September 2nd, 2010

New England Positioned to Lead Cleantech Revolution


Over the past several months, businesses, environmentalists and policy experts alike have been pressing the U.S. Senate to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation that places a price on carbon.  The New England Clean Energy Council, where I work, has been among those actively pushing for such a bill.  One of the points we’ve tried to drive home with our region’s legislators is that New England is ideally positioned to lead in the global clean energy sector and stands to disproportionately benefit from climate and energy legislation.

Just look around.  We’ve got the entrepreneurs and the venture capital.  We’ve got one of the most educated workforces in the world.  And we’re already home to a growing number of clean energy companies.  As the world embarks on what New York Times blogger Andy Revkin calls an “energy quest”, there is an obvious need for energy innovation.  And despite claims that the world is flat, geography is central to that process.  “Innovation clusters” – geographically concentrated companies within a field – are central to the development of new technologies, businesses and ideas.  Silicon Valley and our own Route 128 are two obvious examples.

Take a look at the major “ingredients” of vibrant innovation clusters:

I love this slide because when I look at it I see New England.  How many other regions in the world do as well by these metrics?  As WindPole Ventures CEO and Clean Energy Fellow Steve Kropper once said, “New England is scenery and brains.”

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post.

Many pundits have suggested that last month’s setback in the Senate spells the death of climate and energy legislation in 2010 and that, given the electoral landscape, 2011-12 doesn’t look any better.  Perhaps.  But the urgency of climate change isn’t going away and thankfully neither is our region’s clean energy cluster.  Congress will have to take action on this issue at some point.  I’d argue for that to happen any time in the foreseeable future will require New England’s congressional delegation to lead the way.  (Many of its members already are.)

The hard work of spreading the message - that New England is a leader in clean energy and stands to disproportionately benefit from a climate bill - continues, regardless of the politics of the moment.  Younger members of this industry are not exempt from this task.  In fact, it is incumbent on us to make it with extra vigor.  The future of not only our industry, but our climate and economy depends on it.

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Walter Frick

About Walter Frick

Walter Frick works for the New England Clean Energy Council, managing the Council’s communications, web presence, and student outreach. Prior to joining the Council, Walter worked for the U.S. Green Building Council, creator of the LEED rating system, in D.C., where he focused on membership recruitment. Before that he worked in Richmond for the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus. In addition to clean energy, Walter is interested in public policy, information and media, and how the web is changing our relationships with each. He is a graduate of Colgate University. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wfrick

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  • Chris Williams


    Solid post. I agree, Boston seems to be a hot spot for cleantech activities, particularly because of the access to the all the universities that provide such an awesome foundation of R+D.

    As I was reading the post, the question that came to my mind is, is there any way to objectively quantify a regions strength in a sector?


  • Walt Frick


    There are ways to quantify regions’ strength, though it’s not always easy. VC $ is an easy one, and MA consistently ranks 2nd behind CA in cleantech VC investment.

    For workforce, you could look at the number or % of students with engineering or other technical degrees, though that’s only one component of the necessary workforce. But, generally speaking, it’s relatively easy to measure New England’s strength in terms of an educated workforce. Ditto for world-class universities.

    As far as number of entrepreneurs, I don’t have any data on this for our region, but I found this metric to be an interesting attempt for the Bay Area: Entrepreneurship is traditionally a really hard thing to measure, but there are ways of getting at it. (For a brief discussion of why it’s hard and how we might overcome that, I recommend this paper [pdf] )

    Benchmarks for public policy could look something like this CAP ranking of state policy for energy efficiency:

    Putting all of this together requires an element of subjectivity, certainly. But to see what an attempt would look like, check out CleanEdge’s report for the MassCEC:

  • Chris Williams


    Very interesting. It’d be cool to use this criteria to actually create a simple metric that would be a weighted average of these 5 elements. Thoughts?