Who’ll Lead an Industrial Revolution Around Clean Technology?

Published on November 18, 2009

Clean energy technologies may become the highest-growth economic engines over the next two decades, and the United States can become a leader in invention and manufacturing on an ongoing basis across these technologies, said Matt Rogers, senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.

“In order to achieve these goals, we have to be able to drive the kind of innovation, productivity improvements, and capital formation that marked the last industrial revolution,” Rogers said during the keynote at the Midwest Alternative Energy Venture Forum 2009, sponsored by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship, at Gleacher Center on November 18.

“If we can bring all those things together, we have a real opportunity to lead the globe and to achieve our goals on energy and the environment much faster and at a much lower cost than anybody believes today,” he added. “We have an opportunity today to drive an industrial revolution around clean technology.”

As part of his role, Rogers maintains a “naughty and nice list” to help Vice President Joe Biden monitor the spending of billions of dollars in energy grants, he said. “It’s become clear that some folks think that when the Recovery Act check arrives, you can leave it in your bank for three years,” Rogers said. “That does not fit the goals or obligations of the act to spend the money in the economy at the appropriate rate, so the vice president makes phone calls to about a dozen mayors and five governors each week.”

Rogers aims to eliminate barriers to dramatically change the way the Department of Energy operates, he said. “Through the Recovery Act, we’re trying to create the opportunities for collaboration across an innovation chain that the department actually hasn’t created and that we need the economy to do much more readily,” Rogers said. “For example, we want to use the type of advanced computational modeling characteristics and instrumentation used in successfully insuring the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal without testing to radically accelerate the rate of innovation in clean energy.”

With the department’s “down payment” of $100 billion to support projects developing clean energy, he said it should be judged in 10 years on the following goals:

• Is the United States becoming wealthier by becoming dramatically more efficient in energy use?

• Has the United States doubled its renewable energy capacity to become a leader in high-tech, clean-energy manufacturing?

• Has the United States restructured the transportation sector to reduce costs and dependence on foreign oil?

• Has the United States launched a smart grid to reduce costs, improve reliability, and give consumers much greater choice in the ways they use power?

• Has the United States demonstrated that carbon capture and sequestration actually work at scale and are economical?

• Did the United States accelerate environmental cleanup to address the legacy left by the Cold War buildup?

• Most importantly to Chu, did the United States re-establish itself as the world leader in science and technology?

“If we can do the latter, many of the benefits begin to flow from there,” Rogers said. “Our ability to innovate and be ahead of the curve, whether it’s in manufacturing or development, is essential to our success.”

Broad reach for global entrepreneurship

The MAEVF conference was one of several events that Chicago Booth and the Polsky Center organized or sponsored in celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), November 16-22, 2009, across its Chicago, London, and Singapore campuses. Founded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Make Your Mark campaign, this worldwide series of entrepreneurship events was designed to inspire young people to embrace innovation, imagination, and creativity.

Roger's talk was one of the events at the Midwest Alternative Energy Venture Forum, which featured a panel on alternative financing options for clean technology.

Other Chicago Booth GEW events included a discussion with Gary Locke, United States Secretary of Commerce in Singapore; the student energy conference in Chicago; an Innovation Workshop Series event, which supports commercializing university technology and innovation; a session on social entrepreneurship entitled “Wake Up and Smell the Sustainably Produced Coffee—Why Social Enterprisers Need Feasible Business Models” at Chicago Booth’s London campus; and the 11th Annual Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Conference (EVC), which brought together successful entrepreneurs and seasoned venture capitalists to share ideas and provide insight to entrepreneurial-minded Chicago Booth students.

                                                                                                                         — Phil Rockrohr