The Obama administration has made it a priority to find new ways for the government to partner with private organizations in solving shared problems. Given the scale of the challenges this country faces, the ability of government to forge effective relationships with organizations across sectors will be critical in making progress on the president's agenda, and building upon the work of already existing networks of organizations and entrepreneurs will be necessary for achieving expedient progress on these challenges.
Enhanced American innovation is needed to create American jobs, and no area is riper for innovation than the energy sector. If America does not harness its resources and ingenuity to become the world leader in clean energy production, it may fall behind in the 21st century global economy as other nations capitalize on this rapidly growing sector. U.S. investment in basic energy research was at its highest this year, but increased attention must also be paid to enabling the private market for energy. Energy innovations do not receive adequate attention from investors, businesses and some states because of short-term costs, limited financing options, and a cumbersome U.S. regulatory environment.
Acceleration of commercialization requires collaboration and reform at all stages of the energy innovation pipeline, from research to development, demonstration, and deployment. In the United States, universities and research laboratories are our major centers of research and knowledge generation. Despite our strength in producing knowledge and new ideas, the current system does not allow for the efficient identification of innovations with the potential for commercialization. Moreover, new technologies and insights will not result in commercial impact unless research aims to address relevant issues in the marketplace.
Once innovations are identified and successfully developed and demonstrated, significant barriers slow and often prohibit deployment. Innovations fall victim to the so-called "Valley of Death" caused by outdated and capital-intensive business models. For the few technologies that survive the Valley of Death, these pre-companies or technologies may be disconnected from domestic manufacturers and customers, which might mean that distribution happens outside of the United States. Communication from investors, early adopters, and mainstream customers is critical to ensuring that the research and resulting designs accurately reflect the market needs.
If a market for energy efficiency does not materialize in the United States, investors will have little incentive to increase investments to the level required to foster increased deployment. In sum, a lack of connectivity along the energy innovation pipeline and supply chain creates significant barriers to commercialization and job creation in the energy sector.
Participants and Description of Event
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation co-convened a conference on Energy Innovation that included participation by five White House offices, four federal departments, three federal agencies, entrepreneurs, state government officials, representatives of academia, private-sector leaders, nonprofit leaders, and innovators on May 7, 2010. The conference was designed to bring together diverse stakeholders in a forum for discussion on how to leverage private- and public-sector investments and direct philanthropic support to accelerate innovation and job creation in the energy sector.
The conference was structured into several segments. The morning keynote presentation, roundtable discussion, and panel were structured with either a keynote speaker or group of speakers introducing the subject, followed by a brief question-and-answer session. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke delivered a presentation during lunch about the need for cross-sector partnerships that leverage all stakeholders' unique capabilities and skills to ultimately expedite the process of bringing ideas to market. The afternoon allowed participants to select from four breakout sessions, with topics including: innovating the grid; sustainable and high-growth energy businesses; early adopters of energy innovation; and new pathways for entrepreneurs to advance innovation to the market. All sessions are briefly described in the report.