The United States is in the midst of a clean energy revolution. The need for expanded, well-coordinated research, development, demonstration and deployment (RDD&D) to improve existing technologies and develop entirely new ones is a critical component of this unprecedented economic development opportunity going forward.
Much of the advancement of the energy economy is taking place at the regional level, and studies have shown the value of regional "clusters", "ecosystems", and partnerships. As part of Mission Innovation, he U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is seeking ways to enhance regional capacities to foster sustainable regional innovation ecosystems that can generate new clean-energy technologies and jobs.
Current regional energy innovation activities
- DOE leaders have been participating in many university-hosted workshops and forums on innovation ecosystems and regional partnerships during 2016. You can read more and see reports from the events on the University Forums page.
- The Department of Energy's FY 2017 budget request includes substantial funding to support regional clean energy innovation partnerships, with support for coordinated, cost-shared R&D.
Importance of a "regional innovation ecosystem" approach
The value of a regional focus on innovation has been widely recognized and discussed. For instance:
- In 2006, the Council on Competitiveness reported that "[T]he locus of innovative activities is at the regional level, where workers, companies, universities, research institutions and government interface most directly… Regions are the building blocks of national innovation capacity because they offer proximity and can provide specialized assets that foster firm-level differentiation."
- Jobs for the Future reported in 2011, "There is growing evidence that the most effective way to grow the U.S. economy is to promote innovation, and the best place to do that is at the regional level. Within regions, economic development efforts need to put greater emphasis on identifying the region’s competitive assets, and on investing public and private resources in ways that fully exploit those assets. To organize that process, these efforts need a regional structure that brings together key leaders from across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to formulate growth strategies that make the best use of regions' competitive assets".
- The National Academies found in The Power of Change (2016) that: "Regional variation within the United States is important, and the federal government could leverage that variation by supporting a network of local, state, or regional public/private partnerships… Geographic proximity facilitates interactions among researchers, entrepreneurs, investors, potential customers, and others, and the development of local and regional entrepreneurial ecosystems is an important part of removing obstacles to innovation (Lerner, 2010). … Some of the most cost-effective innovation acceleration mechanisms involve local, state, and regional governments, nonprofits, and public/private partnerships focused on building the necessary connections across a regional ecosystem to leverage regional innovation assets and economic competitiveness (Porter, 2001)."
Existing regional innovation ecosystems in New England, the Chicago area, Silicon Valley, Austin/Houston, Knoxville, Research Triangle, and other areas have led the way in creating the template for regional partnerships.
A clean-energy innovation ecosystem leverages existing knowledge clusters and comparative strengths of a geographic region, building on innovations found within universities, companies, and research laboratories, and combining those with financing mechanisms, production capacity, and a supportive policy environment located in a geographically concentrated area. This mix facilitates commercialization of new technologies and innovations.
Successful regional innovation ecosystems and partnerships are envisioned as linking industry and energy decision-makers with the capabilities at nearby universities, research laboratories and institutions, industry, investors, and government sponsors and other local organizations. They would serve as forums or nodes for end-to-end coordination across the scope of energy innovation constituencies, including industry, utilities, entrepreneurs, academia, state and local governments, tribal and native Alaskan communities, non-governmental and economic development organizations, the financial sector, developers, and energy producers and consumers.