy Innovators

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For a long time ‘clean’ and ‘green’ marked the forward trend in the energy industry. Then came the quest for ‘smart’ energy. And now ‘innovation’ is the buzzword.

It’s easy to see why. As Americans, we believe our ability to innovate sets us apart in today’s international market. Sure China can manufacture computers and cell phones more quickly and cheaply, but we came up with Google and iPhones in the first place.

The energy industry offers a lot of opportunity for US innovators, given our aging grid, quest for alternatives to fossil fuels, and our glimpse into the possibilities of a virtual, democratized grid that gives consumers more control over their energy use and production.

But will energy innovation help the US job market? Or will the products be conceived here but be manufactured elsewhere?

Siemens U.S. CEO Eric Spiegel offers some interesting thinking in a recent piece: “Where the Jobs Are: Higher Technology Manufacturing.” He takes issue with the idea that US manufacturing is doomed.

Such thinking wrongly assumes that the manufactured products of the future, like those of today, will be commodities, “the kind that could be built of equal quality, with equal technology, anywhere in the world,” Spiegel wrote. Blue jeans are his example.

He said that if innovation delivers, tomorrow’s products will be more high-end and require “skilled workers, precision assembly, intensive research, and complex technology,” the kind of thing the US does well.

Many new energy products, like smart grid technologies and wind turbines, require skilled manufacturing. Another, he points out, is the high efficiency natural gas turbine that Siemens builds in North Carolina. If the US remains an innovation leader, more of these high-end manufacturing jobs will make their way here, according to Spiegel.

But he isn’t Pollyanna about the US’ economic future. Sure, high-end energy manufacturing is occurring in the US, but it’s happening elsewhere as well: Europe, Brazil and parts of Asia. They too are innovating.

So the US has no reason to be overly confident about its innovation economy. Well aware of the intense competition, the federal government, states, universities and others are trying to create a more favorable climate for innovators. Below are a few ways that’s happening. I welcome readers to add to the list in the comments section of this blog. With the exception of the NYSERDA program, all of these were announced this week.

    • The US Department of Energy is offering $12 million to speed solar energy innovation from the lab to the marketplace through the federal SunShot Incubator program, with applications due April 9th.

    • Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy said in his mid-term budget address that the state will make $250 million available for high tech innovators.

    • The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center awarded $120,000 in clean energy research grants for early stage investigation into energy efficient fibers, microalgae for biofuels, and electrolytes for energy storage.

    • A five-year $469 million program is underway at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to foster innovation in energy-related technology and market development.

    • The American Chemistry Council has launched a campaign to foster a national energy strategy, and also is making known chemistry’s role in energy breakthroughs. Chemistry has helped bring about products that save 10.9 quadrillion Btus of energy annually, enough to power up to 56 million households or up to 135 million vehicles each year, cutting $85 billion in energy costs annually, according to an ACC study.

    • Stay-tuned for a major energy innovation grant announcement from the University of Pittsburgh.

  • Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work appears in many of the industry’s top magazines and newsletters. She is publisher of the Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.

    About Author

    Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

    • http://Linkedin.com/abufreepower Abuanthony Alim

      I am Abuanthony Alim and the owner of Alim Innovations. I am The inventor of a system and method to re-generate clean electrical energy from the electric motor. It works with all transportation system making them fossil fuel free. I have a design for a locomotive that produces 504MWe of clean fossil free power. This is expensive and will cost up to 10mil to evaluate and produce. This is a start-up. And I will need to partner with an engineering firm like:

      American Locomotive Company

      Baldwin Locomotive Works

      Brookville Equipment Corporation

      Boise Locomotive Works (Link not functional)

      Electro-Motive Division / General Motors

      Fairbanks, Morse & Company

      General Electric Company

      Lima Hamilton Corporation

      Montreal Locomotive Works

      Motive Power Industries

      National Railway Equipment

      Progress Rail

      Rail Power

      To sign NDA’s and get all the engineering work done by these professional. All these companies are ready and able to fabricate my designs. They need the work now. It will give Rail a new product to sale clean electricity. Mobil power reaching every corner of the earth. But How do I make a business out of these products? Do your firm do joint ventures and partner? The math is good and these products are needed to save us from fossils stealing our prosperity. The money that is spent on fossils we all can save. Replace Old Coal, Gas, Oil and Nuke Power Plant with Mobil Power Plants. Love to work with you in any way to get this started. Regards abufreepower@aol.com

    • Captain Obvious

      Before you give Abuanthony ten million dollars, ask to see a working prototype. Just sayin’.