Racing to Lead the New Energy Economy

Yesterday morning civic leaders in West Michigan issued a report lamenting the lack of a popular research institution focused on energy innovation.

Later that afternoon, their like-minded peers in Cleveland announced a $3.6 million philanthropic donation to fund the launch of the Great Lakes Institute for Energy Innovation at Case Western Reserve University.

What we're seeing here is the quickening pace of competition to capture a significant share of the rapidly emerging alternative and renewable energy business, which is growing 30 percent annually and projected to approach a $170 billion market by 2015.

That means thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment are at stake for cities like Cleveland, Milwaukee, Buffalo, and Grand Rapids, all of which are fighting like dogs to survive the wrenching transition from the Industrial Era to the Digital Age.

What makes research labs so important? They're critical to 1) attract the top talent; 2) lure the companies that feed off the intellectual capital; and 3) ultimately support the innovation, incubation, development, manufacture, and commercialization of the new products and services that will shape arguably one of the most important industries of our time.

“The greatest challenges and opportunities for engineers and scientists of the 21st century likely will focus on the generation, transportation, utilization and storage of energy,” Norman Tien, dean of the Case School of Engineering, said in a press release announcing the $3.6 million gift from the Cleveland Foundation.

"With this startup funding, the Case School of Engineering is well-positioned to advance energy innovation in Ohio. We will be augmenting the engineering faculty with this funding by hiring mid-level, well-established players who will have an immediate impact on the school and on our energy initiatives."