| ||Richard Lester, Berl Hartman, and Dave Miller|
The US has always been at the forefront of innovation—from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs. But today’s energy and environmental challenges far exceed any we’ve faced. E2 New England and the New England Clean Energy Council presented a joint program on April 17, 2012 to consider how America can accelerate innovation to fundamentally transform our energy production, delivery and use on a global scale.Dan Goldman
, E2 Director, President and CFO of GreatPoint Energy
and co-founder and Managing Partner of Clean Energy Venture Group
, organized and facilitated the panel discussion, challenging the participants and the audience to focus on energy transformation through affordable, high impact, market driven innovation.
The first speaker on the panel was Dr. Richard Lester
, Japan Steel Industry Professor and Head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering
(NSE) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research focuses on innovation management and policy, with an emphasis on the energy and manufacturing sectors. Dr. Lester has published many books on creativity and innovation, including Unlocking Energy Innovation: How America Can Build A Low-Cost, Low-Carbon Energy System
, co-authored with David Hart; and Innovation – The Missing Dimension
, jointly authored with Michael J. Piore.
Dr. Lester explained that while climate change remains of primary concern, in developing energy innovation (“EI”), we must look at shorter-term imperatives. EI is a long and tough slog. There will be “winners and losers” but innovation does not require consensus at every stage. Stages of Innovation
Dr. Lester believes that future EI will come in three waves: early improvements in energy efficiency, followed (but not before mid century) by deployment of low carbon systems at scale and development of revolutionary technologies (e.g. light weight materials and air capture of CO2
Each energy innovation happens in 4 phases: discovery of the new technology, demonstration of viability, cost reductions in early adoption and continued refinements after roll out. Any innovation program must accelerate all phases, not focusing exclusively on the front end.
Finally, Dr. Lester highlighted the importance of developing innovations at the regional level. Energy innovations won’t arise from Washington DC for several reasons: deficit and tax reform issues will consume the attention of the federal government for years to come; regional proximity to talent and resources will enable different innovations and the regional diversity can be a source of strength.
The New England Clean Energy Council
(NECEC) addresses energy innovation through its 200 cleantech members, a wide array of cluster development programs and regional and federal governmental policy initiatives. Peter Rothstein
, President of NECEC, highlighted the differences between innovation in biotech and life sciences versus the energy sector, noting that development and demonstrations of viability in the life sciences takes place in hospitals, encouraged by the medical profession. A critical problem in energy innovations is the lack of such partners. Peter explained that NECEC is working to develop New England’s strengths and resources with a goal of developing and prototyping regional energy innovations in other locations, but more funding is critical.
The final panelist, Dr. Riccardo Signorelli
, CEO of FastCAP Systems
, described the challenges of taking energy innovation out of the lab into the market. FastCAP is internationally recognized for its groundbreaking work in developing its innovative ultracapacitor technology, enabling high-power, high-energy and low-cost energy storage for the automotive and grid storage markets. After raising nearly $8 million in federal funding and private investment in 2009, Signorelli and the FastCAP team are working to commercialize the technology, based on six years of research and development by Signorelli at MIT. Dr. Signorelli noted the challenges of shifting from the initial “start-up” culture to marketing and revenue growth while retaining the organizations innovative mentality.
E2 and NECEC would like to thank our hosts the law firm Brown Rudnick LLP for the use of its conference facilities and the luncheon fare.